Category Archives: 4: Ethics and looking at the others

Project 3:Post-colonial ethnography

Mid-nineteenth century anthropologists and ethnographers began to systematically use photography as a method to show evidence of the disparate connection between indigenous inhabitants and the new settlers.

The Curtis Syndrome
In 1986 Edward Curtis , an American ethnologist , set out to document the indigenous North American Indians. Spanning 30 years the 20 volumes of 40,000 photographs of idealised images provide a record of what was a rapidly vanishing people. Anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski held the view that when an ethnographic subject is identified it is at the same time as that way of life coming to an end.

Browse the catalogue Tribal Portraits:Vintage and Contemporary Photographs from the African Continent , Bernard J Shapero Rare Books.
Core resources TribalPortraits.pdf

Write a brief commentary.

Described as ‘a celebration of African culture ‘ the vast majority are of semi-naked or naked subjects whom are traditionally dressed and /or photographed performing customary rituals. The images adhere to Western perception of ‘the other’ and whilst they are undoubtable fascinating to look at I felt rather uneasy viewing them, which brought to mind an earlier project and exercise ‘the gaze’ (notes here ) .

However two images stood out to me :

1.This conceptually distinct and visually striking studio photograph by Malik Sidibé  here particularly struck me. The playful image with its connotations of starving children with swollen bellies and tribal ceremonies parodies the usual depiction of indigenous African people.

2.This portrait agains a black background by Antonine Schneck here

I like his photography very much , portraiture is favourite genre of mine I think these are fabulous. See here.

Primitive typologies

Nothing changes and images of unsophisticated indigenous people remain fascinating to Western eyes. Yet they continue to romanticise and perpetuate the perception of these people as ‘noble savages’ .
See here and here

Nudity becomes acceptable when presented as ‘art’ or study of an indigenous society. See here.

References / Bibliography

Accessed 4/3/16
Accessed 3/3/16

Exercise: To print or not to print

Ethics of photojournalism.

The photographer rarely makes the editorial decision of what may be deemed ethically suitable to be printed in the press .This photograph here of the Madrid bombings in 2004 taken by Pablo Torres Guerrero was published by newspapers , but the graphic image , which included a severed limb , was considered too horrific by some publications to print in its original form. The ‘offending’ limb was airbrushed out by some , printed in black and white , or print was placed over that area of the image. The Guardian chose to alter the colour of the bloodied limb to grey.

Read Clare Cozens’ Guardian article here about Guerrero’s photograph
What would you have done had you been the editor of a British broadsheet newspaper?

I must be honest I find this a really difficult question to answer. However despite the fact that I feel uneasy looking at the image I believe that by choosing to alter the original the truth has been manipulated , albeit only fractionally , but something that was there has been removed. I feel readers of newspapers , especially broadsheets , are intelligent enough to feel slightly insulted that what is deemed acceptable to view is censored on their behalf . Readers want , and should be , kept informed of current affairs without bias. Admittedly the context was not altered by each individual editors choice of how to print the image but the fact remains something was omitted. Yet I can too easily understand why some made a choice to use an altered version of the truth because images like this are distressing. Perhaps the answer would have been to not use this particular image at all .

+ Read ‘But Should You Print it?’
Core resources:ShouldYouPrint.pdf

The ethics of journalism

Sensitive areas:
2.Invasion of privacy
3.Sex & public decency

Considerations to be made before making the choice to print .
Not all need to be answered in the affirmative but should fit at least one of the listed criteria.
1.Is the event of such social/historic significance it warrants being printed
2.Is it necessary to understand the event ?
3.Does the subject consent ?
4.Is it indicative of humanity?

Using the criteria above against Guerrero’s photograph should it have been printed in it’s original form?

The event was a terrorist attack on a large scale so yes it was justified insofar that it was a significant attack by terrorists .

However even without the severed limb the context remains which makes me wonder if the decision made by several editors to not show the original image was in fact perfectly acceptable.

Yet I still cannot help thinking the decision somehow challenges the supposed integrity of the free press.

Accessed 14/1/16
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The ethics of aesthetics . Exercise #2

Read the WeAreOCA blog post , The ethics of aesthetics (htpp:/ / ) including all of the replies to it , and write a comment both on the blog page and in your blog. Make sure that you visit all of the links on the blog post.

Agencies such as Oxfam are attempting to use more subtle and aesthetically pleasing imagery to raise awareness of the importance of aid without reducing the subjects to objects of pity. Because there is always a danger of ‘compassion fatigue’ this needs to be balanced against the pressing need for immediate measures and donations. Positive images can be used to show how funds raised help alleviate suffering , which is surely the long term goal of aid agencies .

However I believe Alejandro Chaskielberg’s images for Oxfam , whilst being stunning to view , are perhaps too artistic to communicate the urgent needs of the people he photographed. Amano comments “my unease seems to be a conflict between beauty and the harsh realities of existence” , a feeling I share. Jose notes in his initial blog post “the photographer acknowledges that he likes exploring the boundaries between reality and fiction , which is evident in his images” . Whilst Gareth states “it feels almost like fashion photography and prompts the question ‘why?’ ” he additionally finds Chaskielberg’s unconventional presentation disconcerting.

The photographs are aesthetically pleasing , almost otherworldly , far removed from the more customary imagery of human suffering which can become almost unbearable to view , so can fully understand Oxfam’s rationale to commission a photographer whose approach is what might be considered unorthodox. Yet I feel because of their artistry the serious message being conveyed is lost , the context altered because of their beauty. However Marmalade makes a very valid point ” the very fact Oxfam has commissioned Chaskielberg would suggest that new tactics are indeed necessary to ‘cajole’ us in to action ”

I feel Rankin’s commissioned work for Oxfam uses this new strategy successfully. Like Chaskielberg’s the images are in colour yet Rankin portrays his subjects in a proud but unidealised way. These are neither the people of Chaskielberg’s dream-like images or hopeless victims but fellow humans, ones I feel empathy for without being overwhelmed by a sense of sheer misery. Rankin discusses his work for Oxfam here .

Tom Stoddard’s B & W images are vastly different to both Rankin’s and Chaskielberg’s . Richard rightly suggests they are ‘the kind of images to which we have become inured’ and I certainly find them shocking (especially image 18 ) . Yet some have a surreal quality ( see images 3 , 7 ) additionally Stoddard uses juxtaposition to great effect ( see images 1, 2, 15 , 17 ) that I feel makes them quite contemporary despite being so hard-hitting.

Accessed 5/12/15

The ethics of aesthetics. Exercise #1

Read the booklet ‘Imaging Famine’
Core resources : imagingFamine.pdf

Do some research across printed and on-line media and find examples that either illustrate or challenge the issues highlighted in the document.

The press coverage during the 1980’s of the Ethiopian famine disaster became a turning point for how aid agencies perceived images of human catastrophes. The consequences of how the crisis was perceived in Europe via such imagery was investigated by a United Nations organisation and as a result new codes of practice were put into place for the use of NGO’s imagery.

Twenty years after the Ethiopian images that shook the world leading the to Band / Live Aid movements the capacity and objective of such images were re-evaluated , what has changed ? Imaging Famine , a research project that investigated the representation of famine by the media , launched with an exhibition held at the Guardian and Observer archive in 2005.

Issues raised.

Charity appeals , whilst they are initially successful to help raise funds , do they stereotype the victims culturally and racially ? In the short term they evoke an immediate response but what of the long term consequences ?

Can a single distressing image represent an entire continent?
The Band/Live aid appeal whilst highlighting the famine and raising funds has also diminished the African continent and it’s heterogenous population to a single destitute place in many peoples’ minds.

Negative and positive images.
Are images of suffering necessary and can they be justified?
There is always a danger of ‘compassion fatigue’ , yet this needs to be balanced against the need for immediate action and aid. Positive images can be used to show how funds raised have helped alleviate suffering , which is surely the long term goal of aid agencies.

Use of text / title etc.
An image without text is described in the booklet as ‘arguably purely aesthetic (like a family portrait ) , shot of clear meaning and not photo-journalism at all’ (p.g 10) .
Who writes the text , often not the photographer , what information is being conveyed ? Text can be used to alter meaning and context.

Who chooses the image and whose agenda is being met ?

How to photograph death and whose ?
Whilst victims of smaller scale catastrophes but with whom we can identify are considered newsworthy death and disaster in distant foreign places only become newsworthy if they occur on a large scale , with mass casualties.

Men and women famine victims are frequently depicted differently
Women and children are regularly photographed as subjects of famine .
Are these images any different from earlier historical images taken by missionaries ?
Famine victims are photographed in a customary style , regardless of context or a different era.

Sir Bob Geldof believes that rather than evoking a feeling of sympathy or of ‘compassion fatigue’ such images evoke outrage.But can a photograph influence and change ? Can public reaction force political change ? Despite the short term achievements long term policies remain unsettled.

Celebrities , why are they used by the media ? Do they perhaps trivialise the crisis ? Celebrities have a lot to gain , publicity wise , by their association with ‘fashionable’ causes . The link here is to a Guardian article discussing celebrity philanthropists.

Does the length of time a photographer spends in a disaster /famine area impinge on the quality or produce a better image ? Also if indigenous photographers are involved in reporting will they maintain their freedom to report or will they be required to produced images biased towards a European audience ?

What is the impact of new technology and digital techniques ?Complex situations are being documented in minutes not months.The photo-essay is reduced to a single image.Are such images capable of conveying the context ? Can the cause be represented in a single photograph? Still or moving images which do an audience recall ?

The use of Christian iconography in the composition.Has the photographer simply recorded what is in front of him or used ‘artistic traditions’ to try and make a more potent image?

Should photographers be observers or should they actively intervene?
This is an interesting link here, photographers discuss their experiences of witnessing events they recorded but did not step in.

Without an image as authentication aid was not forthcoming for the victims of the Chinese famine between 1959 -61. Images were taken by Chinese photographers but, for various reasons , never published. Despite news coverage the text alone failed to elicit the response made to Mohamed Amin’s Ethiopian imagery.

I started to look for examples (see references below) that demonstrate or question the issues raised but after 30 minutes of looking at what were (to me) distressing images stopped my search until the following day. However I have found examples of more positive images but just seem to come across far more stereotypical examples of famine. This concerns me , it’s not that I don’t care but that I can only look at so much suffering before I need to look away , to try and forget. If I feel like this then so must a great proportion of the intended audience for images of famine. I understand why these sort of images are circulated , they guarantee a rapid and immediate response , but it also helps me understand a lot more the term ‘image fatigue’.

Rankin is a portrait and celebrity photographer and his collaboration with Oxfam is an example of how agencies are attempting to use more subtle and aesthetically pleasing imagery. Rankin discusses his involvement here. I like his images very much and feel they still manage to convey the message of how important aid is without reducing the subjects to objects of pity, they retain their dignity. Yet Alejandro Chaskielberg’s images for Oxfam see here, whilst being stunning to view , are perhaps too artistic to actually communicate the same message.

References / Bibliography

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Compassion fatigue : Exercise #2

Read the articles ‘ Walk the Line’ by Max Houghton ( Foto8, issue 23,pp.143-4) and ‘Imagining War’ by Jonathan Kaplan ( Foto8 ,issue 23,pp.142-3)

Core resources Foto8#23_Kaplan&Houghton.pdf

Write down your reactions to the authors’ arguments.

Jonathan Kaplan is a surgeon who occasionally works in war zones. He alludes to the similarity between surgeons and photojournalists , who both in order to understand and learn , need to be physically present and directly involved. He discusses the reality of war injuries that are far removed from the ‘idealised image of the body’. He is also a photographer whose graphic B&W images of amputees’ were excluded from a proposed book on land-mines , a choice he agreed with, he believes in boundaries. When deciding on the suitability of images to include in publications ethical considerations must be made, thought given to what is acceptable for public viewing. Kaplan’s ‘violent images’ were felt to be too graphic and could diminish the remainder of the book , evoking not an emotional and thoughtful response but one of revulsion and horror. Faced with horrific images it becomes easier to try and forget , pretend the barbarity of war does not exist. Often what is not shown is more powerful and thought provoking.

Max Houghton is the co-editor of Foto8 and she discusses the unenviable dilemma that picture editors face when choosing images to publish stating ‘ it becomes clear that the very ethics of photography is at stake’ . She draws attention to the paradox that whilst ‘dead American soldiers are a no-no for the US press , … the image of a war-battered American soldier sweeps to victory at the World Press Photo Awards’ . What may be considered shocking is inevitably influenced by cultural , social or individual mores. Houghton felt the publication of the decapitated heads of Saddam Hussein’s sons by the Guardian in 2013 crossed an ‘invisible line …personal to me’ . This image was especially abhorrent to Houghton because European cultures ‘do not regularly behead its subjects’ . As Susan Sontag points out ‘the quality of feeling , including moral outrage , that people can muster in response to photographs of the oppressed , the exploited , the starving , and the massacred also depends on the degree of their familiarity with these images’ (Sontag ,S. 1979 p.g 19)

Houghton further discusses the apparent contradictions between what is perceived too horrific to contemplate any further and what is acceptable, ideology will certainly influence these choices . A plea to consider the family of the man photographed by Richard Drew as he leapt to his death from the World Trade Centre , know as The Falling Man ( see here ) , was made by an American academic at a conference discussing pictures of atrocities, yet a similar appeal was not made to consider the family of a dead Taliban soldier. The image ( see here ) by French photographer Luc Delahaye could be considered almost beautiful, a piece of fine art , yet this is an image of someone’s deceased son, husband or brother , does his family not deserve the same respect asked for on behalf of the Falling Man ?

Despite there being a danger of ‘compassion fatigue’ due to ‘ the proliferation of … images of horror’ ( Sontag, S. 1979 p.g 19) there are occasions when it can be justified to publish such images. The editor of the Observer made the decision to publish a graphic and distressing photograph taken by George Phicipas of a young Kenyon mother dying , bleeding to death , in front of her small son . Originally published by the Daily Telegraph in B & W it was re-published a few days later in colour , which makes the image even more shocking to view. Tracey McVeigh , an Observer journalist , searched through body bags to identify and name the victim , in doing so the woman became more than just another unknown victim of violence , she became an individual whom the viewer was able to identify and empathise with , understand a little about her life , not just her death. Despite the graphic nature of the image it was not used gratuitously and as such I feel the editors decision was perfectly acceptable.

There is a link here to McVeigh’s article
Phicipas image is here

Houghton concludes the piece regarding the alleged use of people with Downs Syndrome as suicide bombers by al-Qu’ida , the resulting images of severed heads were not published ‘ a line was drawn’ . Despite the growth of the internet which allows the sharing and viewing of grotesque imagery I believe the media need to maintain a moral code when making their editorial decisions before publishing in order to protect their integrity.


‘ Walk the Line’ by Max Houghton ( Foto8, issue 23,pp.143-4) and ‘Imagining War’ by Jonathan Kaplan ( Foto8 ,issue 23,pp.142-3)

Sontag ,S.(1979) “On Photography” . Penguin Books , London ,England.

Accessed 7/11/15

Compassion Fatigue : Exercise #1

Listen to Don McCullin talking about his exhibition Shaped by War on Radio 4’s Excess Baggage

What strikes me most after listening to the BBC broadcast and additionally reading and watching the video in this article HERE is McCullin’s sensitivity and humanity as he discusses his silent and quiet method of taking images of human suffering.

Brought up an a London slum he wanted an “escape route” from the narrow-minded area he was brought up in. Following his National Service within a photography unit he returned to London and got his break as a photographer with the Observer following a fracas resulting in a death near to where he lived . He has travelled extensively to war zones and in 1961 witnessed the building of the Berlin Wall. He describes the 1960’s 70’s and 80’s as the “golden years of travel” going to places that are inaccessible or extremely difficult to reach now.

He processes his own film and makes the interesting comment that he uses “energy combined with anger” to do so . His impotence to help the subjects he framed remains with him , he describes how “the plea bargaining in their eyes haunt me to this day” . Home is now his “sanctuary” and comments that “landscapes are my medication” . Yet his winter landscapes , like war , are bleak , which he believes come from “the darkness in me” . Even when photographing famous landmarks such as Hadrian’s Wall , or further afield , McCullin’s thinks about the “shadows of history ” and hears the “distant cries” of those forced to build them.

Anyone who has witnessed , as McCullin has , scenes of despair , cruelty and devastation cannot , if they have any compassion , fail to be shaped by the experience.


Accessed 5/11/15

Gilles Peress Farewell to Bosnia

Gilles Peress French , b. 1946

Take a look at some of the images from Gilles Peress’ work Farewell to Bosnia.

Graphic photographs of destruction , mutilation and death are printed side-by-side with images of a built environment that shows a deadly serenity that only lifelessness can bring. Which of the two styles of imagery triggers the most complex reflective response in the viewer? Is it the photograph of a man who has lost both hands, resting on a hospital bed ? Or is it the photographs of a group of peasants seemingly engaged in digging a ditch -which is actually a mass grave?

I don’t care so much anymore about ‘good photography’; I am gathering evidence for history” Gilles Peress

The black and white images are visually striking depicting the suffering of those who were caught up in the Bosnian conflict and additional text puts the images into context . My initial reaction to the more graphic images of death and mutilation was one of horror but the impact of the more symbolic imagery , despite being less explicit, led to a more thoughtful in-depth analysis.

I have written my personal reaction to a few of the images below.

Void of people this image here of discarded items following a looting symbolises how conflict reduces real lives to mere fragments of discarded rubbish. It illustrates how people are dispensable in war type situation. But this picture makes me care ,I want to what happened to the original owners of the discarded items, there is a poignancy looking at everyday items carelessness cast aside. Are they alive, were they massacred ? So much suffering and loss is suggested and as such this image has great impact for me.

Scene during sniper fire
This is an interesting image here of what looks to be a youth protecting himself with a national flag ‘shield’ . The sandbags in the background tell us this is a conflict zone , yet the boy’s movement appears almost graceful , he seems to be performing in a macabre ballet . Daily life as lived in a war zone.

Child’s drawing
No graphic photographic imagery of dead bodies but simply a child’s drawing here . Yet it is so touching and makes you think what the child who drew this has seen and experienced.

Mostar Hospital
Injured children see here always promote an emotive response and get an immediate reaction, yet the picture of the child’s drawing enabled me to imagine how war is see through children’s eyes.

Hospital prosthetic unit
I was mesmerised by this almost surreal image here. Again an image void of any human subject but the prosthetic feet with their associative connotation of amputation suggest rather than show the disabling and life-long injuries not graphically shown. I found myself imagining what must it like to try and walk again , the pain and sheer determination of amputee victims to do so.

Accessed 8/10/15