Ethics, Automation and the Humanist Disconnect

A lot of turmoil swirling around Magnum, one of the pre-eminent photographic agencies. This piece by Andy Day asks a lot of questions and is a must-read for those of us in the industry right now.

At the end, he lists a series of questions that Magnum must answer about the images (particularly of children documented in sexual situations) within its archive and the sudden removal of that archive from public view.

But there’s a deeper series of questions we in the industry need to wrestle with, a series that begins with the place of automation. In ye olden times, a publisher would ring up an agency and explain what they needed images of and how they were going to be used. An editor would go through the archive and pull a series of options, then send them over for review and begin the licensing discussion. There were many sets of eyes that were put on every image, both when it came in from the photographer and was added to the archive and its index as well as when an editor pulled the image for consideration.

Much of that process is now automated or outsourced – who is responsible for adding keywords and metadata to the electronic index? Is it an editor or a coder? (And if you think this can’t be automated, look at the photos app on your phone or computer – I bet it will generate albums based on its content assessment.)

Do we have more images being produced? Yes – outtakes used to just be a few frames from each roll, now there are thousands of images coming in from every assignment. Do we have more uses for images? Yes again – print and digital are using more images than ever before?

Are we using images with the same care as we used to? No, not in how we select them or how we publish them. And that’s a discussion even bigger than Magnum that we must have.

(Thanks to Lauren Steel for the link.)

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