Category Ethics & Legal

“Take as many pictures as you want. We need this to be known.”

How we deal with families after they have been through a traumatic event is a constant conversation for us. Finding the balance between the needs of individuals and the needs of a community can be brutally hard.

We never want to intrude, we never want to add to the grief a family is experiencing but, at the same time, their story can have a powerful impact on a community. That story can both explain what has happened and help a community move forward, through healing or actions of change.

Cesar Rodriguez walks us through his coverage of the slain family in Mexico over at Time.

They were telling me that we want people to know what happened because if they don’t know, if things don’t change, their deaths will have been for nothing. So something good has to come out of this. Something powerful.

Worth a read.

What You Photograph Is a Reflection of Who You Are

A sarcastic Tweet reply set off Dan Ginn at The Phoblographer this week.

As it should have.

I’m forever thankful I work with students who care about their communities and want to use photographic tools to explore and explain issues within those communities. As a general rule, the see photography as a means, not an end – our classes, workshops, discussions and goals are not based on making a photo, they’re based on making a difference.

Because I am a camera geek (I know, you’re shocked), I do spend some time on sites focused on photography. There is a significant level of, “I love how this lens made this woman beautiful” types of posts and, well, every one of those gets me a little closer to leaving that group.

I’ll grant that my reason for carrying a camera is not the same reason as everyone else’s. I use photography to record, process and comprehend my world – and, once I’ve made some sense of it, to share that information with others. It is a documentary tool, an investigative tool, an exploratory tool. If I’m going to freeze a moment in time, there needs to be some societal value to that moment that adds to our understanding without minimizing or objectifying others.

If your photos don’t educate and illuminate, I’m just not that interested.

But, hey, that’s just me and sometimes I like to photograph my dogs, too. I don’t think they feel objectified by this.

One Step Closer to a Small Claims Copyright Court

The House of Representatives passed the CASE act yesterday on a 410-6 vote, which brings the bill one step closer to becoming a law.

Why do we care? This bill has been ten-years in the making, supported by the U.S. Copyright Office and trade organizations (including the National Press Photographers Association) and is designed to make sub-$30,000 copyright infringement claims much easier to pursue.

The Senate now needs to take this up.

The Pelosi-Trump Photo

Good discussion over at the Chatting the Picture podcast about the Nancy Pelosi – Donald Trump image that the White House released last week.

A lot of analysis in the first six minutes, but they didn’t go into the sourcing issue which raises all sorts of other ethical questions – do you treat this differently because it’s a hand out photo? Does that factor into the discussion?

We Can’t Even Trust the Canadians Anymore

The Canadian Green Party has been caught editing a photo of the party’s leader, Elizabeth May – they added in a logo and a reusable straw.

All the technology at our disposal and this is what we do with it …

When We Take Away What We’ve Made


Two decades ago, Susan Meiselas published a project that looked at how the visual history of the Kurds had never belonged to them – it was made by outsiders, taken away by those outsiders and then, essentially, banned by outside entities.

Magnum has published an excerpt from the 1997 work and it has given me great pause as I wrestle with the questions Meiselas did – what is our responsibility to the communities we cover, particularly the disenfranchised ones? Do we need a cohort of visual journalists to bring the stories of disparate communities back to them?

I’ve long had concerns about parachute journalism, how we tend to drop in on the latest hot spot, blanket it with coverage for outsiders and then disappear. Where is the exploitation line?

Starry, Starry Fakes

I may have a new hero – Dr. Elisabeth Bik, a microbiologist who has been looking at ethical issues in science journals, has turned her eye to some astrophotography published by National Geographic.

One of the great losses of the last 20 years has been the relationships between photo editors and photographers. It used to be that those relationships were cultivated, there were meetings and conversations and extended editing sessions where editors went over work, frame by frame, debriefing the visual journalist who was there in the field. They built up a rapper, they built up trust.

Those days are, for the most part, gone. Photo editors in some places are more akin to photo vacuumers – they are charged with sucking up as many visuals as they can to drive engagement and clicks in the digital realm. Without those relationships, even editors at publications as vaunted as National Geographic are going to get fooled.

Independent journalists, alone with their laptops and without a structured, ethical framework surrounding them, are going to have lapses. With the volume of work to do and the lack of interactions, what else do you expect to happen?

For publishers, they need to take a close look at these situations and ensure that protections are in place. Develop those relationships, get people on the phone, ask direct questions about the work – is this the way the camera saw this? Did you alter the original file? Did you alter the scene? Did you use any special effects? How did you get this access? Is there anything about this image I need to know? Do you understand the consequences of us finding a problem with this image later?

In her Twitter thread looking at lots of images, Dr. Bik asks a simple question: “Where does nature photography end and where does art start?”

I’d replace “nature” with documentary. And if you’re publishing documentary or journalism work, then you better be damned sure it’s real.

Pop Stars and Copyright Theft

Seems like we’ve been down this road before … The National Press Photographers Association and 15 others organizations have sent a letter of protest to Ariana Grande’s management company over a copyright grad that’s inserted into their press coverage agreement.

Photo Editing and Senate Hearings

Over at the Columbia Journalism Review, Darrel Frost takes a look at how last week’s supplemental Supreme Court hearings were handled visually.

The dilemma is what can you or should you show in one frame when an event went on for more than that 1/250 of a second. My thinking has always been that you look for an image that is both accurate (meaning, it happened) and true (meaning, it represents the overall story). Does that open you up to criticism? Sure, but part of journalism is looking at the larger story and putting the individual elements within context.

The word-side has it much harder – how would you describe the nominee’s testimony? The other witness?

The Story Goes On, the Story Goes Out

There’s a tie between first responders and journalists – they’re the most likely to head towards trouble spots in communities. To be there, to bear witness, to document and explain so others can be informed or prepared, that’s what journalists do.

When storms like Hurricane Florence hit, the best and worst of journalists comes out. The split between the visual and the textual in this News & Observer story by Booke Cain is … stunning.

Cain writes about the efforts of local journalists to keep their communities informed while the image is of a television news crew wandering out into the surf or, optimistically, being surprised by a wave.

Yes, journalists need to be there. No, they should never put themselves or others in danger.