Ethical issues in photography

One of the biggest debates that are taking on at the moment concerns the ethical issues in photojournalism. People that are in contact with photography such as photographers, editors or agents should think about the moral ethics that are behind their photographs. If there wasn’t any rule, the world of the information and photojournalism would turn into a perverse and unfair world. The absence of these ethics rules can provoke distortions in the information.

“All too often magazines and newspapers do not show any respect for pictures,”  Anthony Suau, Time’s Pulitzer prize-winning photojournalist.

As Grazia Neri says” The camera is a different tool from a pen.”  Grazia Neri is founder and President of a Photo Agency in Italy. Photographs can show a real scene but it can also be a huge arm to hurt people. Each of us can respond differently in every situation. Grazia Neri explains in her article on that each of us reacts to the picture on the basis of our own sensitivity, culture, intelligence, mood and passion. A photograph produced today will offer a different impact tomorrow. Even the place where the photograph is seen can dictate our reactions. “The first ethical decision is performed by the photographic journalist at the very moment when he decides to tell a story or to tell it in a given manner,” Grazia Neri says.

Should photographs show pain, miseries and death scenes? This is ethically good? This is a question that several photographers should ask before taking photos.

Janet Malcolm is an American writer and journalist on staff at The New Yorker magazine. He wrote: “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.”

After Haití’s earthquake, we can see several images that show the desolation of the city and the misery that lead the natural disaster. This leads a huge debate about whether or not photographers can take emotional photos or not.

Fifteen year-old Fabienne Cherisma was shot dead by police at approximately 4pm, January 19th, 2010. Photo: Paul Hansen

Fifteen year-old Fabienne Cherisma was shot dead by police at approximately 4pm, January 19th, 2010. Photo: Paul Hansen

One of the photographs that supposed a big impact in the media was the image of the death body of Fabianne Cherisma, a 15 year old young girl. She was assassinated by the police because she stole two chairs and some tables.

We can see in this photograph that is shocking. The horizon is distorted by the lent because the girl is the main point in the photograph. We can see a very cruel and real photo but it helps to understand the terrible situation that some countries are suffering.  This photograph was taken by Paul Hansen. It was chosen as the best International News Image at the Swedish Picture of the Year Awards.  “For me, Fabienne’s death and her story is a poignant reminder of the need for a society to have basic security – with or without a disaster,” Paul Hansen says.  This photo tries to aware the society and shows the situation after the earthquake.

 15-year-old girl shows the aftermath of Haiti's earthquake Photo: Nathan Weber

15-year-old girl shows the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake Photo: Nathan Weber

On the other hand, Nathan Weber took another photograph of the girl but in a totally different context. I think this photograph causes a bigger impact than the other one. Here, the photographers act as the second main important point in the image. They seem anxious to get the best photograph of the girl that shows the human suffering.

With this photograph I think that we can get another message. They are exploiting this crime and looking for the best picture.

Paul Hansen

Paul Hansen is a photojournalist that was born in Stockholm, Sweden. He is a staff photographer for the daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter. He works with multimedia and he also writes his own assignments. Paul assumes a big journalistic responsibility to great acclaim by his newspapers readership. In covering events whether it is in Haiti, Bosnia, Afghanistan there is always one common denominator that link his work together; empathy. This shows an ethic issue about him. His visual storytelling has, among many domestic and international prizes and honors, also awarded him the title “Photographer of the Year” in Sweden six times and “Photographer of the year Newspapers” in 2010.

Some photographs by Paul Hansen

Dirty and poor. The children in the camp suffer and the future looks bleak.

Dirty and poor. The children in the camp suffer and the future looks bleak.

An Afghan refugee girl at a camp for displaced people across the border to Pakistan.

An Afghan refugee girl at a camp for displaced people across the border to Pakistan.

Nathan Weber

Photography began as an outlet for his creativity and through time and intense study evolved into his profession. At first, he was interested in architecture and in scenes and landscapes. He likes to take photographs that show the moments in people’s lives.

He uses photojournalism and a strong composition. His several techniques and his ability for taking photographs, allows him to produce great pictures.

Some photographs

Furthermore, there is a code of ethics that is a guide and shows the responsibilities of working as a photographer.

Code of Ethics

Responsibility to Colleagues and the Profession:

  1. Maintain a high quality of service and a reputation for honesty and fairness.
  2. Oppose censorship and protect the copyrights and moral rights of other creators.
  3. Foster fair competition based on professional qualification and merit.
  4. Never deliberately exaggerate one’s qualifications, nor misrepresent the authorship of work presented in self-promotion.
  5. Never engage in malicious or deliberately inaccurate criticism of the reputation or work of another photographer.
  6. Never offer or accept bribes, kickbacks or other improper inducements.
  7. Never conspire with others to fix prices, organize in illegal boycotts, or engage in other unfair competitive practices.
  8. Donate time for the betterment of the profession and to advise other photographers.

Responsibility to Subjects:

  1. Respect the privacy and property rights of one’s subjects.
  2. Never use deceit in obtaining model or property releases. 

Responsibility to Clients:

  1. Conduct oneself in a professional manner and represent a client’s best interests within the limits of one’s professional resonsibilities.
  2. Protect a client’s confidential information. Assistants should likewise maintain confidentiality of the photographer’s proprietary information.
  3. Accurately represent to clients the existence of model and property releases for photographs.
  4. Stipulate a fair and reasonable value for lost or damaged photographs.
  5. Use written contracts and delivery memos with a client, stock agency or assignment representative.
  6. Give due consideration to the client’s interests before licensing subsequent uses.
  7. Do not manipulate images for use in a journalistic context in a manner that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.




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