Duckrabbit, Ethics & Sheep

Most days when I’m not out taking pictures I spend at least a few minutes (more often about an hour) before I start on my own work for the day looking through Facebook posts and a number of blogs and web sites on my newsfeed, stopping to read those that really catch my interest. One blog that often does this is duckrabbit, and I’ve often shared posts from there on this blog.

There are a couple of things in the past few weeks that have interested me there, and the latest is a post by John Macpherson The thin blue line reflecting on two posts about Ferguson, one by a black police officer and the second an Al Jazeera Opinion piece by Malcolm Harris: ‘Unethical journalism can make Ferguson more dangerous’. It’s this second post that is particularly pertinent for photographers who cover events – as I occasionally do – where some of those involved may be breaking laws, where Harris suggests that “publishing images with identifiable faces” in situations like this is a “violation of accepted practice“.

Macpherson makes some very sensible comments about this and while there are situations where anonymity should be respected, journalists are not there to decide on who is breaking the law, but to report “the situation as it unfolds, and recording it with professional objectivity.”

Of course there are situations that call for anonymity, and times where journalists can only work on that basis or when we chose to do so by the careful choice of camera angle and framing, but this isn’t something we should do without careful consideration, and not something that would generally apply on protests on the streets. I’m careful at times not to include “innocent bystanders” in my pictures, and have been known to advise people wearing masks to protect their identity to actually cover their faces with them. But I think those acting openly on the street can have little complaint if their actions are reported openly.

There have been a few occasions when I have decided not to take pictures, on the grounds that a particular image would misrepresent the event I was covering. I’m not sure in most cases my decision was right, and it would have been better to take the pictures and decide later whether or not to use them. But for most journalists now there isn’t a ‘later’, with publications and agencies demanding images almost before they are taken, rather than the several hours that allow me to consider and edit my work.

My photographs have never been used in court, but I have on several occasions provided copies to protesters to help in the preparation of their defence (I think as so often the charges were dropped in all these cases) where the pictures showed police acting in an aggressive manner.

Photographs, and particularly still photographs, are in any case rather curious evidence, seldom providing reliable evidence on their own. They need captions, explanations, supporting testimony. Even with information now embedded in digital images they are often not entirely reliable about when and where they were taken, and, as we photographers certainly know, an image taken a fraction before or after, or from a slightly different viewpoint may provide a quite different impression of what was taking place.

The second duckrabbit piece, ‘Cut out the crap‘ is a short link to a blog post by Bartosz Nowicki to the work of a little-known photographer from Wales. Peter Jones grew up in Abwerystwyth and after various night classes studied photography “at Manchester College of Art and Design ’66-’69 where I was influenced by the work of Edward Weston and Tony Ray Jones. Went to London to look for work and found a job as John Thornton’s first assistant.” But then he came home to Wales to visit his sick mother,  got drawn in to the family farm and never touched a camera for 30 years, only becoming involved in photography again when his sister entered him into a Millennium project where people were given disposable cameras and free processing. When ill health forced his retirement from farming he started taking pictures again, buying a Leica M6 and a 35mm and 50mm lenses. The images on the blog are from a project “Welsh Farming Community” which he says “will come to it’s conclusion when my shutter stops blinking.” It’s an interesting story with some fine images and I think should at some point make a fine book.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.