Photographic dilemma.

This is just a very short clip about Gordon Parks. It was part of a WordPress article by Photofocus.

There is a nice little story that starts at about 4 mins 30 secs into the interview and it reminds me of starting my first basic dSLR course. I managed to get a lucky break and was invited to photograph a DJ at the birthday party of an England rugby player.

I had no idea what I was doing with the camera and I didn’t have the knowledge or confidence to overcome the challenges of such a difficult environment. (Night Club setting). That was back in September last year.

While there I had an opportunity to photograph some people of interest but chose not to. I blogged about this at the time and made comment on how it would have been inappropriate of me to misuse the generous opportunity given to me by the DJ…..Its not what I was there for and I’d like to think if I approached this DJ again he would remember the integrity shown.

Soon after this event I also took some images of a number of street homeless and was asked by one female not to use anything where her face was showing. This is because she was escaping an abusive relationship. When I arrived home I deleted all the images with her face in view so that I never run the risk of using them in the future.

In both situations I would do the same again, it seems like the ethical thing to do.

Gordon Parks talks very briefly about trust. Since first picking up a camera I always thought integrity plays an important role in the responsibility of photographers and hoped that I wouldn’t get caught up in some dilemma about what to publish and what not to. For the most part I have not had any real concerns; I did feel uncomfortable taking some of my candid stranger shots but I get the impression everyone goes through this.

Now the following picture I took in Köln. It just looked like it would be a reasonably nice candid shot of a couple in a bar that I was going to use as part of a project on Flickr.IMG_4512-2

Then all of a sudden I had a little wobble regarding the ethics in photography.

What is the story inside this image? I don’t know, they are strangers.

What is the story I want you the viewer to see? Again, I don’t know. I just thought the light and the mood would make a nice image so I took a photo.

What if they are not a couple but have respective partners – husband or wife at home. What if they are a couple and ………. you see where I am going.

The image could tell a story of two friends, two colleagues, two busy people, a couple or an extra marital liaison.

I have no issue taking the image, its a public place. I am not betraying their trust because I know nothing of them, I don’t know who they are. Its just a candid shot of two strangers.

However, I wouldn’t want one of my images to cause any home disruptions so maybe I shouldn’t use it.

Then I throw into the mix the actual odds of either of these people or anyone that knows them seeing this image; yes I know that even though it is a different country the world is a much smaller place with technology, but the odds are pretty slim. However its now a dilemma because I gave it so much thought.

I shared my feelings on this with my fellow students on a class forum that is unfortunately not very active. Only one student replied. Her conclusion was pretty much the same as mine. Its in public go ahead and use it but if anyone can prove it is them and asks for it to be removed; remove it.

It took me a long time to come to that conclusion and I still wonder if it is really that simple.

The only other option is to stop photographing people and you’re all far too interesting for that to happen.

Thanks for stopping and reading.

Jim Jimmy James


  1. I like the bar photo Jimmy. Perhaps he is chatting her up, maybe they are work colleagues, or they might even be on a blind date. Who knows? it is the guesswork (and the lighting in this case) that makes it interesting. Ten people could have ten different interpretations of the same image. As for public place photography, they take their chances. Like the homeless lady, they can always ask you not to show a face, it is up to you whether or not to do the decent thing.
    I am sure that you always do though.
    Cheers mate. Pete.

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