Category Archives: Part 4 Ethics and looking at the other

Project – Post-colonial ethnography

Exercise: Browse through the “Tribal Portraits” catalogue and write a reflective commentary.

I browsed through the catalogue and something didn’t feel right. The images that I identified as anthropological studies weren’t bothering me. This was such a disparate collection that there was no coherence to it. A cynic would notice the price tags and realise that despite being shown “…in this new and exciting context…”  this was just a clever bit of marketing to bump up the value of rare objects while providing a platform for contemporary photographers and dealers to show their wares.

I knew the work of Mirella Ricciardi as I have her book “African Visions” so at least I could view her images in some sort of context. I recognised the pictures of Lake Turkana and remembered Rankin’s images of the same region that I researched for the “Imaging Famine” topic. I added the total price for her five images and realised the source of my discomfort….

Research Primitive Typologies

I’m not sure I understand “primitivism” as a real thing. Is it just something made up to justify acquisition?

Peter Lavery’s portraits, although diverse I wasn’t able to put them in any sort of context. (only 17 images are available on his webpage) What Lavery claims to have done is to remove himself from the photograph which seems at odds with what I think of as portraiture in which you (the photographer) engage with the sitter in order that they show something of themselves in their reaction to you. In “removing himself” from the picture and providing no context or titles, he has reduced his subjects to stereotypes. Perhaps that was his intention. David Bruce’s images from the Kalahari do show more humanity, the people are real , they are reacting to the photographer. Where he has taken them in their natural environment he has documented the people as they are living their lives. I could not find Alvaro Leyva’s work, perhaps not speaking Spanish hindered me. Echvierra’s work suffers from the same problems as Lavery’s.


Project: Documents of conflict and suffering

Exercise: Don McCullin  “Shaped by War”   See also: BBC Imagine 2013

I listened and watched these two items with interest. What impressed me most was  was the thoughtful and sensitive nature of McCullin’s reflections on  his life’s work. In his voice you car hear it and you can see in his eyes that his experiences have profoundly effected him. The most telling part is, of course that he seems to be saying although his photographs have informed us, they have changed nothing.

Exercise: Max Houghton “Walk the Line”, Jonathan Kaplan “Imaging War”. My reactions to the author’s arguments are as follows:

Both pieces consider the justification for the decision to publish (or not) images of the results of horrifying violence. Kaplan asks “where are the limits on what we might wish to be shown?” and agrees with exclusion of documentary images of surgical procedure from a photographic book about landmines, citing the designer’s argument that they may put some viewers off purchasing it, losing the value of the rest of the images. I this case, I agree. He mentions earlier in the article “medical pornography”. I think this is a prime example and would have had no place in the book.

In her piece, Max Houghton makes the point (via a quote from  the picture editor Sophie Batterbury) that pictures of gore are a knee jerk distraction from any emotional impact of other images picturing the tragedy. She also alludes to a double standard, citing a comparison between the “falling man” image from 9/11 and Luc Delahaye’s “Taliban soldier”, whose family (presumably) had no say in whether the image was shown. The Observer spread from the conflict in Kenya appears to have been justified by the picture editor and although I found the black and white version less disturbing, I can understand how expanding the story and humanising its impact is necessary for a fuller understanding of the situation.

Both articles are about journalists using their own sense of what should or shouldn’t be shown. This seems to work up to a point as long as they remain independent and their choices and justifications are  ethical. Self regulation in a free press where editors have to be aware of the impact that poor choices have on readership and advertising revenues have worked so far. What is concerning is the use of social media (presumably why locals photograph the aftermath of suicide bombings) to disseminate such images. Only yesterday (25th June 2015) I read in a tabloid newspaper a report of TFL staff telling onlookers to stop taking photographs of the bodies of suicides as they lay on the tracks. I cannot see any justification for such action as a thinking, feeling human being, let alone as a photographer.

Exercise: Imaging famine

I started my research by looking at the website . It is now three decades since the Amin/Buerke report on Ethiopia and although the blog has since been closed, the posts made interesting reading.

David Campbell proposes that critique of the imaging will help but as this updated thread (August 2011) shows, the issue is a complex one.

Within David Campbell’s blog was this link to post by Barry Malone which is a sad reflection on how very little things seem to change. 

with a second link here to the resulting  Reuters article:                 

During my reading of the article “Imaging Famine” I made the following bullet point list of what I thought were the issues highlighted and searched to see if I could detect change.

  • Images with cultural and racial stereotypes
  • Negative and positive imaging – does the end justify the means
  • Captions and text – don’t always reflect the context experienced by the photographer
  • Is contemporary photographic practice post colonial?
  • Is there any data supporting the effectiveness of alternative images
  • Will still photography gain a renewed importance as TV neglects the world beyond our tabloid concerns?
  • Has the photographer chosen to use established aesthetic traditions?
  • What about using local photographers for immediacy?
  • What is the responsibility of the photographers/journalists present?

As I searched, I felt I was going around in circles so I have briefly summarised my impressions.

The Imaging Famine exhibition obviously highlighted issues with the reporting of suffering and disaster. The media were aware of the problems and it’s clear from what has been reported since, that things have changed. Barry Malone’s piece, for me sums up what a reasonable report should be. He acknowledges the context and writes his piece accordingly. Beyond that, what is to be done? There are more questions than answers here. Have the media been over sensitive to criticism in the past? Is it the hard hitting graphic image that gets the response and if so can it be justified if it has the desired effect? Has the media indulged in navel gazing just once too often and can no longer see its feet? The next exercise which looks at images taken in 2012 in the Horn of Africa and marks a distinct departure from those images we are familiar with from the 1980’s.

Exercise: WeareOCA blog post “The ethics of aesthetics”

This is my response to this thread as part of the Documentary course Project “Documents of conflict and suffering”. The ethics of aesthetics form part of this discussion.

The thread is about the work that Alejandro Chaskielberg has done in the area of Turkana in the Horn of Africa. He has pictured families who have received help from Oxfam in order that the effects of the ongoing drought can be mitigated. His style for these images is unusual in that they are beautifully (if unusually) lit and presented with saturated colours reminiscent of advertising photographs. This is where the aesthetic appears to conflict with the ethical consideration. The question was asked, “Are Chaskielberg’s images too beautiful? Given that we heard from Jo Harrison of Oxfam that “our images must depict hope, dignity and a realisation that change can happen”; I think it is perfectly proper that the aesthetics in this case be allowed to show the positive work that Oxfam are doing to try to prevent another famine. It is not just images of starving children that raise funds and it has been suggested that as a western society, we are inured to such images. There has to be some demonstration of positive outcomes for donors to want to keep giving. They are saying “This is how we are spending your money. Please continue to support us.”

Comparisons were drawn between Chaskielberg’s images and those of  Rankin and Stoddard. We need to consider the context in which these images are taken and their ultimate use.

Rankin’s images are no less beautiful and have a more direct impact on the viewer, they are quickly understood and assimilated. Another plus for the communication of the idea that these people are facing hardship and need our help. The same message but more direct. The photographer used his images to illustrate a blog for Oxfam Blog Action Day which put the images firmly in context.

Stoddard’s images of  famine in Sudan are of a completely different order. They symbolise what the western world thinks a famine in Africa looks like. They are strong, uncompromising and disturbing, exactly what I would expect from one of the world’s leading photojournalists. Are these the kind of images to which we have become inured? I suspect they are.

Exercise: To print or not to print

Had it been my decision I would have edited the photograph, being sensitive to the relatives of the victims. We need no reminder of the horrific effects of explosions no matter how they are caused. The context of the photograph was unaltered.

Documentary Part 4: Ethics and looking at the other

Project Gaze and Control

Exercise: ‘On Foucault Disciplinary Power and Photography’ by David Green

  • The article explores Foucault’s thought on the politics of the body and the use of surveillance as one tool in the maintenance of discipline in society
  • The use of photography in compiling anthropological, medical and criminal data (and as seen in an earlier part of the course, eugenics) for it’s perceived objectivity.
  • He talks about the “cultural politics of photography and puts forward the idea that it is “necessary to develop alternate ways of working with photography” depending on the context of the use of that photography. The camera has become ubiquitous and as photographers we need to be aware of our ethical obligations to use it responsibly. Sometimes we are unaware of the power of our photographs, particularly in the wrong hands.

Exercise: ‘The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic’ by Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins.

I read this article with a great deal difficulty. Once again I found the language difficult and the presentation of the ideas over complex. The article dealt with the topic of the gaze from an anthropological stance but as mentioned above, photography plays its part in recording and archiving  anthropological data. As photographers we need to be aware (if possible at the moment of capture or later during the edit) of the ways in which our images may be interpreted. Of course, as discussed earlier in the course, the context in which the images are ultimately viewed and the subjective nature of individual viewers interpretations render our efforts generalisations at best. In pursuing an ethical practice, it is up to the photographer to use the medium as objectively and responsibly as possible.