RESPONSIBILITY & ETHICAL PRACTICE
This has been a curious week for me. I’ve been much more wrapped up in project thinking and client work. Considering ethics is something that I assimilated into my thinking and practice a long time ago, I’ve felt less engaged with this subject this week. Though as a prime element of my day-to-day work, its good to be reminded of the considerations of ethics as a photographer.
I have been challenged by the outlook of some photographers who choose to ignore their impact upon the public and their subjects in the name of their chosen passion. I have witnessed this in the enthusiast photographer arena (though not exclusively) – perhaps this is because they have little to no reason to put accountability at the centre of their photography.
Perhaps in the early days of photojournalism and photography in general, and long before the current ubiquity of cameras, surveillance, voyeurism etc. there may have been less need for an ethical approach. But, to my mind, something has changed in the past few years; something that puts greater responsibility on the photographer and those agencies where images are bought and sold: and that is our relationship to truth and the ‘flexibility’ of just what truth is. It’s probably unrealistic to expect agencies to hold themselves to high standards in this area, as their sole purpose is to sell images and make money – though I believe, as part of the image ‘chain’ they should have stricter regulations on how images might be used beyond their original context (I’m thinking here of the way an image of a line of refugees was utilised by the anti-immigration political party UKIP and the Leave Means leave campaign in the run-up to the UK’s EU referendum in 2016). Perhaps it falls on photographers to be extra aware of how their images might be used, where they might end up, and to take to task their own agreements with agencies? Maybe there is room for smaller image agencies once again (Demotix comes to mind) – but how they might survive with the behemoths of Getty and Corbis swallowing them up is hard to say?
Photographers of all ilks need to be vigilant about the potential uses (or abuses) of their images in the light of current social and political climates we live in: to be aware of what might happen to their images and to remain accountable to themselves and the community to a higher degree in how they make images and how those images are presented. It’s not an easy one.
Some of my commercial work leads me into contact with the general public – and frequently that will consist of children of all ages and/or members of NGOs and charities from diverse backgrounds, causes, and personal issues. It is often the case that I am involved in sensitive discussions in advance of shoot dates that explain situations that could arise if I were to photograph a certain person within a group or to be made aware of potentially delicate events that might arise during a shoot session. For example, this might include mental illness or legal issues. I am trusted to act with absolute respect for people at all times (whether they have consented in advance or otherwise). In effect, the photography is secondary to my relationship with the people I am photographing (after all I am often seen as integral to the brand or organization I am shooting for, even though I am freelance). My behavior towards them has to be faultless in its consideration of their rights and dignity. I try to carry that respect towards my subjects through ALL of my work and how I operate whilst shooting: this will include such things as visible information on lanyards/press passes, my openness to engage in dialogue with people, regular eye contact, always being willing to explain what I am doing and why, and ultimately being sensitive to every situation that I come into contact with in my capacity as photographer. If I do not operate with this rigor, integrity, and respect there are potentially huge repercussions for me as a professional, for my clients (many of which have international reputations and are often in the public eye), and of course the subjects.
Something else that occurs to me about press imagery and some photojournalism. At first, the images are recordings of an historical event (local or global), that is their prime reason for existing at the point of capture (outside of the ‘togs aesthetic considerations etc), in its primal form. That is effectively what ALL photography has been in some way. They record a moment, contain information and are then open to being viewed. What has become harder to reconcile with this is (and this is where the cynic in me comes blazing in with guns firing) how that information is utilized and manufactured. I’m inclined to agree with Fred Ritchin in his attack on the ‘photo-opportunity’ and stage-managed image sessions (one could say propaganda sessions?) that have become a prevalent part of the news cycle and info age – the control of a truth, the control of image, the control of message – aren’t these all roots of where we’ve got to with our politics and social issues today? Might be. Might be.
I’ve been trying to crack open my thinking about my research project. I’ve chosen to use a method I’ve used for projects in the past: scrapbooking. Appropriating unrelated images (not always my own) from magazines etc and cutting and pasting in such a way that might be provocative to my thinking. I’ve included a few pages of this play above.
It’s an approach that I’ve been aware of in other contexts such as in the compositional techniques of writer William Burroughs and musicians Brian Eno and David Bowie.
I find it is a way to get me out of my literal thinking around image-making. It offers up a greater potential for the sense of macro to micro that intrigues me, wider images through to details to be presented together. I can also play with colour palettes, juxtapositions, associations, and free-writing. In this instance, it has also been a way to access personal memories in the context of the questions of identity I’m wanting to explore.
Camera obscura – a thin membrane between two worlds.
Find practitioners working on relevant themes to my own.
Why the scrapbook methodology? What reasons?