Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ethics and Photography

Below is the standard in which every documentary photographer, photojournalist should live by. While this is was major part of my life, following rules and personal ethics; due to changing the type of work I now do and the advancement in art, digital photography and computers, ( fine art, headshots ) I have learned to bend my rules. I call it "Photo Illustration"

It took some serious self-reflection. The idea of not-manipulating work has been such a part of my daily life, I couldn’t do. The first headshot took me twice as long to edit because I couldn’t grasp the idea that it was “ok” to clean up the image (within reason and while I still prefer it as natural as possible),  if an actor is having a bad skin day, making them perfect/clean (not plastic) is ok. 

If for any reason the image you shoot resembles, is, a documentary image, this manipulation is NOT OK!!!!

The NPPA ( ), is a great place for resources, information and basic guidelines on photography.
 The National Press Photographers Association, a professional society that promotes the highest standards in photojournalism, acknowledges concern for every person's need both to be fully informed about public events and to be recognized as part of the world in which we live.
Photojournalists operate as trustees of the public. Our primary role is to report visually on the significant events and on the varied viewpoints in our common world. Our primary goal is the faithful and comprehensive depiction of the subject at hand. As photojournalists, we have the responsibility to document society and to preserve its history through images.
Photographic and video images can reveal great truths, expose wrongdoing and neglect, inspire hope and understanding and connect people around the globe through the language of visual understanding. Photographs can also cause great harm if they are callously intrusive or are manipulated.
This code is intended to promote the highest quality in all forms of photojournalism and to strengthen public confidence in the profession. It is also meant to serve as an educational tool both for those who practice and for those who appreciate photojournalism. To that end, The National Press Photographers Association sets forth the following Code of Ethics:

Code of Ethics
Photojournalists and those who manage visual news productions are accountable for upholding the following standards in their daily work:
-Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects.
-Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.
-Be complete and provide context when photographing or recording subjects. Avoid stereotyping individuals and groups. Recognize and work to avoid presenting one's own biases in the work.
-Treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy. Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see.
-While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events.
-Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images' content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.
-Do not pay sources or subjects or reward them materially for information or participation.
-Do not accept gifts, favors, or compensation from those who might seek to influence coverage.
-Do not intentionally sabotage the efforts of other journalists.

Ideally, photojournalists should:
-Strive to ensure that the public's business is conducted in public. Defend the rights of access for all journalists.
-Think proactively, as a student of psychology, sociology, politics and art to develop a unique vision and presentation. Work with a voracious appetite for current events and contemporary visual media.
-Strive for total and unrestricted access to subjects, recommend alternatives to shallow or rushed opportunities, seek a diversity of viewpoints, and work to show unpopular or unnoticed points of view.
-Avoid political, civic and business involvements or other employment that compromise or give the appearance of compromising one's own journalistic independence.
-Strive to be unobtrusive and humble in dealing with subjects.
-Respect the integrity of the photographic moment.
-Strive by example and influence to maintain the spirit and high standards expressed in this code. -When confronted with situations in which the proper action is not clear, seek the counsel of those who exhibit the highest standards of the profession. Photojournalists should continuously study their craft and the ethics that guide it.

Examples of Manipulated work: (from NPPA)

Our credibility is damaged every time a reputable news organization is caught lying to the public and one of the most blatant and widely recognized cases was the computer enhancement of the TIME Magazine cover photo of O. J. Simpson. TIME took the mug shot of Simpson when he was arrested and changed it before using it on their cover. They would not have been caught if NEWSWEEK had not used the same photo on their cover photo just as it had come from the police. The two covers showed up on the news stands next to each other and the public could see something was wrong.

TIME darkened the handout photo creating a five o'clock shadow and a more sinister look. They darkened the top of the photo and made the police lineup numbers smaller. They decided Simpson was guilty so they made him look guilty. (There are two issues here: one is a question of photographic ethics and the other is a question of racial insensitivity by TIME in deciding that blacker means guiltier. The black community raised this issue when the story broke and needs to be the subject of another article. My concern is with the issue of photographic ethics).

In an editorial the next week, TIME's managing editor wrote, "The harshness of the mug shot - the merciless bright light, the stubble on Simpson's face, the cold specificity of the picture - had been subtly smoothed and shaped into an icon of tragedy." In other words, they changed the photo from what it was (a document) into what they wanted it to be. TIME was making an editorial statement, not reporting the news. They presented what looked like a real photograph and it turned out not to be real; the public felt deceived, and rightly so. By doing this, TIME damaged their credibility and the credibility of all journalists.

-John Long
NPPA Ethics Co-Chair and Past President
September 1999

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