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Thread: Food for thought: Moral judgement on photographers.

  1. #1
    Senior Member zoossh's Avatar
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    Default Food for thought: Moral judgement on photographers.

    I chanced upon a thread on reportage, which mention the fate of this South African photographer who was a man of tumultuous emotions and drove to suicide partly because of the criticisms he underwent after winning the Pulitzer awards on a controversial shot of a child potentially under threat of a stalking vulture.

    Link, Picture

    Information quoted from below
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Carter
    http://flatrock.org.nz/topics/odds_a..._in_unfair.htm
    http://www.hbo.com/docs/programs/kev.../synopsis.html

    The story...
    Kevin Carter, died at the age of 33. Being of English descent and not the mainstream Afrikaner (mainly dutch), he loath the apartheid and was kidded as a nigger lover. After he joined a camera supply store, he drift into photojournalism and joined a few young white photographers subsequently, to photograph the violence of the apartheid regime as well as the conflicts between the different factions of the blacks.

    In 1993, saying he needed a break from South Africa's turmoil, he borrowed money for the air fare and make his way to Southern Sudan to photograph a civil war and famine that he felt the world was overlooking... In his trip joining the United Nations aboard Operation Lifeline Sudan, he was shocked, and with his mate witness more suffering in africa, saw many dead corpse, starving children, killings and murders. Once, he saw a starving emanciated toddler being stalked by a vulture. he approached the subject carefully and took a picture of the vulture in close distance behind the toddler.

    the after events of the shot has a few versions. his mate said he took a few more photos after which the vulture flew off, and his mate also took some photographs but did not win the awards. the editor of The New York Times also subsequently remarked that Carter chase off the vultures with which thereafter the child resumed her trek to the feeding centre.

    As quoted from above websites quoting from time domestic, this is the account
    Immediately after their plane touched down in the village of Ayod, Carter began snapping photos of famine victims. Seeking relief from the sight of masses of people starving to death, he wandered into the open bush. He heard a soft, high-pitched whimpering and saw a tiny girl trying to make her way to the feeding centre. As he crouched to photograph her, a vulture landed in view. Careful not to disturb the bird, he positioned himself for the best possible image. He would later say he waited about 20 minutes, hoping the vulture would spread its wings. It did not, and after he took his photographs, he chased the bird away and watched as the little girl resumed her struggle. Afterward he sat under a tree, lit a cigarette, talked to God and cried. "He was depressed afterward," Silva recalls. "He kept saying he wanted to hug his daughter."

    but with various interpretations and possibly incomplete information of the completeness of the story, many critics and the public pounded heavily on Carter, perhaps till today, criticising or allerging that he did not save the girl earlier, or did not save the girl, and instead take the photographs which subsequently brought him to fame after winning the awards.

    A few davs after winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1994, his close friend, another photojournalist, died in his job while covering a gunbattle. at the same time, he was depressed with financial difficulties, haunted by his entire experience in his trip and he thus left a death note saying that he will join his friend and committed suicide, about 2 months after the awards. Carter's daughter, Megan Carter, says, "I see my dad as the suffering child. And the rest of the world is the vulture." Says another photojournalist, James Nachtwey from Magnum, "Every photographer who has been involved in these stories has been affected. You become changed forever. Nobody does this kind of work to make themselves feel good. It is very hard to continue."

    quoted from Charles Paul Freund, "In Carter's case, Western newspaper readers saw a little girl. Carter, in the Sudanese village where he landed, was watching 20 people starve to death each hour. Perhaps he might have laid aside his camera to give the victims what succor he could (and thus never have encountered the girl in the bush); perhaps his photographs could have led to greater help than he could personally give. Should he have carried one girl to safety? Carter was surrounded by hundreds of starving children. When he sat by the tree and wept, it was beneath a burden of futility."

    his life's a torment perhaps of his personality. he had attempted suicide before when younger. he took drugs to relieve his stressful job, & his girlfriend ask for a temporary separation till he drop the drugs. after the trip to sudan and mixed response towards his awards, he was again exposed to the violent coverage of his own society while his friend died in job. times when he himself have to run away from the murderous gang, let alone to save the victim. in the end, he ended his life perhaps not just becos of lack of interference before the vulture attacks of which it didn't. it might have been different if the vulture did indeed attack, and if he is in close proximity and capable of fending off the vulture, and if he did not act.


    The thoughts...
    but the story certainly provoke certain thoughts... of which, would and should one be or feel guilty as follows ...

    1. photographing when there is no immediate or imminent danger, with which interference can still be acted upon when needed.
    2. photographing when it is clear cut that the victim is in the midst of being rescued, and the photographer would not of much help
    3. photographing when the photographer is not in the position or not being able to help.

    i'm very glad to have been born in sg which is actually very fortunate to be independent and takes integrity in it. some sporeans took it for granted, and ridicules nations fending off invasion and struggling for independence, in view of their religious or ethnic affliations. we also have no major natural disasters & despite of having some really poor people, we have no widespread poverty, grotesque stories of brain damaged turned away by hospitals, women raped by local police, kidneys stolen after appendix surgery .. at most we have is chee soon juan being labelled, grievances about bureacracy and debates of influx of other nationalities in disproportionate ratios (more immigrants from some country than the others).

    nonetheless, few of us are in that situation of facing such issues as illustrated though in short occasions we come across minor social problems or poverty when overseas. i'm certainly not one who does reportage. i do travel and related aesthetic, running away from things that i have zero mental preparation to ever encounter and not willing to face.

    despite of that, we all face related problem upon human subjects on streets. some subconsciously sees photographing by itself an act of indifference, which is why it is not becos he did not "help", but rather becos he took photographs that he was accused of indifference, which apparently he's not. the same 2nd person who if around, and not helping, but did not take photograph, will not be subjected to such criticisms.

    and the same problem to amateur and professionals on the streets, constantly scrutinized as paparazzi, voyeurs & remotely possible terrorist, constantly plagued by unnecessary, unauthorised or illegal harassment. all these stems from the view of photography by its very self an act of indifference and intrusion. instead, while doing nothing to paparazzi, everything is done to photographers other than paparazzi, something that i totally can't understand. some people sympathetise terrorism, but few people, if any, outside the photographic circle, empathise with photographers being harassed under such suspicion. and of cos at any time, working distance from human subject is an consideration, differing among photographers, differing between societies, some more insecure than others, often a factor of disagreement or inter-photographer judgement or criticisms, which perhaps have been brought out for discussion many times.

    i'm happily trying to submerge myself in shooting the happier things in life... but the remote darkness that shadows distant counterparts that covers the other field faraway from my approach, still left me a lingering feeling. afterall, consciously i know reportage photos very much interested me as a plain viewer (not as a photographer), and every single of those photographers at magnum has great pictures that i only have awe and respect. and deep in many successful travel photographers, there is a partial or sometimes inseparable photojournalistic component. some people may not totally subscribed to the rule of no photomanipulation since they have no intention of press, but nonetheless their photos have major contents that subscribe to a display of a different culture. there is a little intertwining here despite of large differences in approach and mentality.

    sometimes i wonder. are we as photographers, or as general public, often too harsh on fellow photographers? what is the line of moral judgement that should exist? should we judge someone's moral liability in an event totally exclusive of the additional photographing act? we all have been photographing, have one of y'alls ever thought that your approach is more morally correct than others?
    Last edited by zoossh; 5th July 2008 at 12:48 AM.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Food for thought: Moral judgement on photographers.

    Which reminds me of a joke..

    You're in Florida...In Miami, to be exact. There is great chaos going on around you, caused by a hurricane and severe floods. Suddenly you see a man in the water, he is fighting for his life, trying not to be taken away by the masses of water and mud. You move closer.

    Somehow the man looks familiar. Suddenly you know who it is -- it's George W. Bush, President of the United States.

    At the same time you notice that the raging waters are about to take him away, forever. You have two options. You can save him or you can take the best photo of your life. So you can save the life of George W. Bush, or you can shoot an award winning photo, a unique photo displaying the death of one of the world's most powerful men.

    And here's the question (please give an honest answer):

    Would you select color film, or rather go with the simplicity of classic black and white ?


    Maybe there is one more classic one... your mother and wife are both drowning, you can only save one, which one will you save?

    There's no right or wrong 'answers', people who are brought up in different environments will answer (or choose to answer) differently. Morality has different meanings to someone who is brought up in a different environment from us.

    Always remember that we're very lucky to be born and bred on this little red dot, love and cherish what you have, and give when you have the ability.

    Don't think too much.... you won't find an answer...
    Pictures always should have a special story behind it or a special meaning to the photographer.

  3. #3
    Moderator Octarine's Avatar
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    Default Re: Food for thought: Moral judgement on photographers.

    Quote Originally Posted by zoossh View Post
    sometimes i wonder. are we as photographers, or as general public, often too harsh on fellow photographers? what is the line of moral judgement that should exist? should we judge someone's moral liability in an event totally exclusive of the additional photographing act? we all have been photographing, have one of y'alls ever thought that your approach is more morally correct than others?
    Moral is a framework or DOs and DON'Ts developed in each society. Some are overlapping between societies ("You must no kill.") but there are also big differences. Most of them are age-old and became mixed with religion, tradition and other influences. So we should refrain from any moral judgment if the person, act or incident is not happening in our own cultural and social context. But globalization brings cultures closer together which makes it more difficult. Singapore is an example how different moral systems come together and have to learn to coexist. The look to Malaysia reveals how other countries handle the same challenge differently. Who wants to judge here morally?

    The meaning of a picture is always depending on the social context of the beholder. There was once an incident about a German satiric TV show that illustrates this very well. The showmaster showed two small clips. The first one showed the Iranian revolution leader Ayatollah Khomeini watching down doing something but you couldn't see his hands. The question was "What is he doing there?" The second clip showed the "answer": hands rummaging in bras and undies in a shop. What was meant to be a joke (and most of the western viewers had a good laugh) ended up in a political hiccup. The German ambassador in Iran was called in for a formal complain and Iran pulled out diplomats from Germany. It took a long time and an official apology from the showmaster and the TV station to the Iranian country to resolve it.

    Secondly, with regards to Kevin Carter, there is always this question about "What if he had some something else..?" or "Why must the photographer take these pictures?". The first question, imho, is utterly nonsense. We cannot say what could have happened if something was done differently. Pure speculation. The second question refers back to the social context. Starving people surely would prefer to have food instead of their picture taken. But the message transported with the pictures can bring enough attention to this case so that international help can start. The disaster in Myanmar shows what pictures and reports can cause: help to the victims. The same situation as in 2004 when the Tsunami hit.
    That shows the power of pictures and the responsibility the photographer has. The picture alone can be a dangerous thing when it leaves room for interpretation and speculation. It needs a context for the viewer to understand the picture, otherwise it can cause misunderstandings or worse things.
    That's why I reject all kinds of censorship to keep pictures locked an unpublished. But pictures must be presented in the right context.

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    Default Re: Food for thought: Moral judgement on photographers.

    certainly brings to point the incident at singapore river where many bystanders were simply watching the one-legged man who had fallen into it struggle and not offered any help, one person even took a video of the whole incident and rescue.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Food for thought: Moral judgement on photographers.

    in the case of kevin carter, i would say it should not and cannot be compared to one legged man example mentioned

    reason being that photograhy of that picture resulted in enormous increment of awareness. and at least for a moment there interest was generated. it was only temporary though, today everyone knows what the situation is like, it is a very sad thing indeed - but that's one very scary place. i don't think kevin carter did anything wrong, but of course i wasn't there, i didn't go through what he go through, nor any of the negative responses he received.

    as opposed to one legged man example, filming his struggling does nothing spectacular.

    i think there are other forms of moral judgement on photographers in singapore actually - i recently had the fortune (or misfortune, depending on how you see it) of attending an event for the first time.. the mix of people's manners at the events was extremely contrasty, but i think i prefer overpoliteness to "elbowing". to be more specific, it was a cosplay event, and sometimes when the cosplayers had trouble maintaining their stance due to fatigue, i even encountered a guy who gave impatient clucking noises when that happened.

    just remember, that when you are a bad black sheep, society has the tendency to paint anyone they perceive as in your group as similar to you. so, even if you cannot be bothered, be more considerate, and maybe photography in singapore itself may not be so hindered.

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    Senior Member zoossh's Avatar
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    Default Re: Food for thought: Moral judgement on photographers.

    Quote Originally Posted by Hitman View Post
    Morality has different meanings to someone who is brought up in a different environment from us.
    and precisely i think we should keep that cultural difference in mind. i find that the mentality that one have towards human subjects tend to be strongest, and only wish everyone keep a more open mind about it.

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    Senior Member zoossh's Avatar
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    Default Re: Food for thought: Moral judgement on photographers.

    Quote Originally Posted by night86mare View Post
    i think there are other forms of moral judgement on photographers in singapore actually - i recently had the fortune (or misfortune, depending on how you see it) of attending an event for the first time.. the mix of people's manners at the events was extremely contrasty, but i think i prefer overpoliteness to "elbowing". to be more specific, it was a cosplay event, and sometimes when the cosplayers had trouble maintaining their stance due to fatigue, i even encountered a guy who gave impatient clucking noises when that happened.
    there might be different personality profile between different photographic genre. some are like archery, some are like rugby. saw some threads about the japanese racequeens and read the account of vincecarlo - and i can completely sense the kind of environment he's got to be in. i've never shot such situations and would be glad not to be in.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Food for thought: Moral judgement on photographers.

    Quote Originally Posted by zoossh View Post
    there might be different personality profile between different photographic genre. some are like archery, some are like rugby. saw some threads about the japanese racequeens and read the account of vincecarlo - and i can completely sense the kind of environment he's got to be in. i've never shot such situations and would be glad not to be in.
    even then, the type of shots you produce, the type of mannerisms you project to other photographers, and the people involved in the thing you are shooting, i think there is a certain basic standards even there be differences.

    basic courtesy is one, acknowledgement that subjects are human is another.

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    Member Parka's Avatar
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    Default Re: Food for thought: Moral judgement on photographers.

    There are no clear guidelines to follow, hence a 'moral' dilemma.

    When one's out taking photo like Kevin Carter, comes upon the same situation, would one save the little kid? Ok, let's say one decides to save the kid. Then another similar situation arises, followed by another. How many kids can one save? Deciding is pretty much easier if the situation is once in a while. If otherwise, it's probably better to be a Red Cross volunteer instead of a photographer.

    Whether or not one decision is moral or not, is decided by oneself, not by others.

  10. #10

    Default Re: Food for thought: Moral judgement on photographers.

    What's morally correct to one may not be correct for another.

    May take is that everybody has their own definition of what is morally correct. Let's just respect that and not impose our own moral definition on another person.

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