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Photography and privacy

by on November 14, 2013

I’ve been looking a lot through the photojournalism section of the New York Times (aptly called “Lens”), which I think is an amazing representation of the power of photography in news reporting. What they choose to include in photoessays, from their “Pictures of the Day” to more topic-specific collections, serve as foundations for and additions to the text stories. As we talked about in class recently, however, photos tend to bring up issues of privacy and attribution more than other types of reporting. A lot of pictures of the devastation in the Philippines from the recent typhoon include injured people without their names in the captions. Some of the subjects clearly knew they were being photographed, but I wonder if they fully understood the extent to which the picture of them could be spread. Under normal circumstances not including a name would be pretty much unacceptable, but can you bend the rules for extenuating circumstances like language barriers or a time-sensitive story (like a recent natural disaster)? When do you stop bending the rules? Is it even bending the rules, or is there a completely different code of conduct for this sort of situation?


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  1. seafeezle permalink

    The culture/ language barrier issue when reporting could be, I think, comparable to interviewing an unknowing community member about a hot-button issue. Like we discussed in class, it is our job as journalists to minimize and not go after those we seek to protect. Our interviewees need to be informed of why we want to photograph them as well as how the photographs may be used (the best we can explain it to them).

    In the case of the typhoon victims, I think you should try to get names. Names have more of an impact as opposed to another countless, distraught victim. The photograph of Maricris next to the body of her husband Richard is harder to forget because the names help bring them closer to the audience. They are better connected to the readership because they have that extra human element.

    The biggest thing to remember is to minimize harm. I don’t think there’s a different code of conduct in such circumstances, but as with every circumstance, you need to do the best that you can with the time that you have.

  2. I agree that photojournalists should always try to get the names of their subjects, but in this situation, I think the pictures are just as powerful without them.

    The typhoon killed thousands of people and left half a million more homeless, and I think the most important job of journalists covering this situation is to show just how widespread the impact of the disaster was. If that means spending less time trying to work around language barriers to get names, then I think that’s a small sacrifice photojournalists should make in order to convey the bigger picture.

    That being said, journalists should still always be clear about what they’re doing and give subjects the chance to decline to be photographed.

  3. torischnee permalink

    There was that issue with the woman praying and someone took her photograph and she was extremely distraught over it. In the end the photographer wasn’t at fault because they took the photograph in a public place. When can we consider it inappropriate to do something like this even though it makes for a very compelling image?

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