The Ethical Callousness of Photojournalists

Eric Kim Street Photography launched an ethics controversy by running two photographs. One, a prize-winning photo of 15-year-old Haitian Fabienne Cherisma, who was shot and killed by Haitian police after stealing two plastic chairs and three framed pictures in the chaos following the nation’s devastating earthquake last year. The other picture showed the origins of the photo and others like it, a crowd of intent photographers in a group, snapping away at the horrible scene like paparazzi trying to get a good shot of Lindsay Lohan.

Kim agreed that the initial photo is crucial news journalism, but worried that the second photo showed callousness on the part of the photographers, who appeared to be exploiting a tragedy.

Judge for yourself. Photojournalism, like medicine, law enforcement, social work, government leadership, and many other professions, is an ethically-conflicting job by nature,  because it requires dispassionate calculations in situations where non-professionals would be overwhelmed with emotion. This is purely utilitarian conduct. The pictures need to be taken. The public is served by vivid illustrations of the world and events. Competent and effective pictures require pragmatism, opportunism and professional cool that will often seem repugnant to observers. That is unavoidable, and fully justified by the importance of the work.

Verdict: the photographers are ethical.

But how they do their job sure can look awful.

4 thoughts on “The Ethical Callousness of Photojournalists

  1. I call this “the Prime Directive conundrum”. The Prime Directive states that there can be no interference with the internal development of alien civilizations. The conundrum comes when we look at these photos, or National G movies of lions chasing down their prey, or at the rights of women in Afghanistan, and wonder to what extent we can or should intervene…

    It is not always an issue of ethics, it is often one of values. But is there a point at which it switches over to being an ethical issue, and how do we identify that point?

  2. Agreed, it may be a heart-breaking job , but somebody’s got to do it.

    Incidentally, you mention in pass ing somebody called “Lindsay Lohan”. The young lady has announced that henceforth she shall only be known as “Lindsay”. No more Lohan. Nothing unethical in that.

    Though it may be the equal, in pretentiousness, of “The Artist, formerly known as Prince”, or perhaps “Lady Gaga.” Nothing unethical — just matters of taste — and self-deception.

    Chacun a son gout.

  3. If it had only been one photographer stopping to take this picture, the photo of him doing it wouldn’t have seemed so controversial. And as you always point out, the ethics of an action do not change depending on how many people are doing it. No matter how it looks.

  4. I think that these photo shows two different perspectives of the same setting, it makes me sick to the stomach to see no one doing anything about it. It shows lack of respect and disregard for no one trying to preserve the girls dignity.

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