PDN: When you’re covering a subject, or
seeking access, what kind of relationship
do you try to establish? What do you tell
them about how the photos might be used?
Do you offer anything in return?
VICTOR J. BLUE: I try to establish a relationship
of transparency and of trust. I am very honest
about why I am there and what I am doing,
and what will happen with the pictures:
They will be published in a big newspaper or
magazine, they will be on the internet, they
will have your name on them. Most stories I
do at some point require what I call the DTR—
the “Define the Relationship” talk. I try to be
upfront and really direct about it. I’ve had the
talk in living rooms, in prisons, on farms, on
combat outposts, in all kinds of contexts. It of
course changes each time, but the outlines
are about the same:
I don’t want anyone to get hurt today, and I
don’t want anything bad to happen. But I came
here because bad things happen/have happened
here, or could happen here, and I want to tell
the world about that and how it affects you.
Now, I can’t guarantee you that letting me come
here will solve it, or help you out personally.
But if you let me hang out, at least people will
know what you are going through. And if you
planned on doing something terrible today, you
are making a big mistake because I am going to
tell everyone about it….I can’t guarantee that
you will like the way you look in the pictures,
or what you see in them. But I promise that
you’ll never see a photo I take or read a word
that I write and be able to say, “That’s not how
it happened. That’s not true.”
SIM CHI YIN: Ethics is something I feel is
important to talk about especially in relatively
closed societies where news is sometimes
propaganda....In the case of the Rat Tribe
project [about people living in basements in
Beijing], I said, “I want to show that you’re
regular people with aspirations for upward
mobility, and sometimes my work is picked up
by magazines and broadcasters.” Some people
said, “I’m ok with this coming out in English
outside of China,” but I had people who
asked me to remove their picture when it
was published in Chinese in China. So I did.
You have to listen to what subjects ask of
you, and act on their requests.
PDN: When subjects ask you implicitly or
explicitly “What’s it in it for me?” how do
you respond to that?
ED KASHI: I’ve increasingly had situations,
especially with refugees and people in poverty,
[in which people] ask why they should help me
when nothing changes for them. That is the
most challenging moment. But when it’s asked
explicitly, I am always very clear who I am, what
I’m doing, why I’m doing it and what I want to
achieve. Most of the time my goal is to benefit
them in some way, either by telling their story,
giving them voice, or actually to advocate to
raise awareness or foment solutions for their
plight, or the issue they are facing.
hotojournalism has always been built on trust—between photographers
and their subjects, and between photographers and their audiences.
But there are natural tensions between the interests of photographers,
subjects, readers and editors—and the non-governmental organizations, grant
makers and advocacy organizations who now support most of the long-form
photographic storytelling we see. Some photographers want their photos to
effect change, while others strive to remain neutral. But all have biases that
influence who and what they choose to photograph, and the how and why of
practically every picture they take and select for distribution.
How do photographers navigate those choices in practice? We interviewed
a few seasoned photographers, including Nina Berman, David Guttenfelder,
Victor J. Blue, Sim Chi Yin and Ed Kashi, to find out how they do it.
For some outside perspective, we also interviewed Tom Hundley, senior
editor at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, which provides financial
support to photojournalists reporting on pressing social issues. Here are
excerpts of their responses. We have categorized the responses by topic,
but we also include questions that elicited the responses. The full interviews
are available online at bit.ly/PhotojournalismEthics.
ABOVE: Victor J. Blue photographed an Afghan
National Army soldier in the Kunduz province
of Afghanistan in 2015. Blue has made
many trips to the country, often embedding
with military forces. When working closely
with subjects, Blue usually has a “Define the
Relationship” talk with them, to make sure
they understand why he’s there and what
they can—and can’t—expect from him.
WHAT DO PHOTOGRAPHERS OWE TO THEIR SUBJECTS?