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Ethics of Photojournalism at Aperture, NYC

Just went to a talk in NYC the other day, sponsored by Aperture Foundation, and with Marcus Bleasdale, Stephen Mayes, Jason Cone, Philip Gourevitch, Thomas Keenan, and Kira Pollack on the panel. Very interesting, and not surprisingly, it seemed that much of the talk centered around the concepts of neutrality (are you doing photojournalism if you are being paid by an NGO, or are you engaging in advocacy?), authenticity (how real are the images we see? What if a photographer manipulates an image for whatever reason?), and interpretation (Can a photograph communicate an idea without some idea of the context in which the image was made?). It was an interesting discussion, and it left me with the feeling that we should teach people to stop looking for the unvarnished “truth” in news or in photographs or anywhere else. Perhaps we should start thinking about all of the media we see and consume as “argument” and try to weigh the points and arrive at some opinion that seems true based on the facts. Sadly, despite our living in the age of incessant information inundation, it seems people prefer to absorb predigested truth from the liberal or conservative outlet of their choice or inclination. Assessing argument appears to be a lost skill. If you wish to see the discussion, go to;

http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/events/public/event.cfm?id=493

Curious to hear what you folks out there have to say, if anything

by John Louis Lassen Perry at 2012-09-20 20:30:59 UTC | Bookmark | | Report spam→

John, I would much rather read someone who declares and justifies a bias up front and then make my own opinion accordingly, then struggle to figure out what bias a journalist might have by reading between the lines of his or her supposedly neutral prose. The pretentiousness of authenticity is problematic; in my opinion there’s no such thing as truly “neutral” or “objective”. That’s not to discard notions and traditions of fairness, research, or supporting facts and replace them with opinion and conjecture, but since even facts and research carry their own bias and baggage, I much prefer sources that are upfront about their agenda.

If you don’t have an agenda of some sort, then why bother? I’m much more inclined to enjoy and appreciate something that’s done with passion and conviction — it’ll carry over to the work at hand and make it that much more compelling. Biased, perhaps, but even if I disagree with the stated position it’s still more likely to catch my eye.

by Lars Blackmore | 25 Sep 2012 19:09 | Kigali, Rwanda | | Report spam→
I agree with what you say. That’s a part of seeing media output as argument, and truthfully, I think it’s always been that way. If you are in a position that involves explaining a complicated story to people who have not seen it first hand, then you need to do it with force and honesty if you want them to pay attention and take it seriously. Reporting or writing on any situation with impact requires passion, and it would seem a difficult proposition to be “passionately neutral” in most circumstances; in a situation where there is right and wrong, you must take a side.

With respect to this talk, though, an important issue is not only how you perceive the work of others, but also how people in an entire field are perceived by those they observe. In Afganistan, the U.S. military employed anthropologists to help gain a better understanding of some tribal people. Other anthropologists argued that this might place all future anthropologists at risk, since part of working in the field in anthropology involves a commitment to observe social behavior while simply accepting that society’s social norms. If we’re not neutral, why should we be allowed to watch? Same for photojournalism. It is one thing to have an opinion about a situation on the ground, it is another to work for pay for a group which advocates one position or other. If you are a journalist, you supposedly are reserving judgement and gathering the facts, whether or not you come to agree with one side or another. As a photographer for an NGO, you may working to express the established judgement of others for pay. That’s actually why this debate is important. To claim that you can be both a journalist, AND a photographer accepting commercial employment, advertising the aims of an NGO or business can be seen as contradictory. A contradiction that could be dangerous in some places. If journalists are not trusted as at least potentially neutral, then they might be seen as enemies. If you’re with a group has had what they feel was a bad experience with a photojournalist, you may be in trouble. So the problem is not whether you want to carry the baggage of others, but whether you may be forced to carry their baggage, whether you want to or not.

by John Louis Lassen Perry | 26 Sep 2012 15:09 | Liberty Corner, New Jersey, United States | | Report spam→
Nice seeing you there, John.

by Neal Jackson | 27 Sep 2012 19:09 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→

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Participants

John Louis Lassen Perry, Photoanthropologist John Louis Lassen Perry
Photoanthropologist
Califon, New Jersey , United States
Lars Blackmore, Photojournalist Lars Blackmore
Photojournalist
(LIfe is my reality show)
Boston , United States ( BOS )
Neal Jackson, Neal Jackson
(Flaneur, Savant and Scapegrace)
Washington, Dc , United States ( IAD )


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