Positions and Practice – Week 5

Power and responsibilities – reflection

Another thought-provoking week. Part of the requirement for this week included writing a personal ‘manifesto’ that defined my purpose as a photographer:

It asked: What are your responsibilities; who are you answerable to; and who should answer to me as an image maker?

It isn’t something I have given much in-depth consideration to , although I found it quite instinctive to respond as below.

As a photographer I will be truthful to those involved in my work, and for my work to only be used, within the limits of my control, in the ways agreed with collaborators. Openness and transparency are values I hold dear and I am responsible for nurturing honest interactions with the individuals and groups I engage with. I will not knowingly be involved in any act that is discourteous to them. While I am answerable to my conscience and to those who put their trust in me, I do not expect anyone to answer to me, unless in relation to a violation of an agreement. I will do my utmost to always recognise cooperation and the support of others as I create work that shares my passion for the medium of photography in its many guises.

The cohort have been very enamoured and vocal on a variety of people’s responses to this. I haven’t had too much opportunity this week to get as involved in those conversations as I would have liked but comments that stood out included:

“…to bring out the truth in the images I take of my subjects in order to counteract their distorted views of themselves.”

“…that as a photographer, I am responsible for producing work that has integrity and is capable of withstanding interrogation.”

“My camera is a peacemaking tool…”

“…I think images are like a call: if no one answers there is no dialogue.”

 Overall, all students seemed to be coming from a similar place in as much they felt a strong bond to their work and it not being taken out of context.
This tied in with the aim to consider ethics in photography and in particular how Ukip had taken an image by Jeff Mitchell of refugees and used it out of context to serve their own ends.
The article and image can be found here:
For me, one of the biggest questions facing a photographer and their decisions is “Can you sleep at night?” Jeff Mitchell states in the article that “photographers are there to record stories as best they can” and adds they need to be impartial. He continues by stating it’s hard, particularly in the digital age to keep control of images. It may well be the case when selling to agencies and not being able to stipulate the context in which the image can be used when sold on.
This was born out when student Samuel Harvey took a photo of Jeremy Corbin in 2012. He uploaded the image and due to political events and Harvey’s lack of understanding about the background content in the image it ended up being used out of context. But when approached to sell the image Harvey said “…your integrity is worth more than the money, and at that point I realised I wasn’t going to sell out”.
That takes us back to what an individual photographer finds acceptable and learning to live with questionable usage situations if they arise.
We also considered the appropriateness of how images are used. The example given was of Alan Kurdi, the child who drowned off Turkey (along with his mum and brother) as the whole family were trying to get to Greece in an oversubscribed inflatable boat as part of their attempt to flee Syria.
The image of his dead body was used by media worldwide, with differing judgements made. For me, as a former journalist as well as photographer, I believe that, on the whole, those that make the decisions should always ask: “Would I want to see this so I can be informed, make my own judgement and act accordingly?”
In a Photovoice article – https://photovoice.org/1000-more-words-on-aylan-kurdi/ – written in September this year and one year on from Alan’s death, projects manager Kate Watson states:
Whether this single image has been or holds the potential to move beyond iconicity and transform the public opinion, political will and legislation needed to bring about the sustainable change demanded by this on-going crisis, is something that is still to be seen.
It is the last sentence that has yet to be answered. Has any image stopped a war, cruelty, violence? But by being a part of the story it must make a difference. Surely it is better to be aware, even in an image saturated world and a world that can tweak photographs before and after print to give new meaning, so that you can investigate and think for yourself rather than turn away and hide from things we don’t agree with or would prefer not to see.
This week I saw an X-ray of a dog (shared by the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tees-37708831) that showed a nail through its skull. The dog was still alive when it was found buried under a mound of earth. It couldn’t be saved. That X-ray image has greatly impacted me – especially as one of my project proposals is currently titled For the Love of Dogs – I hope it can be used to educate people about the abhorrent senseless acts humans inflict on animals and by sharing it may lead to a conviction. Much the same as I hope out of other tragedies caught on camera, new hope, happier outcomes and/or positive change can be achieved where needed.
To round off this week’s refection I need to say thank you to my fellow students in my Oral Presentation Group. We are all fervently working to pull together our run-through demos that will showcase our thoughts, motivations and reasoning for our research project ideas. They have helped provide some clarity for me, which is definitely needed at times:-)