I find this weeks topic and blog task particularly challenging. Mainly so, because no matter how much I fret over the idea I cannot quite come to a consensus on a photography code of ethics that I am okay with. The context of public photography is so dynamic that my views change with every new scenario. Firstly I believed that the ethical code lied in the amount of people that are captured. For instance picturing large groups means you would be less inclined to ask for permission (perhaps an event) however the smaller the group, the more likely you should seek permission (I am imagining anywhere between 1-20 people). Another defining factor of this ethical scale is the way the subjects are portrayed. Obviously if a person or persons is portrayed in a negative manner or unsuitable scenario it would be ideal to gain full consent.
There was one particular circumstance that continually triggered my interest. The idea of street photography, and in this particular case Humans of New York. Humans of New York has constantly been an extremely intriguing and humbling presence in my news feed, constantly giving me new perspectives and appreciation for other peoples stories. If you do not follow HONY I highly recommend you do (isn’t only New York, there has been multiple focuses including a Pakistan series and now a focus on refugee’s stories). Upon researching this idea of ethics in street photography, I was quite surprised to find that HONY has raised a lot of ethical questions among both professionals and civilians alike.
Three years ago I lost my finance job in Chicago, and moved to NYC with the goal of photographing 10,000 people on the street. I had no photographic experience. Since then, I’ve walked thousands of miles, stopped over ten thousand people, and collected over five thousand portraits. After each portrait, I conduct a short interview with the subject. I post several of these interactions on my blog each day.
Brandon Stanton (the man behind HONY) has over 15 million followers on Facebook, and gains anywhere between 100,000 to 1 million likes per photo. He has somehow managed to “achieve the impossible and carve out a safe space for people to come together and talk about life and all its peaks and valleys in a civilised, heartfelt way” (The Ethics of Taking Pictures of Strangers). However, he is still criticised for his choice of frame and caption. One of the most controversial photographs is of the following young boy.
Critics claimed that it was “unethical” and raised questions in regards to issues such as consent and lack of context. Meg Handler’s article on this very issue suggests that although he is not an official photojournalist, his alikeness to this career should incline him to consider the National Press Photographers Associations code of ethics in which you should “be complete and provide context when photographing or recording subjects. Avoid stereotyping individuals and groups.”
Although this picture does not include the entire context, I believe that this is part of why HONY is so successful. It is so raw and manages to cut away the unnecessary and superficial layers, with the end result being the most powerful and moving quotes from the interview.