Ethical Photography

I will only take ethical commissions. This is because I have to live with myself. But does shooting ethically mean that you ignore the premises of photo-journalism? Does that mean that I won’t cover atrocities or bad environmental practices? No, far from it. I consider the debate on ethics to be about who pays you and what your actions support.

For example; I will not accept a commission from any tourist organisation in a country that supports whaling – Faroe Islands? No way, not even for a million dollars. Denmark? No thanks. Japan? Again, No thanks, which is sad because I’d love to visit and also places me in a difficult position regards to buying camera equipment (and why with the exception of Fuji I don’t buy from Japan – but camera wise there is very little alternative). I also won’t take commissions from Spainish tourism until they ban bull-fighting. Does this limit my employability? Yes, but only because other photographers are not as ethical.

As photographers we should understand that we have the power to change the world. We proved this in Vietnam: Photography changed the opinions of the American people and dramatically reduced the support for the war, probably shortening it by several years and many deaths. Photography is currently changing peoples opinion of plastic use because we are seeing images of the washed up debris of our consumer society on the beaches of otherwise pristine and often remote (and uninhabited) environments. Photography is also changing peoples opinion of the refugee crisis, and conflict again, as we seen dead bodies washing ashore and the devastation to the native populations in the war zones.

Photography is powerful.

In this respect should we not show the Danish naval support for the whaling in the Faroe Islands? Yes, we should. Should we show the Japanese whaling in the southern ocean? Yes, we should. Should we go to the Faroe Islands, contribute to their tourist industry by having photo holidays there or take commissions to provide images of their magnificent landscape? NO.

Should we take commissions from the Danish authorities or the Japanese tourist board? NO. Because photographers are not only direct consumers, but our images support consumption of all the other aspects of these countries, and they encourage people to go, to look the other way, to concentrate on the nice bits. Sorry, but NO. That is not ethical. It is simply a case of who we take the money from and where we put it and encourage others to put it. If someone offered to pay you to take pictures of them torturing another human being for them would you do it? Then why do some photographers think it’s ok to take photographs for a country or a company that is torturing animals or the environment?

‘I need the money’, really? More than you need to live with yourself and the blood on that money? Would you really be able to put your own ethics aside and just think ‘I’m alright jack, knowing you’ve contributed albeit indirectly to the continuing slaughter of thousands of animals because it’s tradition? Would you be able to come to terms with your actions when you see water courses polluted and people starving three or four months after you took the pictures for Monsanto?

By with-holding our services on ethical grounds we can make a real difference. If the only pictures coming out of the Faroe Islands show the mass slaughter of whales and dolphins then nobody will want to go there. They, the Faroese, will suffer a financial implication to this, and those that engage in these activities and their elected representatives will then get a lot of very vocal complaints from within the country not just outside it. As a result of the images that are published and the images that are not shown to the world change will come. Cruise ships have already begun to boycott the islands and are stopping now in Shetland and Scotland instead.

If you want to change anything in this world you have to hit it in the pocket. It is sad, but this consumerist society is what it is. Money talks and a loss of money talks loudest.

You have amazing power with your images, and both image maker and image consumers have amazing power to change the world.

Photography has never been more accessible or more prevalent. Look at Facebook, look at Instagram, look at Twitter even – photos, everywhere. The power of the image is now probably at its strongest since the printed press began to disseminate images to the masses. PHOTOGRAPHY HAS CHANGED OPINION AND THAT HAS CHANGED THE WORLD.

Imagine if someone posted a photo of a rat in the kitchen of a popular restaurant online…that restaurant would feel it by the very next sitting. You have that power, and in some cases it is immediate. Use it wisely. Don’t accept unethical commissions and you could be the start of powerful change.

But back to me, I know that I can sleep at night because I won’t take unethical commissions. I have put up just a couple of very obvious examples, and the choice I make is mine alone. Bringing it closer to home, I won’t work for a company that has zero hour contracts or unpaid interns (and yes, that includes charities). Before taking any commission I consider the impact of those images, no matter how mundane the subject itself might be. I look at the country, the company, its policies, and how it treats both its staff and the planet. This is my decision and I sleep very well because of it.

Your decisions are however, yours.


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