Photojournalism and Ethics

A starving child, a grieving mother, an innocent Iraqi civilian writhing in pain.

From behind lenses, photojournalists tell life stories that carry heavy emotional weight. Many of those stories are often sad ones.

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South African photojournalist, Kevin Carter won a Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for this photograph. From behind the lens, Carter witnessed this starving child collapse on her way to a feeding center while the vulture kept a close watch on what may become his prey. The photograph ran in the New York Times and was used as a powerful tool to draw attention to famine in third world countries in a way that was beyond the power of words. Despite his accolades, Carter received heavy criticism for taking the picture and leaving the toddler to struggle to hold on to her life.

As stated in a St. Petersburg Times article, “The man adjusting his lens to take just the right frame of her suffering, might just as well be a predator, another vulture on the scene.”

Sadly, Carter committed suicide the following year.

Carter’s story leads me to question, what is the role of ethics in relation to photojournalism? Photojournalists have a difficult job in that they often view some of the world’s greatest problems and injustices from behind camera lenses. Whether photojournalists are witnessing the height of famine or war-torn countries, the role of photojournalists is different from that of journalists who sit comfortably in oversized office chairs half a world away. While journalists have their share of first-hand experiences and interviews, photojournalists are constantly thrown into emotion packed situations. How do photojournalists sort out the conflict between the duties of their jobs and their inherent nature to reach out as compassionate human beings?

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