When does a photographer exploit people?

When does a photographer exploit people?

When does a photographer exploit a person in order to get a good photograph?

When a photographer snap a street portrait f.e. of a happy person, it seems like no one sees that as an exploiting. When a photographer take a portrait or a scene with an homeless person or person a viewer can tell he/she lives in not so good conditions, then the answer become a bit complicated…

At least, that’s happening to me.

They were there, hugging, kissing… waiting for me to take the shot, it seemed. I didn’t think twice. I just wanted to capture them in the front of the Central Station in Brussels. I didn’t think if that was appropriate to capture an intimate moment of some random strangers or not. It was a nice scene. If they noticed me, told me that they do mind their picture taken, I would back off. But they didn’t and because of that, I have a nice shot. I do regret not approaching them and asking for their contact, to send them the picture. I was to insecure for that-didn’t know will I produce a shot I could send them.

They’re a bit small in the frame because I really wanted to take a shot of them being in front of the Central Station, with those characteristic arcs in front of the station.

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The other example could be this one… related to the featured photo…

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My impressions, as a tourist there, in Grand Place, Brussels, were: “What a beautiful place!”. Looking at those magnificent buildings, lots of tourist smiling, taking pictures, lots of happy people, lots of a nice energy… and then … a reality check.
I saw him, I saw other people, I saw a scene and I wanted to shoot as soon as possible because I didn’t want his face to be shown in the picture.
The thing is… I spent some time thinking is this right or is this wrong… Can I use him as a subject? Is it ok for me to take a picture of him…

The third example are some of the photographs I don’t post.

I was in the subway and saw a great scene, a great example of fortunate-unfortunate people. I crouched and took a shot. The person saw me taking the shot and waved me not to do that. He did that in a most humble way and I felt soo wrong. I told him I didn’t make it, I’m not showing the picture. I don’t know if he understood English but I know I felt wrong.

Few months ago I shot some poor kids and families. With the most of the pictures I didn’t have troubles thinking are they right or wrong. I had a task and I did my best to fulfill that task.

However… I was in the house with two kids and I shot them in their room. We laughed and we had a good time together. The mother came in the room and I asked to photograph her. She said ok. I placed her to sit on the bed, the kids were hiding on the other side of the bed. I stood on the chair and took a shoot from above. I wanted to capture her struggle… and I did. That is one of my most powerful pictures (according to me of course, because no one saw it)

I have her consent for the picture, but I couldn’t publish the picture for the world to see. It felt wrong to show her struggle. She looked right to the camera and show a great amount of emotions in her eyes.

I have also a picture where she’s smiling with her kids and I have no troubles to show the picture because it shows some happy feelings. It’s a nice scene and a fine photograph. I don’t feel I used her in any way in that picture. But for the one I described above, I do feel wrong because that picture shows how vulnerable she is…

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Is this correct, that we tend not to call “exploiting” people (as photographers, and for the good shot) when they’re happy or indifferent? But we do feel/think of exploiting/using them as a subject when they’re shown in their bad/sad/vulnerable situation?

And yes, I thought about exploiting in a pejorative sense here. I agree, and we all do, that almost everything is exploiting of something or someone, but there’s a huge difference in what is willingly done between the people and what just one person decided for both of them involved.

If there are some greater causes then I, as a photographer, have something to hold on to, something that approves invading people’s privacy to some extent. I know my intentions are good and I use those intentions as a justification of photographs. That was my way of thinking when I took those documentary photographs. I felt good because I wanted to help. I justified my photographs just because of that.

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But… I know where my limitations are. It’s me. It’s about the way I perceive the world, not just the photography. Ultimately, this has nothing to do with photography, it has everything to do with what kind of person a photographer is.

It doesn’t matter really if I just saw the picture (speaking about the one I didn’t show to the public eye). Does the lack of viewers somehow make it right? No. I saw, I know, I have troubles with myself. Sharing the photograph could just deepen the feelings of myself doing something wrong.

I also took a photo of a woman sleeping on a bench in an airport. She has been an interesting subject and was completely unaware of my presence. I didn’t even for a second thought that I exploited her just because of the picture. No. She did nothing wrong and she was just some women sleeping on a bench. She, as a subject, wasn’t compromised in any way other than sleeping. She didn’t carry any kind of a burdein. She was just interesting enough for me to make me want to take a picture.

Similar as I said above, I think that every person deep inside, in their heart, know what’s good and what’s bad. I will find a way to calm down my consciousness or my inner alarm, but only in some situations.

If a person doesn’t want to be on the picture, it’s ok, I don’t want them on my pictures either. If a person doesn’t care, I’ll try my best to make a photograph.

I saw a war, poverty, broken homes and families, illnesses, people struggling in lots of different ways, and on the other side wealth, health, simple minds… Also, being the way I am, all those situation probably affected me and shaped in a certain way.

Exploiting people in photography, it’s the same as exploiting people in all other areas of life. Either you do it or not, it’s all about you.

Author Description

I love photography and learning about it. I'll try and fail that's for sure, but sometimes, I hope, I'll do good. As for the Misophonia part of the blog, I'll write honestly about my experiences and feelings, trying to help myself and others who feel the same way as I do and maybe to raise some awareness about this condition. All written here is just and only my opinion.

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