In the film Before Sunset, Helene talks about her boyfriend, a photographer. They were walking and saw a homeless man, and it troubled her that while her reaction was sympathy and empathy, her boyfriend lined up a shot, even adjusting the man’s collar so it would look better.
I took only two pictures in the trash city of Cairo, the Zebelline. I have almost no pictures of street children or people who begged for money. Part of the issue is that when things become second nature, you forget that they’re worth capturing. The other part is that sometimes, it just seemed wrong.
Whenever I ponder this I am reminded of the Pullitzer Prize-winning photo of a starving child in Sudan. While the photo of the beyond-emaciated child raised much awareness, the author, Kevin Carter, later commited suicide. Do you have a responsibility, as a photographer/journalist to capture the scene but leave it untouched, unhelped? What about the people who look for the worst of things for their pictures? I definitely could have manipulated my Egypt pictures to make the place look more wealthy, poor, western, urban, rural or exotic.
There’s also the logistics of photography. Some people never come out from behind the lense, never enjoy themselves. Some of my best, most interesting, most National Geographic-worthy moments are not captured on film because I was too busy living them. I don’t have a picture of swing dancing on a fellucca boat on the Nile, or dancing in a street wedding in Alexandria. I didn’t take any pictures in the Khan el-Khalily market because I wanted to seem like an ex-pat who knew the drill, not a dazed tourist who would pay triple.
Somehow, for me, having a better quality camera takes you from tourist to photohrapher, and makes it all seem more artistic than exploitative.
Do you ever feel uncomfortable taking pictures? Do you feel like having a legit camera makes it more acceptable? Is it messing with journalistic integrity to help the person after you click? What about as a humanitarian–do you risk jeoprodizing your research status to help someone? Or do you leave them in hopes that your continued ability to research will help more people in the long run?