These things that I have done

The paparazzi that pursued Princess Diana on her final trip – the one that ended with the crash in a Paris road tunnel and had the curious afterlife of a decade’s worth of Daily Express Monday morning headlines – didn’t ride on after she crashed. They hopped out of their white Fiats and pointed their lenses at the wreckage – no doubt making sure to bracket the exposures. This behaviour gets mentioned a lot when one speaks of the disgusting morals of the modern-day pap but there is a response and it is very, very simple: what else exactly would you expect a professional photographer to do?

There are numerous examples of where lines are crossed – and not just times where papers and magazines haven’t felt able to print the pictures the market for which they serve and create. Poor old dimwitted Nigel Farrage took his plane out on election day and crashed. Thankfully he survived but the websites that printed the pictures of his feet poking from the wreckage didn’t know he would when they made the decision to publish. Farrage is a figure of fun from a fringe party – they wouldn’t have shown David Cameron’s shoes jutting from twisted metal.

Then there are times when some people’s reactions is to question why the tog keeps their finger on their shutter – or moves in for a close up – when the ‘natural’ reaction should be to help. Princess Di is one example, there were several from the Haiti earthquake and countless more no doubt. But photographers don’t have special secondary powers as healers – they can’t magic car crash victims back to life or conjure up food for staving desperate earthquake survivors. They are there to record. From the weighty to the trite via the completely exploitative that is their job. If you are a photographer you take photographs.

My picture shows a very minor example of the type. A Chesham United substitute injured in the last tackle of the match but in obvious pain and requiring a stretcher. I was there for the Bucks Examiner, I guess the other guys had more prestigious commissions. I, at first, put my camera down. They didn’t. Then I took only this photo – which is obviously more about the photographers looking on. I couldn’t bring myself to move closer and properly record this moment. Humanity isn’t the poorer because I didn’t but I feel like I’ve failed a sort of test here. There’s a line in Grand Prix about putting your foot down when you see the accident – the best photographers get the picture first and question their morals after.

Whilst I wrestle with my conscience about needing to have less of a conscience feel free to see this all large here. I also took another context shot – this of the less worrying situation of a corner being taken – here.

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2 thoughts on “These things that I have done”

  1. I do not think you can generalize about ‘photographers’ though, as different sorts of photography have different morals, and this can depend on your position – journalist, paparazzi, amateur etc. – and your intent.

    The Haitian earthquake is an interesting example as there is a lot a photographer can instead do to help people individually: moving rubble, carrying people, or bringing water. But for professional photographers that is not their job and it would be remiss of them to do so. Aside from the commercial reality that in most cases an agency will have paid to send someone to take photos, morally this is how they help. Their pictures are what relate events to the rest of the world, and in doing so attracts aid and assistance. It would be morally questionable to put the camera down to move rubble to help one person when they could, through their photography, be help thousands.

    This is very different to the paparazzi in Paris. Though there may be little they can do to help following the crash and you can argue a journalistic duty to document events, this is not their intent. And any moral defence you can make does not cancel out their actions having caused the crash and putting them in that position.

    With your situation I am not sure there is a moral issue, just simply your personal discomfort. Which is something that is neither right nor wrong, but just is.

  2. This was really interesting Jon – it touches on why we do what we do, and as you say, some people’s role is to help or whatnot, while others is to record. I’d add that we only need to look at some of the most impressive/significant/moving/important photographs in history and a great deal of them fall into this sort of category.

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