It sounded like a simple goal: a day of photographs, with no churches, otters or birds. It led to fascinating and complex conversations about the ethics of street photography, and I’m still not sure where I stand. So, I’m going to share some of the questions that arose– and, riskier, the photographs — as I try to work this out.
Question 1: What do you see in this photograph?
Question 2: Is this woman harmed or exploited by the taking of this photograph?
Question 3: If we speculate on her state of mind, are we invading her privacy?
Question 4: Is it wrong to post this, or to choose to look at it?
Question 5: Does it matter whether she is recognizable, or whether you might recognize her? So, is it different to view this picture from Boston or Haiti or LA — so that you are looking at someone remote, whom you will probably never meet or see — than it is to view it from Hebburn or Jesmond or Durham, when you might bump into her on the street?
Question 6: Are questions of privacy, intrusion, ethics different if one uses paint rather than pixels?
Question 7: Does it matter whether the woman is recognizable, if the painting is representational, accurate?
Lets try this one more time, with a modern painting by Richard Whincop. (This is a painting I love, that Richard gave me when I left my curacy, so lots of you will have seen it before…)
Question 8: Would your feeling about the picture that hangs on my wall be any different if Richard had given me the original photograph, instead of his painting of it? What if the painting an photograph were identical in terms of recognizability and emotional expression? (I’m not saying they are. But I’m not saying they’re not. Does it matter?)
Well, that should keep us busy for a while. What do you think?