To Photograph or Not to Photograph

Guest Post by: Sarah Mielke, Future Professional Photographer

4 Mielke & Donovan Doomed

Photo by: R. Umar Abaasi

When the New York Post published the “Doomed” issue on December 3, 2012, there was a great deal of out lash.  But who was in the wrong: the New York Post or the photographer? R. Umar Abaasi, a Post freelance photographer, claimed that he was only trying to warn the train by continuing to fire the flash on his camera. Somehow, he claims, he magically got a perfect shot of the tragic incident, even using the rule-of-thirds and perfect horizontal lines. Any person who knows the slightest bit about photography could take one look at Abaasi’s photograph and realize that the photo was not taken by accident. So if he meant to take the picture, why not just stand by his decision?

In my opinion, making up excuses for taking photographs is something that a photographer should never do. Sure, this may have been a terrible time to snap a picture, but that is a photographer’s job and what they are being paid to do. As the great Robert Doisneau once said, “The marvels of daily life are exciting; no movie director can arrange the unexpected that you find in the street.”

Controversy over the ethics of photography occur everyday. Take, for example, National Geographic and the millions of pictures taken by its photographers all over the world. These photographers must photograph subjects and events that are devastating and tragic, yet they continue to do so because it is their job to show the world what is happening. Extreme poverty, famine, disease, and murder: these are just a few of the environments that these photographers face in order to capture the world. Are these National Geographic photographers also in the wrong? Should they not be capturing these people, who like the man in the train, may too be dying?

Ashural Bombing

Photo by: Massoud Hossaini

Photography is a way to capture what is around us, some of which many people may not like to see. Viewing photographs almost forces us to face the truth in what is occurring in the world today. Bad things are happening, and in my opinion, it is in a photographer’s job description to portray everything, not just the good, to the world.  The Pulitzer Prize is most often awarded to photographs that do just this.  The 2012 Pulitzer Prize was awarded to Massoud Hossaini, an Afghanistan-born photographer, who captured a 12-year-old girl screaming moments after a suicide bomber ignited a bomb at the Abul Fazel Shrine in Kabul, killing almost her entire family. It is terrible, shocking photographs like Hossani’s that get attention and receive honorable awards, so why was Abaasi’s photograph criticized to the point where the man was receiving death threats? Photography is meant to portray what is happening in the world, whether it be beautiful things, or terrible, tragic deaths, a good photographer will go to great lengths to do so. Despite the often-tragic circumstances portrayed, is that not the job of a professional photographer?

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