Struggling with the Ethics of Image-making: Sontag, Arbus, Snapshots, and Portraits

diane arbus photograph

Image credit: Diane Arbus

As part of the final project for our “Rhetoric of Social Documentary” class my students will be completing a brief documentary film on a local issue and so we spent this week talking about the ethics of documentary filmmaking and the discomfort many people feel in having their picture taken.  We began the class with a discussion of Susan Sontag’s chapter “America, Seen Through Photographs, Darkly” from On Photography in which she considers the work of Diane Arbus and the shift in photography away from lyrical subjects toward material that is “plain, tawdry, or even vapid” (Sontag, 28).  Sontag explores the artist’s decision to focuses on people she terms “victims” or “freaks” and argues that Arbus attempts to suggest a world in which we are all isolated and awkward.

Ethics in the Abortion Debate

Little girl protesting against abortion

Credit:  New York Times

H/T:  Jezebel

I found an interesting article posted on Jezebel today about a New York Times story, with an accompanying video report, about anti-abortion protestors rallying together after the death of an anti-abortion activist, James Pouillon, in Michigan last month.  The article specifically discusses the ethics of using such images within the debate, which is a particularly vexed question.

Love For The Ruins?

Ruined schools in Detroit

Image Credit:  Vice Magazine

I couldn’t resist covering this piece that Tim brought to my attention.  NPR did a segment covering the evolving phenomenon of “ruin porn” by interviewing a writer, Thomas Morton, who wrote an attack on this phenomenon for Vice Magazine.  Morton argues against these images because he says they mislead audiences about the actual economic state of Detroit.

Digital Manipulation and the Ethics of Representation

An article this week on Stinky Journalism, Danielle Mastropiero's "Photoshopped Images Booted from Press Photo Contest," calls to mind a couple of other similar incidents in recent memory: first, Adnan Hajj's laughably bad Photoshop manipulations of smoke plumes over Beirut during Israel's summer '06 bombing campaign; and second, Iran's equally laughable manipulation of publicity photos from their summer '08 test missile test launch.

Retouched and Un-Retouched photos of Haiti
Image source: Stinky

Click on 'voteringen' in the menu of this Flash-animated comparison of Christensen's submitted photographs, their RAW files, and the Photoshop auto-corrections.

Poverty as poetry

On Tuesday, November 18, Slate featured pictures by photographer Jonas Bendiksen in "Today's Pictures."

Responsibility Project

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