Ethics – not a distant county!
In writing this post I discovered that it’s difficult to write about my personal ethics without sounding as if my thoughts are all over the place or as if I’ve disappeared up my own backside. It shouldn’t have surprised me, I feel so strongly about personal ethics that I’ve built my life around them and have, instead of talking about them let the way I live do the talking for me. See what I mean – I sound alarmingly pretentious already!
How do you reflect and respect my desire for personal privacy with your photos?
I try not to intrude on those who, for personal reasons, may not want their photos taken. If I am obliged to do so I do my best to shoot images that reflect my respect the person, their situation and their environment and ideally images that in some way empower them.
If shooting dance classes I will always ask the teacher’s permission to take photographs. I will always suggest we ask the whole class if they mind being photographed, just in case there are individuals who do not want their photos published or even taken. However, whether this happens or not is the teachers’ choice and not mine.
I find it easier not to take any photos with these people in rather than try to weed out chance images afterwards. That said, if I’m covering a class and need a class-wide shot and am therefore forced to include them to fulfill my commission I take care to ensure their faces aren’t seen.
Are there exceptions?
If a dance class, performance or other event is in public or on the street or if the popular press have been invited to shoot the event I assume that the organiser has already sorted everything out.
If I’m shooting in a press photo call or similar I assume that everyone concerned has already given their consent to have their photos taken, sold and published.
Some street photography.
Why some street photography?
This is a very difficult call. I used to shoot people, then show them my image and ask if it was OK for me to keep it. If they said no, I used to delete the image in front of them. After a lot of soul searching I’ve changed this and only share the image with someone I shoot on the street if I’m particularly enthusiastic about it or if I’d like to take more photos of them. I’ve changed my behaviour because, if the more extreme personal rights protection was ever enshrined in law I’d lose the opportunity to do most of my documentary dance photography work and would therefore be unable to use it to earn a living. If the (in my opinion unstructured, fairly random, untrained or ignorant) demands of security and police to avoid taking certain photographs was enforced, this would impinge on the freedom of the press. I feel duty bound to resist both of these restrictions and, even though it has lead to a couple of interesting interactions with police and security (but never with the general public they claim to be protecting) have changed my habits as a result.
What about conflicts of interest or where you’re making money from other peoples’ suffering?
I specialise in dance, high motion and low light images, social events, extreme and endurance sport and related travel so – so far – the latter doesn’t apply. I do my best to help where I can, to be honest in my dealings and in the way I describe situations and to identify, forsee and manage in advance any potential conflicts of interest that may arise.
I don’t like some of the images you’ve produced and want you to take them down.
If you have already given me permission to take the shots I don’t feel obliged to take them down. If you’ve commissioned me in advance I might have had to ask your permission to post them in the first place.
In reality, if I have posted something that makes you uncomfortable and you tell me quickly I’ll probably change it out. It’s not to my advantage to make you feel bad, especially because I’m looking for long term relationships with people who are happy that I shoot them rehearsing, performing and interacting wherever they are over the coming years.
If, as has happened, you change your mind about an image that you had told me you liked, or that you or other people have already commented on I will not be happy to change or delete it and might well, on consideration, decide not to take down the photo at all. Life goes on. We can’t – and shouldn’t – rewrite history – and I am profoundly uncomfortable about deleting images and words that have already been posted. They’re already shared history. When other people have also commented, I feel it’s disrespectful and dishonest to delete the history and thought that their comments represent.
In 99.99% of cases I own my images outright and you buy the rights to rent them from me in whatever form or forms we have agreed. My ownership of my own images is the default position of English law and so basic that it is rarely mentioned. However, if you have commissioned me on a fixed price or per-diem rate and our agreement is that you own these images in whole or part, you can indicate which (if any) images I can use in my blogs because you have already paid for them. In this case we will have already agreed a way of working together that keeps you happy, maintains my integrity and gives both of us the comfort and confidence we need.
You go on about being paid for your images, but do you pay the performers you shoot?
You can bet your bottom dollar that if I’m asking a performer to do something just for me we’ll have agreed a way forward before a single shot is taken.
Other posts in this series can be found here (getting coverage), here (what’s involved), here (cop-outs contracts & commissions part one) and here (cop-outs contracts & commissions part two)
by and (c) Carole Edrich