I was sitting in a Rochester, Minnesota hotel restaurant having breakfast last Friday (and thus suitably insulated from the rest of the world) reading Laura Petrecca’s column in USA Today “Series of subway tragedy photos raises some questions.” A journalist takes pictures of a man pushed in front of a train seconds before the man is hit and killed. The ethical questions are profound.
- Should the journalist, who claims he was too far away to help, have taken the pictures or rushed in vain to the man’s aid?
- Should the NY Post have published these pictures and pandered to sensationalism?
- Why are readers drawn to such macabre images?
- Should spectators on the scene have taken endless IPhone and Android images and movies to post on the web? Was it, as Ms. Petrecca suggests, to feed the insatiable beast of the internet in an attempt to achieve a moment of notoriety?
Sincerely, I really don’t know the answers and am quite interested in what readers think. In such matters I tend to fall back on what my mother taught me about right and wrong and, yes, good taste.
- What the journalist could or could not do is in his own conscience. If he was indeed helpless then, perhaps, the question becomes one of motivation. Was he reflexively documenting or was he from the very first thinking of profiting from tragedy?
- My mother taught me to never read the NY Post.
- Voyeurism is widespread, if despicable. Everyone rubber necks to some extent. The important point is whether you are repulsed and whether you feel guilty about being drawn in the first place. You’ve got sadism on the deplorable end of human emotion and empathy on the other end – again I never read the NY Post. When I saw the images on the news. My reaction was OMG that poor man.
- As for the internet beast, there’s some of that. I think significant too is the reality that taking camera to hand, or eye, is abstracting. You cease to be a participant in events transforming instead into being a spectator, a documenter, a chronicler. It is a defense mechanism.
Laura Petracca goes on to quote John Churman, who is a leader in the NY Society for Ethical Culture: “many photo takers have been ‘desensitized’ by watching traditional news media do ‘unseemly’ things, such as stick a microphone in the face of a distraught person to probe their feelings”…(it is) invasive and intrusive” and then they go on to mimic it.
My mind returns again to Eddie Adams’ “Brigadier General Nguyen Ngoc Loan Executing the Viet Cong Guerilla, Bay Lop, 1968.” What is it that makes Adams’ photograph acceptable photojournalism, and the image of the subway tragedy not?