Thursday, April 29, 2021

Kent State, Photo Ethics, How Subject And Photographer Were Affected

[Note to readers:  This post started with one article about a photograph.  But then it seemed like a good place to slip in some book notes on books about photographers.  The ideas are stacking up on my desk faster than I can post.  Sorry if this one rambles.]

When I first started blogging I spent a lot more time pondering the ethics of this medium, including using of images - of others' photos,  of people without their knowing, let alone permission.  I decided that for kids it was taboo.  For adults, if they were part of a crowd in public and relatively innocuous, it was ok.  But it's better if I get at least their oral permission.   (See some links to some of those posts below.)

I thought about that reading this Stars and Stripes article  [Thanks Brock, I think it was you] about the girl immortalized by photographer John Filo at Kent State in May 1970.  Turns out she was a 14 year old who had run away from a bad situation in Florida and just happened to be on the Kent State campus when the National Guard started shooting students.  And the photographer was too.  Below is a snipped from the article, but I recommend going to the link.  

From Stars and Stripes:

"Last May, when Mary Ann Vecchio watched the video of George Floyd's dying moments, she felt herself plummet through time and space — to a day almost exactly 50 years earlier. On that afternoon in 1970, the world was just as riveted by an image that showed the life draining out of a young man on the ground, this one a black-and-white still photo. Mary Ann was at the center of that photo, her arms raised in anguish, begging for help."

Photo from  John Filo/Getty Images

It focuses mainly on how that photo affected both the subject and the photographer over their life times, but it also reminds us about another time in recent (for us that were alive and aware back then) US history when the country was deeply divided.  And it shows that law enforcement shoots at white folks too, if they've categorized them as 'the enemy.'

I've also just finished three books about photographers (two were book club books) in which very task oriented photographers took pictures without regard to others.  The Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan examined the life of photographer Edward S. Curtis, who, in the early 20th Century, set out to capture American Indian culture before, as he saw it, it died out.  His was a manic effort to document the 'real' Indians and their culture.  

In Arctic Solitaire, Paul Sauders chronicles his own quest to take the best ever photograph of a polar bear.  He goes to extremes chasing bears for several summers in a small boat in Hudson Bay.  

You Don't Belong Here is Elizabeth Becker's documentation of and tribute to three women journalists who broke barriers in Vietnam by getting out to report from the battle field.  One of the three was the French photographer, Catherine Leroy.  This work focused more on the battles women faced as journalists at that time.  An excerpt:

Chapter One begins with Leory in a C-130 cargo plane.

"Leroy was the only journalist on the plane, the only photographer - she had two cameras draped around her neck - the only civilian and the only woman.  Her US Army-issued parachute nearly swallowed her.  At five feet tall and weighing eighty-seven pounds, she was less than half the size of the dozens of US Army parachutists sitting alongside her."

The shots she took of the parachute assault were printed in newspapers and magazines around the world.  

"With so much riding on the operation other reporters had demanded to be on the ground with the paratroopers.  Many were upset, some even disdainful, when they found out Leroy would be the only accredited journalist to jump.  For over year, Leroy would be the only woman combat photographer in Vietnam and had given up trying to change attitudes.  Eve the great photographer Don McCullin, who admired Leroy's work, was taken aback seeing her on the battlefield.  'She did not want to be a woman amongst men but a man among men.  Why would a woman want to be among the blood and carnage? . . . I did have that issue with Cathy.'"

"There was a horror of assigning women to sports much less war," said Hal Buell, the New York photo editor of the Associated Press who worked with the Vietnam War photographs sent from Saigon.  "Look at the history of photography.  It was male oriented for so long:  the equipment, the printmaking.  We didn't think women could handle it.  Women just weren't part of that pool."

But the readers know she got on that plane because she was the best qualified.

"She had lobbied to jump with the troops ever since she arrive in Vietnam from Paris.  Few other press photographers were remotely qualified.  Leroy had earned first- and second-degree parachute licenses in France while still in secondary school, egged on by a boyfriend who had dared her to try it, where she jumped eighty-four times over the vineyards and meadows of Burgundy." 

The book is very much worth reading.  I'd started to write, particularly for those who were watching the war at the time.  But, of course, it's an important history lesson for readers who weren't even born yet - about the war and about the obstacles for women covering it.  

Here are some of my earlier posts on photo ethics as I was confronting issues as a blogger.

Do You Put Your Kids Pictures On Facebook?  Should You?

Photography Is Not A Crime:  Blogging, The First Amendment, And Your Camera

Our Rights To Film Cops In Public

Anchorage Daily News Updated Photo Policy - Icon-Sized Photos Usable

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