Ethics of Aesthetics – Part 2

Looking back at my former post, I realise that I was a bit grumpy and frustrated when I wrote it. Maybe mostly because it is such a difficult and complicated dilemma that I struggle with on a daily basis. I have thought a bit more about it and this has come to mind:

There is no blue print for photographing people who live in underprivileged circumstances. First of all, living in poverty is relative and we should not let our pity be the ruling emotion for determining a life as a victim or of less valuable than ours. Even though the circumstances people live in are terrible and they would like to get out of it themselves, it is condescending to talk about them as victims, problem cases etc. When we photograph them, we enter their lives, a life in which we would not be able to live with for a single day.

This alone should make us respectful when photographing them, and giving them the room to show who they are, in a way they are comfortable. If there is no proper agreement beforehand, or if it is not clear what the photographs are being used for, then the problem is there, not as much in the way the photos turn out.

Yesterday morning, I visited a slum that I wanted to photograph, because it has a very lively puppet making community. I ended up not taking any photographs, because people were just waking up, poohing in the open sewage and at their most vulnerable. It just didn’t feel right to invade their homes, although they are out and open in the street.

But the light was gorgeous, the colours beautiful and I saw some great photo opportunities. My friend who came along did take photographs. I wonder if I think too much, but I really don’t want to produce work that would make me feel guilty afterwards.

It’s a fine balance.


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