Photography ethics clash with reality

By Lauren Wong

Cameras give us the ability to pause a moment in time, encapsulate it and share it across the globe by the simple click of a button. All of this resulting in a simple photograph with the capability to evoke an array of emotions within us. Not only emotions, but historically, has lead to movements, drawing attention to social injustice, allowing those, unheard, to show us what we’ve neglected to listen to.

Now, in companies such as National Geographic, their photographers use their work to show their findings abroad. However, David Guttenfelder, one of Natgeo’s well-known photographers explains that there could be an ethical issue with this.

Over 80 percent of these photographers are white.

This is where the ethical dilemma comes in. Do we really have the right to go into these developing countries, take pictures of their people and publish them? Without a second thought, we upload our work to every platform imaginable and portray these countries through our eyes, taking that power away from them. We assume they are okay with us sharing their lives through our lens to the world without a peep from them.

Not only this, but there has also been talk about certain photographs published, past or present, that have received backlash. Talk that their vulgarity is inappropriate to the public eye, whether it be a starving child, or the aftermath of a mass shooting.

The truth is the truth whether we like it or not, and if it’s too much to handle than maybe it’s time we start taking action to change our reality. Living in a world of ignorance is just a way to fool ourselves.

Our country has the privilege to have access to materials allowing us to freeze time in action. It is our duty to share the truth we find. As journalists, we are constantly putting out information on tragic events.

Unimaginable numbers of victims of violence, storms, hunger and poverty.  Our society has become numb. We’re numb to the words, looking at them from behind a screen or newspaper. The impacts don’t sink in because nowadays “Breaking News,” and all its dread has become a norm.

This is where the power comes in with a simple photo, forcing us to stop and look into the eyes of the grieving, those in danger, and realize they’re not just a name in print, but living and breathing human beings like us.

However, I agree, it isn’t fair that some countries don’t have the availability to portray their truth themselves to the world. But this doesn’t take the right away from us to report what we find.

Staging a photo is a completely different story in which I see no instance where it would be ethical. In other countries, poverty and suffering isn’t a laughing matter, it’s simply showing a plea for help where it is needed. Although there’s no way for all of it to be lifted, it allows the rest of the world to share their compassion and prayers for better days.

We may be separated by seas or country lines, but that doesn’t mean we should all live in our little bubbles without a care in the world. We are all going through our disparate realities, but it’s egocentric to believe that others, though far, have no role in our lives.

The truth is that sometimes reading an article doesn’t allow us to feel the depth of a situation. The truth is that there are wonderful and terrible things going on miles away from us that deserve to be seen in a fast paced society like ours, sometimes it takes a photograph to actually stop you from going about your busy life and realize that there are people oceans away that need our help. The truth hurts, but it deserves to be told.

Lauren Wong can be reached at

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