PhotographyEthics: Here's a tricky one

Boing Boing pal and photographers’ rights activist Thomas Hawk has come under fire from Jill Greenberg, a photographer whose methods he criticized online. Greenberg photographs distressed children, and Hawk criticized her for her methods in getting the children into a photogenic state of distress. In response, Greenberg and her husband have threatened to sue him for libel and called his employer. Hawk’s response is a good one: he argues that if they disagree with him, they should disagree with him, not attempt to silence him. As they say in First Amendment circles: the answer to bad speech is more speech.

(Via BoingBoing, Thomas’ full response here)

Here’s a tricky one. Thomas doesn’t like the way that Jill works children into a tantrum just so she can photograph them, and calls her a sick woman. Jill responds by throwing a tantrum herself. Maybe he should go and photograph her. See how she likes it.

The think is that both have a point. Emotionally, I feel that what Jill does is wrong. No one likes the idea of children being made to be upset; it goes against our basic parenting responses. Thomas was certainly right to say what he said. It’s not a way that I would ever take photographs, and I hope few people would.

That said, we all manipulate emotions when we take photos. We aim the camera and say “Smile!” and expect the victim to respond in kind, even if the last thing they want to do is look happy. It’s fake. At least Jill is getting real emotion. Even if it makes us feel uncomfortable. No, the more I think of it, the more I don’t like it.

But this has gone beyond photographic issues now. Jill has threatened libel, contacted employers and tried to gag Thomas. He’s right – free speech is on his side. She has every right to respond, say he’s an asshole or whatever. But he cannot be silenced just because she doesn’t like what he says.

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