“The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position…”
As a photographer, I sometimes have fear about taking certain types of shots on the street. I hesitate if I think there might be controversy. It might be that the shot could be interesting or even important. My second-guessing is because a photograph might be seen as endorsement of the subject, especially if I post it on social media.
On the surface, journalistic photography, or documentary / reportage photography, might be expected to be free from bias. However, it’s plain to see in our culture that journalism itself has fallen from grace. The broad recoil in the face of so-called “fake news” stems from the accusations of manipulation. (The use of the phrase “so-called” often means one is dubious of said claim…I will merely say it’s a hot-button issue, thus the “so-called” adjective to hedge my bets).
In modern photography, images can be digitally altered. That’s when the proper noun “Photoshop” becomes a verb: it is said a photo was “Photoshopped” if it was altered to fundamentally change to truth of an image.
Even without Photoshop, extremely fast shutter speeds and modern digital sensors can be manipulated to capture a public figure in an unintended pose in between the milliseconds of a person’s movements. Back in the film days, the skill of the photographer was demonstrated in anticipating the proper moment to press the shutter; the integrity of the photograph was exactly because of its fidelity to the truth of the moment. Now, one can press and capture dozens of images in seconds. How many photos of Trump, Hillary, Biden, etc. are either showing them as the quintessential leader we desperately need, or as the villain we are to disdain? At 10 frames per second, one frame can portray madness; the other greatness. Which is the truth?
The integrity of the photograph was exactly because of its fidelity to the truth of the moment.
All that said, I am not a journalist photographer. I post whatever I feel appropriate. But what happens if I post a potentially controversial shot without commentary?
Am I endorsing what I captured? This is where social media has become our instantly-gratified culture’s Achilles’ heel. When one posts a picture on Facebook, Twitter etc., the subject and/or story is likely to be perceived as something the person agrees with. I could say I just documented what I saw. Yet in our divided nation many are looking for a fight. So this picture of a small band of Trump supporters in Kenosha might predispose a viewer to think I am in agreement with what’s taking place (I won’t say, so don’t ask!). The bias is on the part of the viewer, of course. But am I creating a situation that simply amplifies angst?
Take this second image: what if I sort of agree…at least at one level? How can critical thinking assist us in the context of media, whether mainstream or social? I did post this image on Facebook, and in some ways I resonate with it. But what does “rise up” mean? What about “love”? Our culture proudly redefines words without necessarily doing justice to their historical meanings. Today, our use of love as a word is laced with social expectations and sometimes used as a weapon when others do not abide by the new order. If some folks are swept away to make room for a new “enlightened” (and more often youth-oriented) regime, is that love? Well, see my point? A photo, just like a brief slogan, can be misunderstood. I might be totally wrong about the artist’s intent here. How can I know for sure?
I can at least say this much: today we live in a vitriolic society where ideologies are at war. Since I am not a paid photojournalist, I have to operate within a construct of prudence. I will take a shot in these situations, but I am extra careful to avoid endorsing a particular cause. The last thing I want do to is inadvertently slip into propaganda photography! That’s simply not why I pick up a camera.