I am diving right in today, going from introductions to some heavy, unanswerable, shit, and I'd love to start a dialogue about this because I honestly don't have any answers.
This particular subject is something that is very close to my heart, and also it's something that I can't even pretend to have all of the answers to. Ethical practice in journalism and documentary photography is fairly black and white, or at least it used to be, I'm not sure anyone can call the current state of media ethical in any sense of the word. However that is a post for a different day by a different person. That can of worms is not one I am looking to open for fear of digging myself into a black hole I will never be able to crawl out of.
However when it comes to fine art, the lines are blurry, curvy, and sometimes not there. If you call something art, especially if it's meant as satire or social critique, does the artist have the right and responsibility to put things out there that might be polarizing? To that question I think the answer is unequivocally yes. With photography though, especially with portraiture, you're dealing with real humans with real stories.
Yesterday I was having this ethical dilemma about putting up a photograph I made of a friend that was incredibly vulnerable, the story behind it was one of abuse and trauma. Her name won't ever go up on this website, and the story if she chooses to let me post it will be changed so people don't know it's her. Even with her permission I still had a sleepless night last night thinking about this photograph. I was proud of the work, and I pride myself in being able to get real emotional reactions out of my subjects through discussion and sometimes a little bit of manipulation. Everyone who knows me knows that that practice weighs on me, but I push through because it's for the art.
In my own work, because I deal with my own story and my subjects stories I always have the hesitation, is this too much? Is this doing more harm than good? Will this person regret posing and talking to me in five years, ten years, twenty years? Many artists ask themselves these questions and do it anyway, and most of the time I do. As creative people we are meant to push the envelope and take risks, but sometimes that culture can be damaging. I had a professor once suggest that since I was doing a project on addiction I should go ask permission to photograph people at a detox. I was so shocked at the suggestion that I couldn't even respond to tell that professor how ridiculous that would be. In no way was I going to go photograph people on the worst day of their lives, who could not consent, and would probably regret profoundly having photographs made of them once their heads cleared. For me, that was how I found my hard line, one I wouldn't pass, but others that wouldn't be the line.
Anyway, I didn't really answer any of my own questions here, and I don't think I answered anyone else's either. I would love to start a dialog about this, because I'm honestly curious where the line is for all artforms, how far outside your comfort zone is still okay?