John McCain, Jill Greenberg and Bob Garfield
A few months ago portrait photographer Jill Greenberg made news among photographers, editors and others in the industry by shooting photos of John McCain, at that point the Republican nominee for President. She delivered the images exactly as assigned by her client (Atlantic Monthly) and then proceeded to shoot additional images for herself using lighting that was, um, unflattering. The ensuing crapstorm went on for a while with people all around saying not so nice things about other people and it all boiled down to this. She didn’t like McCain, and decided to make him appear evil. Not for publication, just for herself. Generally that’s fine but she really stepped in it when she published them on her blog. It got picked up, and well, it snowballs from there.
That was September. This week the NPR program “On the Media” has a larger story about journalism ethics (or lack thereof) in magazine photography. Their point being that there is no standard of objectivity among magazine photographers as their is among journalists. Generally I like OTM and there’s certainly enough to complain about in the magazine industry when it comes to photography, but they missed a big point. Among photographers, this type of work is generally referred to as editorial. If you turn to the editorial pages of the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal you don’t see unbiased, objective journalism. You see analysis and personal commentary by the columnists.
Photographers have a professional responsibility to their clients. We need to deliver the image they assign to us. We also have a responsibility to the industry our clients represent, in this case magazine publishing. Finally we have a responsibility to our subjects to be honest about our intentions.
There’s probably an entire graduate level thesis here but in the meantime you can read more about it at…