Week 5: Power and Responsibility

What ethical questions do you think this image, and how it was used, raises?
Figure 1. Refugees cross from Croatia into Slovenia in October 2015 (c) Jeff Mitchell/Getty Images​*​

Jeff Mitchell makes the comment in the article:

“My job – telling the story of the migrants – had been done. It’s just unfortunate how it’s been picked up. It’s difficult for any agency – Getty, Reuters, AP – that circulates photographers’ images. They’re out there. And it’s not just Ukip. Newspapers also use shots in the wrong context. It depends on the political slant of any organisation.”

(Mitchell, 2016)​†​

Although Mitchell goes on to criticise the use of the image by UKIP and how “The people in the photo have been betrayed by Ukip, rather than me personally” (Mitchell, 2016)​ In a sense, he is saying that he is the tool not the hand and is distancing himself from the responsibility of how the image was used.

As a photojournalist, Jeff Mitchell would have been well aware of media bias, and political allegiances that particular newspapers have and even how his image would go on to be distributed. For example, the Guardian has worked to contextualize the refugee crisis as a human one, people fleeing conflict zones is not something that we can ignore (Trilling, 2019).​‡​ Whereas, The Express have used the same image to highlight the sheer number of refugees coming into the Eurozone and consider it something that should not be ignored, depending on your personal viewpoint (Sykes, 2019).​§​ 

Story and narrative are two very different concepts, Lewis Bush has discussed this in his article ‘Photographic Storytelling: A Poverty of Theory’​¶​ (Bush, 2019) where a single story, or in this case an image, can spin many narratives.

Furthermore, Roland Barthes, in his essay ‘Death of the Author’ (Barthes, 1977)​#​ asserts that the meaning drawn from a work is primarily from the reader of it. However, this does not consider the background and the context in which that work was made. In this case, photographer Jeff Mitchell may wish to re-engage with the use of this image and consider what it was he aiming to show when he took the image.

A counter argument to this, however, must be to point out that it should not necessarily be the job of the photographer, or indeed the agencies that distributed the image, to make those judgements. The image has been used by both sides of the debate, and should be a point of discussion to reach consensus.

Responsibilities you have within your own practice?

I have been considering some of this for my oral presentation. I am a white male and question what contributions I can make to photography, knowing that white men are ubiquitous and much of the time do not allow for other contributions – the apogee of ‘privilege’ is the white male one. Furthermore, I have read texts, such as Mark Sealy’s ‘Decolonising the Camera,’​**​ which discusses the notion that our view of the world through photography is primarily one of the Western European, especially when representing ‘the other.’  Sealy asserts however, that although an important consideration, we should not shy away from photographing subjects that are different from our own set of circumstances, after all, the viewpoint from an outsider’s perspective can also be a valid one. Sealy also is quoted as saying:

“I think a plurality of cultural voices amplified in the world helps us all work towards a greater understanding of the different ways of being and signs of recognition.”

(Sealy, 2019)​††​

It is this consideration of my subject that I am aiming to inform how I am  representing others – Engaging with my subject is key.

  1. ​*​
    Mitchell, J. (2015). Refugees cross from Croatia into Slovenia in October 2015. [image] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/jun/22/jeff-mitchells-best-shot-the-column-of-marching-refugees-used-in-ukips-brexit-campaign#img-1 [Accessed 19 Oct. 2019].
  2. ​†​
    Beaumont-Thomas, B. (2016). Jeff Mitchell’s best photograph: ‘These people have been betrayed by Ukip’. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/jun/22/jeff-mitchells-best-shot-the-column-of-marching-refugees-used-in-ukips-brexit-campaign [Accessed 19 Oct. 2019].
  3. ​‡​
    Trilling, D. (2019). Five myths about the refugee crisis. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/jun/05/five-myths-about-the-refugee-crisis [Accessed 19 Oct. 2019].
  4. ​§​
    Sykes, S. (2019). Europe could take MORE migrants from Syria, says UN refugee agency head. [online] Express.co.uk. Available at: https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/637610/Europe-could-take-more-refugees-EU-Syria [Accessed 19 Oct. 2019].
  5. ​¶​
    Bush, L. (2019). Photographic Storytelling: A Poverty of Theory. [online] Medium. Available at: https://witness.worldpressphoto.org/photographic-storytelling-a-poverty-of-theory-2def0ba48031 [Accessed 19 Oct. 2019].
  6. ​#​
    Barthes, R. (1977) “The Death of the Author.” Image / Music / Text. Trans. Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang.
  7. ​**​
    Sealy, M. (2019). Decolonising the camera. 1st ed. London: Lawrence & Wishart.
  8. ​††​
    Molloy, C. (2019). Mark Sealy | 1000 Words. [online] 1000wordsmag.com. Available at: http://www.1000wordsmag.com/mark-sealy/ [Accessed 20 Oct. 2019].

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