Returning to the ethical question

Now that I am starting to get more of a grasp over what exactly I am going to be sequencing a project out of, it is important to come back to review the ethics of my project, it will be important to include those I am photographing in order to create a collaborative approach to the work and also have the consent of those I am photographing. I have spoken about the project with my family, however this is a continuing dialogue to ensure that the reading of the final outcome will be both faithful and respectful to them.

Themes are developing in my work that could be viewed with a kind of othering of my family, which I could be doing as much as anyone looking at the series. Kirsty Mackay noted in an interview with her collective ‘The Other,’ “Photography’s always been very good at portraying victims and not as good at portraying the perpetrators. And if you are looking at poverty, for instance, through a middle-class lens it’s easy to miss out a lot of the nuances and tell a very single sided story” (Mackay, et al., 2021). I am not looking at poverty, but being that my family is working class, the project would inevitably attract some attention in this area. My intention is not to portray my family as victims – they are not. The focus is that there are a number of beliefs, which are formed by the individual, but also by outside influences and that we start to subscribe to the labels that we are given. I have written about this previously after listening to Nichola Twemlow discuss this in relation to her experiences with social work (2021). Mackay et al also discuss this specifically to photography, where they note in particular about those in power applying the labels and also how this starts to shape and effect those given the labels. If someone is photographing you and also telling you the reason is because you are working class, or poor, then how does that start to effect and impact the relationship between photographer and the person being photographed? The portrayal could be misleading (2021). It is crucial that I continually ask myself these questions, even when I am photographing my family and subscribe to some of the labels. I am the one with the camera, so also the one with the power so there needs to be a collaboration as even though I share much of the same experiences as my family this does not mean that I am immune from exploiting them. This again feeds back into Mariamma Attah’s discussion around ideas of socially engaged practice (Fig: 1), where I analysed the key points of this concept and how I can apply them to my project.

Figure 1: Phil Hill (April, 2021) Socially Engaged practice analysis

As my project is my own family, I am well placed to navigate the nuances that Mackay et al suggest might be missed by a complete outsider. It is also worth noting that this is my story to tell. However, I am still an outsider in the sense that I am the one with the camera looking in. The dialogue is important t have with the people in the project but also with myself. Savannah Dodd discusses this in the article ‘The Ethics of Documenting your own Family,’ which points out the need to not overlook such questions just because they are your own family, as Dodd notes of Amanda Mustard: “It’s a gift to have the perspective and personal experiences that allow access to important stories that may not be told with depth otherwise. But with greater depth comes the need for greater ethical care.” (2021).


Dodd, S., 2021. The Ethics of Documenting Your Own Family. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 11 June 2021].

Mackay, K., O’Brien, K. & Coates, J., 2021. The Other: On class in the industry [Interview] (26 May 2021).

Twemlow, N., 2021. Communities and Communication Conference 2021: Connections. Staffordshire, Staffordshire University.

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