Jul 29, 2012

To Photograph, or Intervene?

One of the ethical dilemmas of photographers involves capturing controversial or tragic events. Does a photographer stand back and take pictures, or intervene to help the subjects?

Photography is all about documenting events and people. Some images captured by photographers are powerful, heart breaking, startling, even horrifying. 
(image credit: Graeme Robertson/Getty Images)

But what do photographers who capture such images feel about their decision to keep taking pictures?

The Guardian has an excellent story about this subject, with photographers describing the circumstances of their arresting images and their thoughts about choosing to take pictures. This is a moral quandary every photojournalist faces at one point or another.

LINK to slide show story 

A perfect example of this concept is the iconic "Napalm Girl" photograph, below.

This is one of the most famous photographs ever published.

This grim image captured the horror of the Vietnam War the way no other photo had, and became famous worldwide, winning a Pulitzer prize for photography.

The photo was taken in the  Vietnamese town of Trang Bang by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut on June 8, 1972.

The children running down the road are fleeing from a napalm (a burning, jelly-like substance) attack launched by the South Vietnamese. The girl in the center of the photograph is Kim Phuc, and she was just nine years old when she ran from her village after it was attacked. The napalm jelly had burned through her clothes, and moments after snapping what would be an iconic photograph, Nick Ut brought the young girl to a hospital and demanded she be treated, saving her life. The Associated Press almost didn't run the story because of the nudity, but the local press chief decided that the image was so powerful it deserved to be published.

Kim Phuc eventually recovered from her burns and now lives in Canada. The Guardian newspaper has a fascinating story about Ms. Phuc, the life she led, and the origin of one of the most famous and iconic photographs ever taken.

President Richard Nixon, who was determined to win the war in Vietnam, reacted to the photo and its impact by stating he believed it was altered. More than any other factor, photography has the power to influence public opinion, and word events, and this image is exhibit A.

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