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3 Questions to get started with ethics in visual storytelling

As an African photographer you always need to be conscious of the narrative power you have. Your photography shares a story and you need to be conscious of how your storytelling may affect the people in your photographs In many African countries, photographers are allowed to take photographs of people in public spaces as part of their creative expression but remember that just because something is legal, it doesn't make it ethical. Before you publish a photograph ask yourself these three questions:

If a photograph had your identifiable features, would you be alright with it being published on social media, or even being exhibited in a gallery without your consent? If the answer to that is no, then consider the people that may not be able to let you know if they mind. Also, remember to be honest about whether you will financially benefit from the photograph. If you intend to use the photographs for commercial purposes be transparent and as far as you can ensure you have permission from the people in your photos using them.

Is this photograph changing the story in any way?

A lot of photographers identify as being visual storytellers and this is because photographers really do tell stories. Some photographs may not do a story justice. When your photographs share a part of a story in ways that take away from the whole story it is a disservice to the people affected. Your photographs will communicate a message to the viewer – think about what people associate your country with and if there’s another side you know should have been part of the photo story.

In a journal on Street Photography A.D Coleman gives an example of a photographer taking a picture of his child after falling off a horse.The photographer asked him to use the photographin the context of child abuse which would have been recontextualization of the photograph. Would you want your child in a story surrounding child abuse when they had been careless during horse riding class? – of course not. But, the journal points out the only reason the photographer asked to use this image was because he knew him personally, had he not, the photograph would have been sold to a marketing agency for the ad.

Also when it comes to this, be conscious of your final edit not taking away from the true story.

Are you objectifying people?

Objectification in photography is when you treat a person like an object reducing people to the aesthetics of your photograph ignoring their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. The photograph may look good, and you may even be able to sell it as a print, but if you aren’t being considerate of the people in the photograph you probably shouldn’t publish it.

Privacy in public spaces needs to be respected. If you identify as a documentary photographer, street photographer, photojournalist your craft really is about people doing things in public spaces. Take time to understand ethics in photography and if anything start training yourself to spot identifiable features in photographs.

Did any of these questions make you rethink publishing a photograph?

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