Objectifying people: Camera and the ‘other’

Posted by Anushka Kahandagamage
August 28, 2017

NOTE: This post has been self-published by the author. Anyone can write on Youth Ki Awaaz.

I love cameras: way it captures the moments that otherwise will be ever gone and the way it freezes time, always amazed me. The invention of the camera dramatically changed the way we see the world and how the world sees us. Although photography is used initially as evidence, it has changed dramatically over time. Cameras have become a widely accessible equipment’s to many in the population, with camera phones, digital cameras and DSLR cameras. Mass production of photographs find a space to be expressed in social media; instagram, facebook, etc.

The larger production of photographs challenges the professional photographer and demands him/her to be ‘unique’ and ‘different’ in captures. The cultural photographer who has a desire to capture people and cultures, founds the challenge much more difficult as he/ she has to deal with the ‘people’. The more ‘real’ the pictures of culture and people, the photographer can be satisfied with his/her work. However, ‘reality’ of the photograph provokes a contested space. Most of the street photographers admit to the idea that if the subject is aware of the click, that will change the behavior of the subject. In other words ‘reality’ will be distorted. Two arguments derive from the ‘reality’ discourse. One is what reality is? Is ‘reality’ ‘real’? Can anyone capture the ‘reality? The social world is a constructed one, and it is impossible to capture or document the ‘reality’ as reality itself does not exist in a constructionist view, reality is relative. Most of the time (not all the time) cultural photographers capture the people in the lens who live in the streets; vulnerable or marginal groups. These groups are exposed, and their personal lives are in the street mingled with the public sphere of the others. Although their personal lives are out there, that is not a permission to capture their lives or document it without their consent. Of course their lives are interesting. So as the lives of ‘us’. Our lives might be equally interesting to them. But what makes the ‘interest’ express is, the camera you have in your hand. As sociologists, anthropologists or photographers, are we going to click photos of these street people without their consent? Are we going to capture any one (not only the street people) without their consent? The camera does not make anyone a God. However, apparently, it makes the photographer a God. A God who can look into the lives he/she has created and interfered and capture the moments of created life. The life of the people in streets is owned by the person with a Camera. Capturing people without their consent is a way of ‘othering.’  It is an act of ‘power.’ It’s an act of ‘invasion’ and ‘authority.’ In other words it’s an act of being ‘colonial’. Do you like to be captured in a strangers lens without you being aware and without your consent? This is the other question to be asked. If it is fine for us to capture others life, it should be fine for others to capture our lives too.

It is important to have the consent of the people you capture in your photographs. But there are many arguments positioning against getting the ‘consent’ of the people.

The first argument I came across is, getting the consent of the people is not practical. If you are not willing to follow the ethics, any ethical consideration might seem impractical. The willingness to follow and respect basic human values would make ‘impractical’ ethics, ‘practical.’ It is always a choice. Choice of respecting lives of others. If you choose to respect fellow humans, it will always be practical.

The other argument I heard is, ‘world reputed organizations are doing it, and so it is alright and they use a line to say that it is not their responsibility.’ Connected to this argument there was another argument ‘it is ok to capture people without their consent as everyone is doing that’. As ‘reputed’ organizations are publishing photos without any consent of the people, or as ‘everyone is doing it’ is it fine to follow that tradition?

Camera is fascinating equipment. The way camera captures people give the cameraperson a pleasure of ‘power’, pleasure of ‘controlling and capturing’. However, this power must be used in a harmless and ethical way.



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