March 17, 2022
The Photography Ethics Centre has launched a campaign to encourage photographers, editors, curators, organisations, and other professionals in the photography industry to write and publish Statements of Ethics.
The Belfast-based social enterprise, which was founded in 2017 and works globally, has launched the campaign to ask photographers to reflect on their practice, identify their own ethical approach and share it with the world.
The Photography Ethics Centre claimed, ‘Amid tectonic shifts across the industry, ethics provides crucial foundations on which photographers can ground their work.’
Declaration of principles
A Statement of Ethics is a declaration of a photographer’s ethical principles and a description of how they enact those principles in their photography practice.
By publishing a Statement of Ethics to their websites, photo professionals can encourage transparency, foster accountability, and enhance ethical awareness across the industry.
It will also be the final component in the Photography Ethics Centre’s newly released certification programme, which shows an individual has actively engaged with ethics education.
A Photography Ethics Centre workshop in Chang Mai, Thailand
Reflecting in advance
Savannah Dodd, founder of the Photography Ethics Centre, said, ‘We often only have conversations about ethics when something goes wrong. If we start thinking about and talking about ethics more proactively, when things are going right, we can embed ethics into our photographic practice. By reflecting on ethics in advance, photographers will be better equipped to field ethical questions and to make ethical decisions when they occur. By publicly articulating an ethical stance, we can each contribute toward cultivating a culture of ethics within the photography industry.’
The Photography Ethics Centre has created an online pledge where photographers can commit to writing a Statement of Ethics and to publishing it through their online platforms.
You can learn more about the campaign and make the pledge at Photo Ethics Pledge.
To find out more about the complex issue of ethics in photography, Amateur Photographer spoke to the founder of the Photography Ethics Centre, Savannah Dodd…
Savannah Dodd, the founder of the Photography Ethics Centre
AP: How did you get involved in the photography business?
Savannah Dodd: My background is in anthropology, but I have been a practicing photographer since my teens. I still maintain my own photography practice – see Savannah Dodd Photography – alongside my work with the Photography Ethics Centre and my PhD research in anthropology.
AP: Why did you originally set up the Photography Ethics Centre?
Savannah Dodd: I founded the Photography Ethics Centre after spending some months volunteering at photography festivals and galleries when I was living in Southeast Asia in 2016.
At these events, I had discussions with other photographers about the ethics of their practice – for example, about asking for consent and the responsibility of photographers in challenging or dangerous situations. But I quickly realised that I was raising ethical questions that many people had never thought about.
I realised that my education in anthropology has prepared me with an awareness of ethics that has guided my own photography practice, but that this awareness is not universal.
I realised that there is a gap in ethical understanding among photographers, and that this is a gap that I can fill. That is why, one year later in 2017, I founded the Photography Ethics Centre.
Ethics matters to photography because photographs are powerful. Photographs shape how we see the world, and when we take and share photographs, we are shaping how others see the world. In order to meet this enormous responsibility, we need our work in photography to be underpinned by ethics.
A Photography Ethics Centre presenting at a ROAAAR (a personal safety initiative) event in New York
AP: Why is it important for photographers to set out their ethics?
Savannah Dodd: We make ethical decisions every time we make and share a photograph, whether or not we are aware of it.
Ethics shape our decisions around what we photograph, how we photograph it, how we edit that photograph, where we publish a photograph, and how we caption it.
By taking time to consider and articulate our own ethical stance, we can cultivate awareness about of the ethical dimensions to the decisions we make, and we can make those decisions more deliberately and with greater care.
Photographers who do not consider ethics are at risk of unknowingly breaching national or international laws and ethical norms about privacy, confidentiality, copyright, consent, and child protection, among others.
These breeches can be costly – in terms of time, money, and reputation. Unfortunately, we often only have conversations about ethics when something goes wrong, yet so many of the negative stories we see in the photography industry could have been prevented if photographers had proactively embedded ethics in their workflow.
Moreover, by publishing a Statement of Ethics to their websites, photography professionals can encourage transparency, foster accountability, and enhance ethical awareness across the industry.
Of course, ethics for a wedding photographer will look a little different than ethics for a documentary photographer, but we can all embed ethics into our photographic practice.
A great example to look at for understanding ethics in product photography is Waleed Shah, who works to break stereotypes with his work. This ethical aim shapes his decisions about the images he produces and the clients he works with.
You can listen to him speak on our podcast here: Waleed Shah Podcast: Breaking Stereotypes
Savannah Dodd at a workshop on ethics in photojournalism, during the Yangon Photo Festival, February 2018
AP: What do you mean by ethics?
Savannah Dodd: There are a couple important points to clarify what we mean by ethics. We cast the net of ethics very broadly. Ethics isn’t just about the things that are happening when you are behind the lens.
Ethics, of course, includes things like consent and representation, but also environmental sustainability, personal safety, and respect for colleagues.
We do not offer ethical guidelines or rules. Instead, we approach ethics as subjective, contextual, and fluid.
This means that ethics are different for different people, because ethics are influenced by our life experiences and our moral frameworks, that ethical decisions are shaped by the contexts we are working in, and that ethics change as we grow and learn as people, as we work across different photographic genres, etc.
About the Photography Ethics Centre
The Photography Ethics Centre is a social enterprise organisation dedicated to raising awareness about the ethics of taking and sharing visual media.
Operating online and in person and serving a global audience, it offers a wide range of educational content through a variety of access points, including podcasts, articles, online courses, and live events.
The organisation works with the photography industry and other sectors that deal heavily in visual media, including international development, academia, and journalism.
The core belief of the organisation is that photography ethics has the power to change the world, and its key goal is to embed a culture of ethics in photography.
To find out more go to the Photography Ethics Centre website