23 March 2009

Intrusions

"Actor Liam Neeson and his mother-in-law Vanessa Redgrave
walk through St. Peter's Cemetery after a funeral for his wife,
Natasha Richardson. Photograph: Mike Groll/AP"

I came across this photograph here in The Guardian. I am deeply ambivalent about it. On the one hand I can nearly feel the burden of pain and sadness reflected in Neeson's posture. I recognized the feelings immediately. On the other hand, what the hell was the photographer Mike Groll doing there? When my son Jeff died, his older brother (then 17) nearly punched news reporters who'd camped out at his mother's house. Yes it is the photographer's job. But there are jobs one might turn down, right?

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22 Comments:

Blogger brenda said...

Definitely.

24 March, 2009 07:19  
Blogger Benjamin said...

there's a simple test ...though complex to apply ... does the public need outweigh the intrusion on the family?

The honest truth is that rarely it does.

25 March, 2009 03:14  
Blogger sconsetmonkey said...

Please note that sometimes photographers are invited by the family. Sometimes.

This I know.

25 March, 2009 20:00  
Blogger Matt said...

Agreed on the intrusiveness. But, I'd like to get your take on the difference between your reaction here and the earlier posts regarding press at Dover for return of deceased service men and women.

"the news media will now be allowed to photograph the coffins of America’s war dead as their bodies are returned to the United States, but only if the families of the dead agree."* With all due respect, I think the families of military dead ought to have no say in this. Men and women who head off in the military are public figures...The claim to 'privacy' simply masks the cost of war...Do not misunderstand me. I know from personal experience exactly how obnoxious and intrusive the press can be when a young person dies. But the press is hardly going to be showing us dismembered and maimed bodies."

So by this logic, if the death in question can be tied to some event of public concern (war, conditions in public hospitals, care for he elderly, breast cancer, crime, trauma sevices in Canada, etc) then the press has free reign to cover the funeral, memorial, or otherwise. And while they most likely will not shoot an open casket, we have to assume that this coverage will provide images of the family in mourning.

26 March, 2009 08:49  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Hi Jim ... I really appreciate your thinking on privacy and photography, especially in relation to children. I thought that you might be interested in writing about this Andrea Bruce's multi award winning pictures of a 7 year old Kurd girl undergoing genital mutilation. I find it amazing that others haven't debated these pictures. A few have:

http://thetravelphotographer.blogspot.com/2009/03/pov-and-outrage-continues.html

http://duckrabbit.info/blog/?p=2285

26 March, 2009 09:46  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Matt, This is actually an easy one from my perspective. The image here is of a family grieving for someone who died in a skiing accident. Likewise, my son died playing lacrosse.

The bodies returning from Iraq (or other war zones) are public officials who died as a result of public policy. And with Dover in particular the Bush Administration was arguably exploiting the 'privacy' of families to cover the costs of a fiasco. That is despicable and craven.

26 March, 2009 12:31  
Blogger wilsie said...

When you yourself 'came across the photograph' you had choices, included in which was the choice not to add to the level of supposed 'intrusion' by reproducing the image here for a potentially new audience to consume(i.e. non-Guardian readers).

If 'intrusion' really is an issue for you then in this instance you scored an own goal by exploiting the image to get you very own blogging 'job' done!

26 March, 2009 20:28  
Blogger Adrian said...

It is a fascinating and complex issue. My personal feeling is that they (the photographer) should not be there - grief is a very private thing. And I can fully understand the reaction of your elder son. But there is a counterargument with celebrities that they are through their chosen vocation people in the public eye and so need to accept that the public will want to share their every moment.
There is a sense from this photo that the photographer has given them some space to grieve. I can tolerate this image taken in a public space more than I can a photograph of someone grieving when the camera has been thrust in their face as they leave their private home.
I have just posted an image on my blog, also found at The Guardian, of mourners following the school shooting in Germany. It raised some similar questions for me.

27 March, 2009 07:25  
Blogger Adrian said...

Jim

I just posted a comment and referred to my blog but without mentioning it. I have no desperate need for it to be included but if you want to make the link it is
http://whitenoiseofeverydaylife.com

Best

Adrian

27 March, 2009 07:30  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

W - Please. You can do better than that!

This image was on the front page of The Guardian "Culture" section. No reader had a "choice" but to confront it when opening the newspaper (which I do on-line). I am flattered, I guess, that you think the readership of my bog is in any way comparable to the readership of one of the world's largest daily newspapers. Ditto on matters of influence or impact.

And how is it that we might call the media to account without actually commenting on their actions and practices?

27 March, 2009 07:41  
Blogger Matt said...

First, I concede up front in this debate as I have been fortunate in that the deaths of my close family members were not considered news-worthy events and subject to such exploitation. So does that make proximity and emotion what defines the line standard of conduct in this area?

There is a public fascination with grief that differs from the fascination with graphic depictions of the cause of grief. There is interest in people's suffering and mourning that motivates its exploitation. I'm not sure I see how a photograph can conjure up these emotions without including those experiencing that grief in the image. This further blurs the line of what is and isn't considered acceptable.

And yes, I agree on the two-sides of the coin in exploiting privacy - both from the perspective of providing images of grief for personal gain, or deceiving others by obstructing access to such imagery. But...

I find it implausible, though, to argue that the public was deceived about the cost of war in terms of US military losses. Every major news outlet provided easy access to names and basic details of those who died in the war and body counts were part and parcel of the news for at least the first 5 years of the war. Further, nearly every funeral and memorial service is able to be covered by the media. The public was deceived about the cost of the war in terms of civilian casualties, financial impacts, but I guess I just don't see the boogey man hiding in this particular closet.

27 March, 2009 07:59  
Blogger Matt said...

First, I concede up front in this debate as I have been fortunate in that the deaths of my close family members were not considered news-worthy events and subject to such exploitation. So is it proximity and emotion that define thestandard of conduct in this area?

There is a public fascination with grief that differs from the fascination with graphic depictions of the cause of grief. There is interest in people's suffering and mourning that motivates its exploitation. It is difficult to imagine how a news photo can relate this emotion without including those experiencing the grief. This further blurs the line of what is and isn't considered acceptable.

And yes, I agree on the two-sides of the coin in exploiting privacy - both from the perspective of providing images of grief for personal gain, or deceiving others by obstructing access to such imagery. But...

I find it implausible, though, to argue that the public was deceived about the cost of war in terms of US service deaths. Every major news outlet provided easy access to names and basic details of those who died in the war and body counts were part and parcel of the news for at least the first 5 years of the war. Further, nearly every funeral and memorial service is able to be covered by the media. Certainly, there is denial and deception in the Iraqi civilian cost to the war, financial costs, etc, but I guess I just don't see the boogey man hiding in this particular closet.

27 March, 2009 08:02  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Matt,

Our own inimitable D&C her in Rochester refused to publish casualty figures for the Iraq fiasco. They were not alone - I think in fact, but am not certain, that that was a Gannett policy and so held for all the papers published by the chain. If that is so, many, many people who get their daily news from local outlets were hardly getting anything like the 'truth.'

As to policies re: covering funerals, my understanding is that the families had total veto power. In fact, my understanding is that they still do under the "new" Obama policy. There were very few images of returning coffins (hardly an intrusive image) let alone of battlefield casualties or of funeral ceremonies. And I stand by the view that soldiers are public officials who enact public policies and so susceptible to coverage that would be inappropriate in other circumstances.

27 March, 2009 21:24  
Blogger beatriz said...

Jim: there is an anomaly-disconnect that comes with global information-media. Is it ok for international photo-journalists to photograph peoples who are dying of hunger but not to photograph the funeral of a movie star's daughter's funeral? americans and western journalist love death scenes...there is nothing better for the press. another load of ink or another load of pixels...it doesn't matter. My life, whether in a moment of incredible well-being or in a moment of tragedy.....is not for tragedy-mongers. The military dead are not being photographed (as far as i know)...there are flagged-draped caskets that have an ambiguous message...patriots or anit-war; we are already decided.
bea

27 March, 2009 21:41  
Blogger Benjamin said...

A very interesting debate. I do find it incredible that in America you can ban photos of coffins returning, a common image in the UK but not even flinch at a picture of a seven year old girl having her genitals cut (Andrea Bruce), an image that would not be allowed in the UK because of the infringement of the girls right to privacy.

In the UK families welcome pictures of their loved ones coming home, it is a sign of respect.

One other thing, the Guardian is not one of the worlds largest papers, it is not even one of the UK's largest papers. The circulation is about half that of the Los Angeles Times. However it would be fair to say that it's an iconic paper of the left.

28 March, 2009 12:47  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Benjamin,

Compared to my blog readership, that of the The Guardian is huge. That is my point. And by US standards, it is pretty big in any case. (Given the rates at which our news dailies are collapsing, it may be getting 'bigger' in relative terms!)

I too find it astounding that families of returning servicemen and women are given veto rights when their loved ones are public figures carrying out public policy.

28 March, 2009 13:22  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

bea,

I am very critical of the conventions of photojournalism that focus on individual 'victims' of famine, epidemic, war and so forth. Two things are important here. First, such phenomena are not natural or accidental - they are man-made, the result of political economic structures and policies. In that sense I do think those who suffer the results are different from individual accident victims like Neeson's wife. Second, the 'victims' of such phenomena are too often portrayed as individuals, when the events in question are collective or aggregate - populations. Hence I really think Salgado's work is far superior to, say, Nachtwey's, just insofar as it turns our attention to aggregates.

In combination that means that we definitely need to see such horrors but that we need not focus primarily on individual suffering. That would make photography of suffering less intrusive. (Hence the pictures of groups of flag-draped coffins returning dead US military personnel from Iraq see hardly to be an invasion of anyone's privacy.)

28 March, 2009 13:28  
Blogger beatriz said...

your concern with the man-made, political decisions and the context of images is noted and admired. Intrusion on personal grief is wrong....photos of boxes (flag-draped anonymous caskets) is political, therefore public information. I read the liberal Mexican newspaper, La Jornada, and have seen much more of the illegal invasion of Iraq in that newspaper than any reportage from the US or England.

good blog, good work
bea

28 March, 2009 15:50  
Blogger o lavagante said...

in my opinion there is jornalism and other things that look like journalism but they aren't...

its an invasion of privacy and most of the time to sell magazines. its a shame i mean the man is in pain...

good blog!!!

28 March, 2009 17:52  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Don't you think its interesting that the concept of a family 'veto' would be completely alien in the UK to a coffin returning? We only ever see the cameras presence in that situation as either a neutral observer of honoring the dead. In America pt seems the event has become much more politicized. I am presuming because of sensitivities relating to the Vietnam war?

But its true right now in the UK we are seriously starting to question why we keep losing soldiers in Afghanistan when there is no military solutions to the 'problems'.

I think Jim is entirely correct. These men and women died representing their country, their death is a matter of both public interest and conscience. But can the media be trusted? (another question all together!)

On the question of individual over aggregate, this is a journalistic trick. Focus on the victim at the expense of the wider story; trust me it's what wins you the awards.

On the other hand ignore the individual and the story rarely has impact or relevance. The trick is not to dismiss one way or another but acknowledge there a is need for balance. That said I believe that the journalists primary role should be to educate and inform. Only an intellectually informed approach to the problems Jim talks about will result in any meaningful solutions.

At present the only solution many humanitarian organizations offer is for you to put your hand in your pocket. Their persuasiveness is reliant on the visual degradation of those they claim to speak for. The truth is that actually by speaking for them they are denying them a voice. So actually often the problem is not that we are focusing on the individual, but that because of the way they are presented we cannot see or hear them in any meaningful way.

An interesting debate Jim

28 March, 2009 17:59  
Blogger Benjamin said...

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2009/mar/30/press-freedom-kurds?commentpage=1&commentposted=1

30 March, 2009 11:42  
Blogger Lee said...

i think the difference we are talking about here is paparazzi and journalism they are most definitely are not the same thing. One provokes serious debate and discourse the other idle and grubby gossip.

30 March, 2009 17:21  

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