The Right Time To Shoot
July 28, 2012 3:18 AM   Subscribe

Should a photographer document or intervene? In the wake of the recording of a sex attack in India, The Guardian interviews several photojournalists who have experienced doubt and regret over their actions.

A famous example of this internal conflict is Bang Bang Club member Kevin Carter [previously on Metafilter], who fell into depression after spending years chronicling conflict, committed suicide amidst money troubles and severe depression a year after taking his Pulitzer Prize-winning photo.

However, a powerful quote by Carter is worth mentioning:
"I was appalled at what they were doing. I was appalled at what I was doing. But then people started talking about those pictures... then I felt that maybe my actions hadn't been at all bad. Being a witness to something this horrible wasn't necessarily such a bad thing to do."
posted by Magnakai (105 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Documenting is intervening.
posted by PinkMoose at 3:36 AM on July 28, 2012 [16 favorites]


Similar ethical qualms are faced by wildlife photographers.
posted by Renoroc at 3:39 AM on July 28, 2012


This is going to be a tough discussion. After reading all the links, I think the pivitol statement was the quote (as regards the video tape of the 45 minute sexual assault) "But I'm backing my team since the mob would have attacked them, prevented them from shooting, that would have only destroyed all evidence."

Two interesting reasons/excuses/justifications for the lack of action, they would have been "attacked" and it would have destroyed all "evidence".

As regards the "attacked" part, I guess we can pretty much divide mankind into those that would risk themselves for others and those that wouldn't. The question becomes are we required to sacrifice for others? That is a religious/philosophical question we have to answer for ourselves. We can certainly have an opinion as to another person's answer to that, but can we compel them to act differently? That's a whole 'nother philosophical/political question.

As regards the "evidence" part...now, THAT is just pure bullshit, IMHO.
posted by HuronBob at 3:46 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not necessarily.

In this situation I would say that the journalist should have at least ran to the local police station (which was only minutes away) and tried to get help even though it sounds like he might not have gotten any. There would have been no risk to himself if he had and the photographer could still have been taking pictures for evidence.

As a hypothetical though, if the situation is such that one guy has no chance of getting more help or if it's clear that he would not only come to harm be intervening but also have no chance of preventing the crime, then yeah, documenting it to gather later evidence is probably the most you could effectively do.

If the story was, "Journalist dies after courageously trying and failing to stop a sexual assault. There are no suspects," is that better?
posted by VTX at 4:13 AM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


You're a photographer. Somebody is assaulting you. You're in real trouble. You see an onlooker.

Do you want that onlooker to help, or fiddle with their fucking autofocus?

The idea that having a Nikon around your neck means you're entitled to be held to some different moral standard than the rest of us is so stupid it's offensive.

Bring on the B Ark.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:23 AM on July 28, 2012 [34 favorites]


Twelve assailants -- I would think he was taking a pretty significant personal risk just by filming the event.

As a journalist, he should be free to document something without people demanding that he also be Batman.

As a human being and citizen, he should have at least summoned the police if possible... I worry that he was thinking of his shot first and the girl second.
posted by biochemicle at 4:30 AM on July 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Documenting is not intervening.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 4:37 AM on July 28, 2012 [17 favorites]


would we be talking about the rape, without him documenting?
posted by PinkMoose at 4:48 AM on July 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Documenting is intervening.
posted by PinkMoose at 8:36 PM on July 28 [+] [!]

Documenting is not intervening.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 9:37 PM on July 28 [+] [!]


Glad we've got that sorted out then.
posted by flabdablet at 4:49 AM on July 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


When you have "This must stop" on one hand and "People must know" on the other, I would like to think I would err on the side of "This must stop."
posted by Mooski at 4:55 AM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


You're a photographer. Somebody is assaulting you. You're in real trouble.

I was expecting the question to be "Do you defend yourself, or document the attack?"
posted by ceribus peribus at 5:00 AM on July 28, 2012 [8 favorites]



A famous example of this internal conflict is Bang Bang Club member Kevin Carter [previously on Metafilter], who fell into depression after spending years chronicling conflict, committed suicide amidst money troubles and severe depression a year after taking his Pulitzer Prize-winning photo.


I've seen the picture of the girl and the vulture before but didn't know the back story. Thanks for this.
posted by bquarters at 5:05 AM on July 28, 2012


Those pictures are hard to look at , I can't imagine what it would be like to witness, and document, those things day after day. The horrific must soon become mundane.

I certainly don't consider myself in a position to judge them, I know there are people being raped and children starving right now yet I sit here in my air conditioned apartment watching Magnum P.I.

I might argue that documenting is more important than stopping a single event. You may stop one event, but do nothing to expose the underlying condition that allow those events to occur, allowing many more people to starve. That is pretty cold comfort to the child starving while the photographer snapped his Pulitzer prize winning photo.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:08 AM on July 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


My friend showed me this short film (~4 minutes) called One Hundredth of a Second, about a photo journalist who witnesses an altercation between a gunman and a little girl.

My friend, who was involved with the filming, told me that the film was based on a true story. I never asked what story, what journalist, what photo. I think I will now.
posted by hypotheticole at 5:14 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


would we be talking about the rape, without him documenting?



No, but it does not follow from that that documenting is intervening. What follows, if anything, is that documenting is documenting. He documented, so we're talking about it. Do not confuse that with intervening. If he'd intervened, we probably *wouldn't* be talking about it, because it largely wouldn't have happened. Instead, he just documented while a sexual assault went on.

If youv'e got the power to stop a terrible crime, and, instead, you just record it, then you are an asshole.

And again: documenting is not intervening.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 5:19 AM on July 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


The question becomes are we required to sacrifice for others?

I've taken first-aid training a few times, and one of the things they stress is that (in Canada, in most cases) voluntarily giving first aid is a CHOICE, a voluntary act, not a legal obligation. The first-aider has the right to choose to help or not, because the act of giving aid carries personal (and in some jurisdictions, legal) risks, there are consent issues, and so on. The expectation, the benefit to society is that, once trained and armed with a little confidence, most trained first-aiders will choose to provide competent assistance.

I think the same idea applies generally; intervention is a choice. So a photographer or journalist should bear no more blame for not intervening than any other member of the crowd that must have been present. Where's the MeFi thread attacking them?

Often, both documentation and intervention are possible. They're not often mutually exclusive.
posted by Artful Codger at 5:23 AM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


[bah. where's my edit button?]
posted by Artful Codger at 5:24 AM on July 28, 2012


I must say that The Guardian's gone off on a tangent with these interviews. I don't believe its about intervention, in this specific case linked to in the FPP and that triggered the heartpourings from the other photojournalists. I think its about this:

The attack has highlighted the dangers of being a woman in the world's biggest democracy. Writing in the Mail Today on Sunday, the novelist Palash Krishna Mehrotra said: "This ghastly episode has brought back in focus an old issue: our primitive attitudes towards women."


None of the stories - South Africa, Congo, riots, bomb blasts et al can compare in casual indignity in quite the same way.
posted by infini at 5:25 AM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why is the photographer held to a different standard to anyone else who witnessed the attack?
posted by Bovine Love at 5:37 AM on July 28, 2012


I see all the excuse-making that goes on for people like this and it just does not convince me.

At the end of the day I am not someone who can watch another human being in trouble without taking some sort of positive, direct action to try to help. And taking a bunch of fucking photos does not fall into that category. I can only feel contempt for someone who thinks "documenting" an assault is "doing something" in any sense comparable with actively trying to stop it. And yeah, that means that sometimes we have to put ourselves on the line. Some of us are old-fashioned enough to call that basic human decency, and the other thing cowardice.

And "legal obligation"? So what? One should not have to be legally obliged to behave with decency towards a fellow human in trouble.
posted by Decani at 5:39 AM on July 28, 2012 [9 favorites]


I think the same idea applies generally; intervention is a choice. So a photographer or journalist should bear no more blame for not intervening than any other member of the crowd that must have been present. Where's the MeFi thread attacking them?

Our inability to identify other members of the crowd prevents us from criticising them personally. But if you can identify the cowardly fuckers, I'll happily post the thread attacking them.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:42 AM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I certainly don't consider myself in a position to judge them, I know there are people being raped and children starving right now yet I sit here in my air conditioned apartment watching Magnum P.I.

I actually think this is pretty key. Most people think they would 'intervene' when they are no where near the atrocities that are happening all over the world all of the time.

We sit here judging from places of relative extreme comfort. We could be 'intervening' right now but instead we aren't doing anything except sitting in front of computer, typing away...
posted by bquarters at 5:46 AM on July 28, 2012 [9 favorites]


As regards the "evidence" part...now, THAT is just pure bullshit, IMHO.

Cogent argument, that.

Good-Samaritan arguments are tough to make. It's easy to sit in your living room and type on a laptop, "He should have jumped into the fray and taken on those twelve, fifteen, or twenty attackers." Maybe you would, maybe you wouldn't. If you do, then most of us will agree that you're acting heroically, but maybe the mob disperses upon a stranger intervening or maybe you're just a dead hero. The point isn't whether a legal obligation exists; the point is the reasons why it doesn't.

Taking footage is a positive action. ("Positive" in its mathematical sense, not "good.") You have documented what happened. Attackers may be identified and prosecuted. The event cannot be denied. Et cetera. I'm not inclined to delve into its morality, but it seems silly to brush it off as inconsequential. It isn't.
posted by cribcage at 5:48 AM on July 28, 2012 [12 favorites]


One should not have to be legally obliged to behave with decency towards a fellow human in trouble.

Yeah unfortunately this thread is going to be full of top-shelf rhetoric. But I think this is an interesting post (thanks) on a highly contextual subject. I mean, if I was downtown in New York on 9/11 and a building collapsed a block away from me and I had my camera, I'm not sure if I would spend the day taking photographs or helping victims.

I like the quote from the first link, "I became a photographer and not a person." The rest is monday morning quarterbacking.

I will say though that the Indian video is not the kind of investigative journalism I would defend "morally," if push came to shove. But then again let's not forget there is freedom of press in the US. If we start talking about things that photographers should not document but should intervene in, then why stop at rape?
posted by phaedon at 5:49 AM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think it needs to be pointed out again that there was a journalist and a photographer and twelve assailants. TWELVE.

They could have easily beat the journalist and photographer to death and carried on with the rape. Assuming that the police would have been no help (and it sounds like they wouldn't have been) and there wasn't a group of people somewhere (or at least one Batman) they could have gone to for help, documenting the assault is very likely the only helpful thing they could have done. There was zero chance they could have prevented the assault. None.

I agree that there is a moral obligation to help and prevent it from happening if possible but the risk to yourself has to be weighed against the chances of success.
posted by VTX at 5:58 AM on July 28, 2012 [10 favorites]


If you read the article, the assault did stop short of rape, not that that makes the inaction any better.

As an aside, I was surprised to read that India is considered a worse place to be female than Saudi Arabia.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:58 AM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't care if documenting is intervening. It isn't intervening enough when someone is in the process of being raped.
posted by DU at 5:58 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


How the fuck are two guys who are presumably not trained in the arts of brawling and living in a country where every yokel with Rambo fantasies isn't allowed to buy an AK-47 and 100 round clip supposed to intervene between a mob of twelve men and their victim?

I agree there are times when journalists should put up the camera and step in but this probably isn't one of them. I think you could make a case that one of the two should have run to the police station, but it seems likely they knew they would be laughed at and dismissed the idea.

Journalists have to err on the side of non-intervention because they are constantly up against this sort of situation and unless they are wearing a blue undershirt with an S on it they will eventually encounter the situation where intervention == death. There are certainly situations where that obviously isn't the case and there are cases where principled journalists have jumped in. But they have to gauge the width of that gray area carefully. Journalists are our eyes and if we insist that they wade into every brawl, hurricane, flood, and drought to bring aid to those they witness we would quickly become rather blind to such things.

When I was very young I remember a wildlife show which documented the brawl between two highly endangered tortoises. It ended with one of the pair flipped over on its back, a death sentence. After much deliberation the flm crew flipped the defeated tortoise back onto its feet so it could amble off to brawl another day, and the filmographer took pains to explain that this was really a violation of their journalistic ethics, but between the fact that the animal was one of the last of its kind and the awful suffering in store for it, their hearts compelled them to intervene.

That was an easy one; there weren't twelve guys setting upon the helpless animal with unknown weapons. They still explained that, for journalists, what they were doing was wrong, and they apologized for letting their hearts get ahead of their heads.

In the case of the OP there are people whose job it is to intervene in such situations; they're trained, they carry arms, and they have legal authority. If there was no expectation that those people would come when called, then that is the real problem.
posted by localroger at 5:59 AM on July 28, 2012 [22 favorites]


It's easy to sit in your living room and type on a laptop, "He should have jumped into the fray and taken on those twelve, fifteen, or twenty attackers."

It's nonsense to present this as a simple binary choice between doing nothing and leaping into the fray and seeking to fight multiple attackers. There are a whole range of things that you can do that involve doing more than just documenting or doing nothing.

The first, and most obvious thing would be to try and offer some direct support and assistance to the victim while pointing out to their attackers how much they've already hurt that person. It may well be that the mood of the mob is such that they aren't going to tolerate such assistance -- but you won't know unless you actually try.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:02 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I will say though that the Indian video is not the kind of investigative journalism I would defend "morally," if push came to shove. But then again let's not forget there is freedom of press in the US. If we start talking about things that photographers should not document but should intervene in, then why stop at rape?

We're already confusing the issue by flirting hard with a confusion between legal questions and moral ones. It seems clear that the question on the table is the moral one: should photographers intervene? Not: should we legally obligate photographers (or anyone else) to intervene?

And, as for some of the comments farther upthread: I don't think anyone has suggested that photographers have moral obligations above and beyond those others have. And I don't think that anyone has denied that one's own safety must be some kind of consideration--no one, for example, has suggested that anyone is obligated to intervene if such intervention is unlikely to succeed and they are likely to be killed.

I can't help feeling that there is some kind of insane current in contemporary American culture that sees any action that is not resolutely cowardly as alarmingly crazy. Risk confrontation? Risk injury? Heaven forfend! Any suggestion that ordinary people might have good reason to physically intervene sometimes is treated as some kind of madness. Of course it is not always possible, not always prudent, not always obligatory, not always even permissible... But it's not always crazy, that's for sure.

If I have to risk getting beaten up in order to have a good chance of stopping a sexual assault, I should take that risk. (Maybe I won't...maybe I'll chicken out...but if I do, it's a defect in me.)
posted by Fists O'Fury at 6:04 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some people enjoy trying to adhere to particular rules of behavior required of them by their professions. It's the comfort one gets by not having to be courageous or make difficult decisions. It's a close cousin to the "I was just following (my chosen profession's) orders" lazy Nazi excuse. Professional ethical rules have a narrow role in certain professions in order to AVOID harm -- such as doctors (they should always try to do no harm) and bankers (they should try not to steal). Those are ethical norms intended to preempt harm. But journalists? Please. Journalists have a moral obligation to try to help others just like any other human being. There's no special ethical exception because you have a pen and paper in your hand -- unless somehow not acting would help someone avoid harm which clearly isn't the case here.
posted by pallen123 at 6:09 AM on July 28, 2012


This is a pretty disturbing way to act when you see a literally starving child:

He heard a soft, high-pitched whimpering and saw a tiny girl trying to make her way to the feeding center. As he crouched to photograph her, a vulture landed in view. Careful not to disturb the bird, he positioned himself for the best possible image. He would later say he waited about 20 minutes, hoping the vulture would spread its wings. It did not, and after he took his photographs, he chased the bird away and watched as the little girl resumed her struggle. Afterward he sat under a tree, lit a cigarette, talked to God and cried.

I think intervening -- you know, stomping out the cigarette and helping the child to the food center - would have been a good choice. Doing that instead of waiting for a vulture to attack her would have been even better.
posted by Houstonian at 6:09 AM on July 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's nonsense to present this as a simple binary choice between doing nothing and leaping into the fray and seeking to fight multiple attackers.

Nobody has suggested that. Plenty of options have been discussed in this thread, including leaving the scene to get help. If there's a binary-choice perspective being evidenced here, I would suggest that it's what Fists O'Fury just pointed out, this idea that all the myriad possibilities can somehow stack into two neat and separate piles of "cowardly" and "crazy." That seems overly simplistic.
posted by cribcage at 6:11 AM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Frustrated at police inaction in the days following the assault, residents put up"wanted" posters of the men caught on camera and circulated the images on social networking sites. ... Seven men have been arrested since Assam's chief minister Tarun Gogoi's order on Saturday for detectives to arrest the culprits within 48 hours.

By all accounts the police would have done nothing without the footage (evidence) and the collective community response to it.

I think that regardless of whether a photographer/videographer/journalist's motives are lofty (educate/inform) or base (ratings/money), there is no possible way to respond in a situation like that that will help both the individual person suffering before you in that moment, and the many potential people who may suffer the same fate in the future. It's an impossible choice.
posted by headnsouth at 6:12 AM on July 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


The quiz for photojournalists:

You are by a rushing flooded river. A very young child and a old woman are in the rushing water, and are going to be swept past you. You only have a moment, and time to do one thing. Do you:

a: Shoot with a wide angle to set the scene and establish the place?
Or
b: Shoot with a telephoto to capture emotion on their faces as they go by?
posted by cccorlew at 6:18 AM on July 28, 2012 [19 favorites]


Some of us are old-fashioned enough to call that basic human decency, and the other thing cowardice.

The internet is full of ass-kickers. It's a lot harder to find those people when you are actually looking at a mob of a dozen drunk and violent men.

If they hadn't shot the footage, there would have been no arrests, no public discussion of violence against women, and no way to pressure the police to take the incident seriously. I wouldn't quite call documenting intervening, but it certainly was brave and had a positive impact, which walking away (the smart choice) would not have had.
posted by Forktine at 6:24 AM on July 28, 2012 [16 favorites]


you know, stomping out the cigarette and helping the child to the food center - would have been a good choice.

But where does it end? He was in an entire nation of starving people. I think I probably would have helped that child myself, but I can see the argument that it is the first step onto a very slippery slope. What should he have done next? Give all of his own food to the starving people around him? Volunteered to drive a food truck? Donated his inflated Western salary to the relief effort? He could have thrown the rest of his life and career into relief and not made a dent.

He was there to document the atrocity; ultimately, he was much too small an actor to have a meaningful effect on it, and investing himself too deeply in what was going on around him could have made it impossible to do what he was sent there to do. And what he was there to do was to show the atrocity to us, to bring it to the larger world which might have the resources to make a meaningful impact.

Regarding the OP, I would say that as events played out the journalists did the most effective thing possible. Instead of three beaten-up people and no documentation or recourse there is the footage, the neighborhood has risen up, and actions are being taken against the assailants.
posted by localroger at 6:26 AM on July 28, 2012 [20 favorites]


a: Shoot with a wide angle to set the scene and establish the place?
Or
b: Shoot with a telephoto to capture emotion on their faces as they go by?


Silly silly person. You forgot:

c: Jump in and drown yourself so nobody will criticize you for taking pictures instead.
posted by localroger at 6:28 AM on July 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


Documenting something is valuable to society. How valuable it is depends on a lot of factors: Is the situation part of a wider pattern in society that needs to be changed? Does it involve power imbalances? Will it be dismissed or covered up if there is no clear evidence?

Documenting is also valuable to victims. Again, how valuable it is depends on a lot of factors: Will the evidence be useful in making sure they are not ignored or forgotten? Will the presence of cameras have an effect on people's behavior?

And how to weigh those things against direct intervention is also variable: Can you legally intervene? Will you be able to make a difference through direct intervention? How dangerous is it?

So you may have a situation where you don't think you can make a difference directly, but you think you can make sure the perpetrators get caught. Of you might think that you can make a difference, but that it is more important to show the world and the country how bad things are, in the hope of change on a much wider scale. Or you might be too scared to get involved, but think that at least you can try to make sure you get pictures of their faces.
posted by Nothing at 6:29 AM on July 28, 2012


The internet is full of ass-kickers. It's a lot harder to find those people when you are actually looking at a mob of a dozen drunk and violent men.

How do you know this? Have you been in this situation multiple times?

The question isn't whether it's frightening or dangerous to confront 12 men attacking a woman, it's whether not doing so is cowardice. It is.

Justifying cowardice and bad choices because it ended well is lazy.
posted by pallen123 at 6:30 AM on July 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


If you have no other option, perhaps it is cowardice. But if you have two options: one very likely to not be useful at all (confronting 12 men) and one very likely to be somewhat useful, even if not directly (documenting) then confronting them is throwing away your ability to make a difference, and it is stupid.
posted by Nothing at 6:33 AM on July 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


a: Shoot with a wide angle to set the scene and establish the place?
Or
b: Shoot with a telephoto to capture emotion on their faces as they go by?

Silly silly person. You forgot:

c: Jump in and drown yourself so nobody will criticize you for taking pictures instead.


Change the scenario slightly. A mother and her 2 year old are walking beside the river and the mother's foot catches in a rock. The toddler is heading for the swift river. Do you:

A. Film the drama unfolding because it may spark a public debate about walking near rivers
B. Sexually abuse the trapped woman
C. Kick the child into the river so you can get a good shot
D. None of the above

Choices...
posted by pallen123 at 6:34 AM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not jumping in was moral and physical cowardice. I wouldn't have jumped in - and I would deserve the label 'coward'. I could have taken a million photos, had the head of police lay a string of arrests at my feet - I'd still be a coward. I could have jumped in and been beaten to death, but I'd have died doing the right thing.

If they hadn't shot the footage, there would have been no arrests

Why are consequentialists always so sure they can tell the future?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:35 AM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


How do you know this? Have you been in this situation multiple times?

Yes, I have been around violent mobs multiple times. Not, thankfully, attacking women like in this story, but I can absolutely and categorically say that they are the scariest situations I've ever been in and my hat is off to all the internet ninjas who are certain they would jump into the middle of it.

Why are consequentialists always so sure they can tell the future?

Because even with the footage being shown on national television, it took neighborhood organizing, the removal of a police official, and direct political involvement to force the arrests. If you think any of that would have happened without the footage, ok, but that's a hard sell.
posted by Forktine at 6:38 AM on July 28, 2012 [12 favorites]


The reason this is so difficult is that we don't like to admit that there are situations in which there is no good choice. There is absolutely no good choice here for the people witnessing the crime. Any choice will lead to suffering. Sometimes life is like that. The fault lies with the people committing the assault, not the people thrown into the situation by chance.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:39 AM on July 28, 2012 [25 favorites]


And--as someone who has intervened in a dangerous situation when I had no obligation to do so--having had that experience I would never begrudge someone walking away. I wouldn't praise them, either, but I understand.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:40 AM on July 28, 2012 [10 favorites]


hypotheticole, your linked short film captures the dilemma so perfectly. I doubt any of know how we'd behave if we were in similar situations.
posted by idest at 6:43 AM on July 28, 2012


Yes, I have been around violent mobs multiple times.

You're either a cop or you definitely hang with the wrong crowd.
posted by pallen123 at 6:44 AM on July 28, 2012



You're either a cop or you definitely hang with the wrong crowd.

And you just happen to live in a peaceful law abiding country.
posted by infini at 6:47 AM on July 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


Jumping in when you're only going to be murdered may be more stupidity than bravery. But if it's a limited thing -- one rape, one beating, -- and you can intervene directly and effectively without being murdered yourself, you obviously should intervene directly.

If you're trying to get a story out about a bigger thing -- a famine, a civil war -- you also have an obligation to fight the famine or war with your pictures in the news. You can sell your camera to buy a few more bags of rice for a million starving people, but that might not do as much good as you would just by publishing a few effective pictures. File your story and then volunteer to hand out food.
posted by pracowity at 6:47 AM on July 28, 2012


This and this appear to be some of the footage of the attack. You can see that this is happening on a typically busy city street, with heavy traffic and plenty of people -- the journalists are not the only people who chose not to intervene.
posted by Forktine at 6:47 AM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Justifying cowardice and bad choices because it ended well is lazy.

One faceless commentator calling down moral outrage on other faceless commentators over an occurrence that none of them personally witnessed , is, um, not lazy? Why are you commenting here with us cowards when you could be out, Feeding the Hungry or Righting Wrongs? What kind of cowardice is that?

And before someone else does...
Metafilter: one faceless commentator calling down moral outrage on other faceless commentators

phew.

posted by Artful Codger at 6:49 AM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


This and this appear to be some of the footage of the attack. You can see that this is happening on a typically busy city street, with heavy traffic and plenty of people -- the journalists are not the only people who chose not to intervene.

Oh then nevermind. If nobody else did anything...
posted by pallen123 at 6:50 AM on July 28, 2012


There was zero chance they could have prevented the assault. None.


You don't know that. I've stopped fights multiple times when I was vastly outnumbered by kids stronger and faster than I am. Successfully, I might add.

The question really becomes, if you make the choice to NOT help the victim, can you live with that choice afterwards. It seems that the answer is, according to the links, sometimes you can't.
posted by HuronBob at 6:52 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a difference between someone with a camera in their hand and a red light camera. One is a passive observer, one is not. One can have empathy, one can not. One can make a decision to intervene, one can not.
posted by tommasz at 6:53 AM on July 28, 2012


Phil had some thoughts about this.
posted by HuronBob at 6:54 AM on July 28, 2012


Why are you commenting here with us cowards when you could be out, Feeding the Hungry or Righting Wrongs? What kind of cowardice is that?

How do you know I'm not feeding the hungry (no caps necessary) right now?

over an occurrence that none of them personally witnessed

...isn't consequential.
posted by pallen123 at 6:54 AM on July 28, 2012


The question really becomes, if you make the choice to NOT help the victim, can you live with that choice afterwards.

Every single person who chooses not to intervene is furthering the creation of a society where sexually assaulting a woman on the street is normal, commonplace, and unremarkable.
posted by elizardbits at 6:55 AM on July 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Part of what seems to be missing here is the context. Assam has been convulsed by riots recently, "where a sudden outbreak of riots between the Bodo people, a tribal group, and Bengali Muslims has led to 42 deaths and the displacement of an estimated 150,000 people in a period of less than a week."

Additionally, finding the footage I linked above was trickier than I had expected, because there's also footage (again leading to arrests, do we see a pattern here?) of a recent mob attack on a female state legislator.

So while I think it's awesome that you intervened on the playground ("I've stopped fights multiple times when I was vastly outnumbered by kids stronger and faster than I am."), I would also hope that we can see the ways in which this situation is different. I have no problem admitting that knowing that a place has had mass mob violence repeatedly over at least the last three or so decades would influence my choices.
posted by Forktine at 7:03 AM on July 28, 2012 [4 favorites]



Every single person who chooses not to intervene is furthering the creation of a society where sexually assaulting a woman on the street is normal, commonplace, and unremarkable.

... and we've come full circle. Do you deny that the act of shooting and broadcasting this attack will do FAR MORE towards ending this sort of attitude and behaviour than a simple, undocumented intervention, successful or not, would have achieved?
posted by Artful Codger at 7:03 AM on July 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


If intervening is so important to some here, rather than point a finger at the photograper who at least was struggling with a real life situation, go to india and stop the abuse. There are thousands of people who need your help.

It is a question of priority, no? Outrage in itself is an empty gesture.
posted by snaparapans at 7:07 AM on July 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


Do you deny that the act of shooting and broadcasting this attack will do FAR MORE towards ending this sort of attitude and behaviour than a simple, undocumented intervention, successful or not, would have achieved?

Are you asking elizardbits, or the girl being sexually assaulted?
posted by HuronBob at 7:07 AM on July 28, 2012


clearly, elizardbits.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:08 AM on July 28, 2012


NY TImes: 4,000 U.S. Deaths, and a Handful of Images

The ethics of photojournalism (perhaps because pictures create an immediate emotional reaction) are tricky.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:09 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


rather than point a finger at the photograper who at least was struggling with a real life situation,

Oh, wait, I'm sorry, I thought it was the girl that was struggling with a "real life situation"? My bad..

I'm stepping away from this conversation....
posted by HuronBob at 7:09 AM on July 28, 2012 [4 favorites]




This is bullshit. He should have intervened .
All it takes is one man to step up. The other onlookers would join him once they see someone do that . Often people just hold back out of uncertainty as to what should be done. Conversely this, being seen as a photographer doing nothing to help, just reinforces their uncertainty and it lets them be okay with being uninvolved.
posted by asra at 7:12 AM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


>All it takes is one man to step up. The other onlookers would join him once they see someone do that .

This is a made-up story. It's a very nice made-up story, but this is often not the way it goes.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 7:14 AM on July 28, 2012 [9 favorites]


Apparently, only journalists can save the world, but choose not to.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:14 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, I thought it was the girl that was struggling with a "real life situation"? My bad..


Who else besides you have been comparing themselves to the girl in this thread?
posted by snaparapans at 7:15 AM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here you have a journalist and a cameraman both witnessing the assault. Couldn't the journalist have left to try to find help, while the cameraman continued to document? In the video you can see that once the police arrived the journalist gets in there with his microphone attempting to interview the girl. It really just seems like they were interested in the story.
posted by orme at 7:16 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


That footage is brutal, the videographer already seems to be in amongst the crowd. Some of the men are clearly acknowlging the camera's presence and smiling. I think in this case the camera may have egged them on. I think this is substantially different than a warzone or a famine.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:17 AM on July 28, 2012


If intervening is so important to some here, rather than point a finger at the photograper who at least was struggling with a real life situation, go to india and stop the abuse. There are thousands of people who need your help.

This in itself is the laziest of Meta retorts. MF IS a discussion forum. That's the entire purpose of the site. One of the highest purposes of discussion is to examine issues so we can individually and as a society better ourselves. Discussions about ethics are just that -- what is right and what is wrong and why under different circumstances -- not what is easy or feasible or realistic or safe.

Whether we think you would or wouldn't intervene is up to each of us to decide and it's a difficult thing to imagine without being in a particular situation. But to say that because it ended well in this situation (not for the woman attacked btw) and that the ends justifies the means, is by definition, lazy reasoning. To suggest posters here would or wouldn't intervene out of fear, is also lazy. We don't actually know. What we can know, and what we can and should discuss, is what our higher selves ought to do. If early 1930's Germany had many more of those kinds of conversations, maybe a few less thousand people would have perished.

Saying my time is better spend trying to save somebody somewhere is a non sequitur and, you guessed it, lazy.
posted by pallen123 at 7:21 AM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think in this case the camera may have egged them on.

You may want to read up about rape in India.
posted by snaparapans at 7:25 AM on July 28, 2012


MF IS a discussion forum

Sorry to hear that you do not like my input to the discussion. But, relatively speaking, I do not believe that my input is any less lazy than yours, although you did type in more words than I did.
posted by snaparapans at 7:29 AM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's another point--I know nothing about what would have actually happened should the police have become involved or anything like that, and frankly, most of us here have no clue besides what we're imagining from our vastly different circumstances. In NYC I am suspicious of the police when it comes to vulnerable women. "Get help, get the police" is not always such an easy answer.

Of course the times I was assaulted the hardest things to come to terms with were the reactions of people not directly involved (i.e. bystanders). The sense of isolation and loneliness, as though one has literally been discarded by one's own community, deemed worthless--is very difficult to deal with.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:30 AM on July 28, 2012


What we can know, and what we can and should discuss, is what our higher selves ought to do.

yeah, I was young once, too.

to say that because it ended well in this situation (not for the woman attacked btw) and that the ends justifies the means, is by definition, lazy reasoning.

Disagree. A competent journalist probably has a very good idea as to what impact a strong story will have, as compared to what simple intervention could achieve. It likely factored into their choice of what to do in that situation. That's the central point of this thread, no?

Again, why are journalists supposed to contain the moral fiber that the rest of the world apparently lacks (MeFiers excepted)
posted by Artful Codger at 7:30 AM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


yeah, I was young once, too.


Second laziest of Meta retorts.
posted by pallen123 at 7:33 AM on July 28, 2012


The reporter explains himself

Monday morning quarterbacks might be interested to know that the reporters' first action upon reacing the scene was to call the police, but he complains that there simply aren't enough police in the region to keep the peace.

The reporters then did try to intervene, but they were unsuccessful because it was a growing, angry, violent mob and they were literally afraid that they would be lynched.
posted by localroger at 7:37 AM on July 28, 2012 [9 favorites]


Good on him for getting enough evidence (and then using it) to make something happen. Bad on him for that being the only thing he did.
posted by FirstMateKate at 7:39 AM on July 28, 2012


You may want to read up about rape in India.

This shit is just crazy. From an American perspective, the fact that the men were smiling into the camera would be an oddity, something extra specially fucked up, a sign of the brutality of the whole thing. I guess in India it is so common a passer-by with a camera is no big deal. I don't know that there is much I can do besides not doing business in India, when I am given the choice, until something changes.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:40 AM on July 28, 2012


I know nothing about what would have actually happened should the police have become involved or anything like that, and frankly, most of us here have no clue besides what we're imagining from our vastly different circumstances.

That's the part I wonder about. There seems to be a lot of confident certainty in this thread about what would have happened if the journalist(s) had intervened. I'm curious what informs that confidence.

On a separate (?) note, I'm not sure about the wisdom of criticizing other people's retorts for being "lazy" while making comparisons to 1930s Germany. I'm not sure either tactic serves the "high[er] purposes of discussion."
posted by cribcage at 7:44 AM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


My guess is that passersbye who tried to intervene in Rodney King's beating would have been arrested. No film, no effect.
posted by dragonsi55 at 7:45 AM on July 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


MF IS a discussion forum. That's the entire purpose of the site.

A photojournalist IS supposed to take photos of newsworthy events. That's the entire purpose of the profession.
posted by snofoam at 7:48 AM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I guess in India it is so common a passer-by with a camera is no big deal.

In the Fall of 2009, I went off bear leading a young European academic to observe mass communication practices among the lower income demographic. (From their country's perspective that applied to most everyone on the street not in a vehicle).

One of the big shifts, and an empowering one, that we heard repeatedly about, was the rise of news media channels coupled with the easy access of a mobile phone, that was changing the perception amongst the common man (aam aadmi) that his (or later, her) voice would indeed be heard. And even if justice could not immediately be served, the ability and the power that the ability conferred upon the voiceless to quickly call down the wrath of the media's all powerful and recording eye upon the scene, meant an increasing sense that the injustice would not go unheard and unseen. As was and still is often the case.

In that context, this incident has succeeded in its function.

Would you be sitting around discussing the fate and future of yet another young Indian woman molested, humiliated and sexually assaulted (one every second or some such data bit) today if not for this larger shift in society?

As an Indian woman who has felt the fear in a male dominated crowd if it were to ever turn ugly and felt the numerous groping hands that a simple walk to the corner in a market may entail, I am not justifying the should or should not of this one incident.

But I am trying to put in perspective.
posted by infini at 7:50 AM on July 28, 2012 [9 favorites]


sucky grammar excepted.
posted by infini at 7:52 AM on July 28, 2012


Second laziest of Meta retorts.

I dunno. A snappy comeback to a snark, and ignoring any other points is pretty lazy, no?
posted by Artful Codger at 8:07 AM on July 28, 2012


At the end of the day I am not someone who can watch another human being in trouble without taking some sort of positive, direct action to try to help.

This is something I'd like to believe about myself too. I think it's an easy thing for each person to believe this about themselves. But then how many times have I ignored the homeless? And what about those people who are visibly distressed and agitated, every now and then I encounter them on an empty bus or train moving through poor neighbourhoods. I could have helped them reach mental health services, or at least try to console them for a few minutes, but I never do any of those things.
posted by quosimosaur at 9:27 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Presumably there were other people around as well who also didn't intervene. Given that situation, it's putting quite a huge burden on the photographer as savior in this situation. I would say this choice is between either intervening or not -- documentation aside.

I've been to some pretty fucked up places, and seen some pretty bad things. I've seen people shot, starving, and die in front of me (in the last case I did try to help, and in fact was the only one who did). But then there's the whole weight of society on the other hand, and you are a foreigner, not knowing the rules, you of all people, tend to take your cues from the mass and move along with them.

Not to mention you're asking whether someone should jump into the fray of a violent situation.

The question than becomes whether or not to document a tragedy. That's a relevant question, but that's also what journalism is - I have friends writing stories now on the tragedy of a country I care a lot about. What's the point, what is the effect? They get paychecks from newspapers, and the Western world learns about something to read over their morning coffee. Journalism is documentation, for money. That's where I see a real ethical quandary and something worth discussing.
posted by iamck at 9:46 AM on July 28, 2012


At the end of the day I am not someone who can watch another human being in trouble without taking some sort of positive, direct action to try to help. And taking a bunch of fucking photos does not fall into that category.

When you have "This must stop" on one hand and "People must know" on the other, I would like to think I would err on the side of "This must stop."

It isn't intervening enough

I didn't realize how many ninjas capable of taking on twelve men posted on Metafilter!

Honestly, seeing this chest-beating on Metafilter is pretty odd.
posted by spaltavian at 10:23 AM on July 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


Armchair quarterbacking at its best.

You can see that this is happening on a typically busy city street, with heavy traffic and plenty of people...

Because even with the footage being shown on national television, it took neighborhood organizing, the removal of a police official, and direct political involvement to force the arrests. If you think any of that would have happened without the footage, ok, but that's a hard sell.



For the individual's sake, I could wish that he'd intervened. For the sake of other women, I hope his photos make a difference.

But it's all wishing and hoping from here.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:45 AM on July 28, 2012


I've always thought about why documenting a given horrific event is thought of as more important than the life or safety of a fellow human being. Some journalists place themselves on an awfully lofty pedestal. I'd rather have a story about a photographer that prevented a horrific crime than photos or video of that horrific crime. All the photos and video ever taken of horrible things haven't succeeded in keeping those things from continuing to happen. Journalistic ethics aside, I'd like to think I'd have tried to help.
posted by IvoShandor at 11:12 AM on July 28, 2012


I'd rather have a story about a photographer that prevented a horrific crime than photos or video of that horrific crime.

But often those aren't the two options. Often the options are having a horrific video of a crime or no story at all, because the journalist was arrested/killed/disappeared for trying to prevent it. 31 journalists have been killed so far in 2012. I am going to trust the judgment of someone who is there to decide for him/herself the best course of action.
posted by headnsouth at 11:23 AM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]



I've had to make a decision like this. Well not whether to document the fight but whether to intervene. Others were filming with their cell-phones though.

Was walking back to my hotel with a friend from a night out and as we rounded a corner saw a fight on the street. Three to four (don't remember) young guys were beating and hounding a guy much smaller then them. My first instinct was shit I should do something. Second thought was what, I'm a women and these guys were bigger then me... Then like a shot my friend, also a women, short of 5 foot nothing, yells at them as she runs in and jumps on one of the guys back that was kicking the other guy. Multiple thoughts ran through my mind at that point, crap, why aren't other people helping, now my friend is in there, I want to help, I'm scared for my safety, all in a split second. I ran in too. One of the scariest things I've done.

After that I don't remember exactly what order things happened. I've discovered that in emergency situations my reaction is to go into what I call my robot mode. I just act, get all calm and just do things. I ended up jumping onto another guys back, locked my arms around his neck and with my other hand stuck my fingers up his nostrils and pulled back. (Something a roommate who was a bouncer talked about doing at one time.)

Next thing I remember was being on my back on the ground, with the guy on top of me and me still holding on and him swearing and cursing. Then he was hauled off by some other bystanders. I guess two women running in spurred the other male lookiloos courage or something. The fight stopped and the fighters were chased away. It wasn't until a few hours later that I felt any pain and the whole thing hit. All of the what could have happened assailed my mind. If the other bystanders hadn't finally decided to take action? Would my being female have been enough to stop the fighters from beating me (or worse) too? Could have cracked my skull open when we fell backwards...etc etc. Mostly though I was in shock that I did it. It was almost like I was taken over by something else and that also scared me.

I cried a whole hell of a lot for several days after that.

I'm not relaying this to come off as some sort of hero. I'm honestly not sure if I wouldn't have tried anything if my friend hadn't run in. So yeah in this situation I did decide to intervene but in hindsight it was a pretty stupid thing to do. I feel that I got lucky that things worked out as they did.

I'm also not sure if I'd do it again. When your faced with such a thing it's not an easy decision. I've been in a couple of other emergency situations, like a house fire with a few kids up in a bedroom and me a four other people ran in to get them. Scary stuff. So many people did nothing though and I don't really blame them.

When your faced with possible injury or death and have to make split second decisions you brain does weird things and not everyone reacts the same. I've seen people that seem like the 'hero' type do nothing but freeze and others who would be the last people you'd think would do anything be the 'hero' type. It's easy to armchair but unless your faced with such a thing it's hard to tell how you react.

Heck even after all of this stuff the person I was during such events seems quite foreign.
posted by Jalliah at 11:48 AM on July 28, 2012 [15 favorites]


It was almost like I was taken over by something else and that also scared me.

I've never been in a fight or mob situation but I have been the recipient of a drive-by shooting and it's true that no matter how you think you would react in such a situation, the fact is you don't know how you will react until it really happens.

Contrary to some of the bellicose criticism here it appears that the journalists did as much as they could, including an attempted intervention -- which they had to abandon in fear for their lives. In the clip I posted above the photographer explains himself to a female anchor who asks him many of the very questions asked here, and he gives reasonable answers.

As for the participants not minding the camera, that's another thing that can probably be put down to the otherness of experience when you are in such a situation. People in the grip of mob psychology are not themselves, and probably not concerned with normal precautions; they may not even realize that from a certain perspective what they're doing is bad or even illegal.
posted by localroger at 1:34 PM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


"And--as someone who has intervened in a dangerous situation when I had no obligation to do so--having had that experience I would never begrudge someone walking away. I wouldn't praise them, either, but I understand."
-- young rope-rider

"I'm also not sure if I'd do it again. When your faced with such a thing it's not an easy decision."
-- Jalliah

Quoted for truth.

Everyone who has never been tested this way, you are very lucky indeed. Lucky in many ways: living in a middle class, low crime, homogeneous, first world neighborhood. Who here is so privileged to never interact with people experiencing the day-to-day violence of poverty?

Being a witness to violence has a lot in common with being a victim. Children who are a witness to domestic violence are considered abused in the US, regardless of whether a hand has ever been laid on them. To say there is no price to being a witness, let alone an active witness who helps bring people to justice, is very unforgiving.

First Aid courses, at least in the US, always say Step 1 is to consider your own personal safety and to not intervene if it is unsafe for you. (If you've never been tested in a high stress situation and you've never taken a CPR course, please consider taking the class right away! Someday you'll have a chance to be a hero even if you live in the safest surroundings.)

Some people belong to professions that have sets of ethics that need to be exchanged at the same time you take on and off your credentials and badges. A government worker who believes in God and believes God is ever-present still needs to not proselytize while on duty. Their own religious leaders may even tell them otherwise, but if they can't prioritize the professional ethics when the badge is on, they need to leave the profession.

Soldiers have the same ethical situation. When the uniform is on, their ethics are to follow any legal order. Military action is totally ineffective if everyone is a free moral agent. Take off the uniform and you are your own agent again.

The journalists involved in these kinds of incidents, documenting the starving child, rape, lynchings, may subscribe to professional ethics that rub against your own set of "civilian" ethics. But they subscribed to a set of ethics that *tangibly* make the world a better place.

That is way more than can be said of most people, who, when tested, do nothing. Most people are bystanders -- not even documenters or witnesses -- bystanders. If you don't understand that the people lacking any ethics at all are everywhere, I've got news for you, because they are your neighbors. The work of psychologists like Zimbardo and Milgram make this incredibly clear.

Journalists are busy creating a world where allies against violence have documentation to convince bystanders to become activists. If you have anger here, it is best turned against the loathsome perpetrators and the sad bystanders who did nothing. To focus on the journalists is to openly admit that you'd rather be blind to atrocity than admit that atrocity exists because most people do nothing. And being blind leads to doing nothing yourself.

The recent Reddit thread is interesting in this respect as well, since, as loathsome as it is to let perpetrators tell their stories, knowing how those assholes think and how they rationalize and if they feel regret is exactly step #1 in creating a "men can stop rape" culture. Being blind gets us nowhere.
posted by Skwirl at 1:37 PM on July 28, 2012 [14 favorites]


Next thing I remember was being on my back on the ground, with the guy on top of me and me still holding on and him swearing and cursing. Then he was hauled off by some other bystanders. I guess two women running in spurred the other male lookiloos courage or something. The fight stopped and the fighters were chased away.
One thing about human behavior is that people look to see what other people are doing in a situation. If a bunch of people are just standing around watching a fight they might each think that it would be a good idea to intervene, but won't because no one else is doing so.

So once you and your friend jumped in, that probably signaled that intervening was the "thing to do" in terms of what behavior was 'socially appropriate' in that situation.
posted by delmoi at 2:01 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah -- there's a whole chapter on that in Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. It's called social proof, and it posits that in uncertain circumstances, people look to their peers to see what the appropriate response is. In a large enough group, this can lead to mass inaction -- as in the Kitty Genovese case. It's also why groups of people will walk past a person having a heart attack in the street -- if nobody is doing anything, nothing needs to be done.

The author points out that this can instantly be broken just by telling people what they need to do. You, call 911. You, help me get these guys off her. You, start shouting. When people are given tasks, and know what they are supposed to do, participation is solving a problem jumps to 80 or 90 percent.

It's a weird psychological quirk. I see it all the time here in Hollywood -- people walking past unconscious bodies, ignoring screams or loud noises. I ignore none of it, much, I am sure, to the displeasure of the local police, who have to deal with me all the time.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:48 PM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have witnessed sexual assault and I violently intervened. Twice actually. And I'm still here and I have no regrets. I have broken a hand and a foot in the process and was arrested for assault in one of those situations, but that was quickly tossed and isnt on my record. I would gladly do it again.
Now, I am kind of a bonehead in these situations, and in the journalist's or anyone else there's shoes I probably would have rushed in and may well have been beaten or killed, but I would still feel I was doing the right thing, and I can say from experience that people who are ignoring it do jump in and help once one person acts.
In one of my incidents I anonymously posted a question to ask.mf about what I did, what I should do going forward, etc. and the most shocking thing about the whole situation was how many people responded to that question saying they thought it was a lie.
posted by gally99 at 7:31 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Interesting that no one has mentioned James Nachtwey, a photojournalist who has shot footage in many many serious conflicts all over the world. He made a fantastic documentary called War Photographer and talks about the difficulties he has had in being a war photojournalist. He makes it very clear that many times he tried to intervene the best he could, and even then, sometimes the best thing to do was to bring the images back home in order to gain more support for the people in that country. It's really difficult to watch but I believe really important to begin to understand the moral conflicts that photojournalists have when on assignment to document certain things. Not saying that it is right or wrong, but something to consider when viewing images and reading news. Is it better for the witness to risk their life and not be able to tell the world about what they witnessed, or is it better for them to stand by and do nothing? Or perhaps is there a medium in between the two extremes?
posted by ruhroh at 8:39 PM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Those pictures are hard to look at , I can't imagine what it would be like to witness, and document, those things day after day. The horrific must soon become mundane.

I saw a documentary a few years ago where the widow of a cameraman killed in Afghanistan was interviewed. She was shown some video her husband had taken, some weeks before he was killed, where he'd come across a Russian soldier, little more than a boy really, who'd been mortally wounded and who was alone, dying in pain. He recorded the man at a distance as he died, slowly, crying out in Russian for his mother.

The cameraman's widow was shocked to the core and said that the husband she knew would have held the soldier's hand and comforted him as he died. She could only assume that looking at war through a lens had desensitised her husband beyond anything she could recognise.
posted by essexjan at 5:01 AM on July 29, 2012


Obviously we can't expect a person to risk their lives when the odds are so high as the case in India. Although taking the pictures was probably riskier. It could have been more dangerous to videotape the tragedy instead of trying to appeal to their better nature, to try and shame them, to try and reason with them. Also this asshole had the time to call in for help. Not to better the odds. NO. He called in help to make more pictures. More documetation which he could sell.


The journalist shouldn't fool his or herself. He is doing it for money. You are not doing it to help anyone other than yourself. Documenting the attack on the woman will not prevent other attacks happening.


However when you can intervene safely but don't or only do so reluctently you are less than a human being. If you have to fight yourself to take 2 1/2 seconds to save an animal from a torturus death, when getting a shot which will earn you $$ and fame is more important than shooing a bird away, when you feel that giving a child something to eat, holding the hand of a person in need, or any of a million other ways to comfort or save someone is someone elses job, you have a problem.

The excuse that they can save more people by reporting it is bullshit and a cop-out of the worst kind. While they may or may not save more people, they can definitely save that one person or creature.
posted by 2manyusernames at 8:39 AM on July 29, 2012


Take the shot to document the atrocity, then give the kid a sammich. Or call the nation's equivalent of 911, or ... or ... or ...

The photograph will inspire people to action.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 9:11 AM on July 29, 2012


I also don't understand why it's so important that there needs to be a photograph of an atrocity to prove to the world these things are going on. What kind of person these days has their head in the sand so far that they don't know this kind of thing is going on?

The only thing a photo of this shows going on is that people are more interested in documenting poor conditions than working to make them better.

And no, I wasn't working to make it better, but I was not there. When I am there and can figure out a way of making things better, I do not understand why in the world I shouldn't try. If a house is burning down, is it better for me to document the house burning? It might be a historic thing! This might be an old house! There could be a call to action behind the photo! I could video the child's face peering out of the window of the burning house as it burned and show the world this! This is why we need to mandate fire escapes on any room above the first floor! Even in private homes! To action!

...or I could call 911.

I consider myself pretty cowardly....but having been in the position of making the choice between merely onlooking (whether with a camera or not) or getting involved, I've gotten involved in some way. I do have my moments of doubt - as I say, I'm a coward and a worrier. But as I wring my shirt fretting, "should I get involved?" I find myself following up with either - "would you want someone to get involved if it were you?" or "if that person gets hurt, and you did nothing to prevent it, you will feel terrible - and rightfully so" and I do something. It might be a physical confrontation, it may be a discreet call to 911 and then waiting until I know the police are on the scene, but it's something.

And people need to get their stories straight. If you're pro the photographers inaction, you cannot say that he was both protecting his team and one against twelve - if he's got a team it's not one against twelve. Unless they're all willing to document him getting beaten.

When people are doing terrible things, they typically take silence as consent. Getting involved might get you killed....but simply walking in and asking what the hell they're doing might actually be enough to make them stop. Saying that his choices were inaction or lynching is ridiculously binary.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 12:41 AM on July 30, 2012


This is so... naive:

I also don't understand why it's so important that there needs to be a photograph of an atrocity to prove to the world these things are going on. What kind of person these days has their head in the sand so far that they don't know this kind of thing is going on?

What kind of person? Just about every kind. Nothing is done even when they do know.

Ever seen the snappy internet retort: "Pictures... or it didn't happen"...?

It's a reflection of truth - people just won't believe something unless they see pictures.

Remember Abu Ghraib? NOTHING would have come from allegations of prisoner torture if it wasn't for the pictures leaking out.

Bonus question: what was the outcome? Well, of course some low-level people were singled out and punished. But I'll bet a steak dinner (or the vegan equivalent if desired) that the biggest change was that the troops were henceforth prohibited from carrying and using personal cameras in such situations.

The pen is mightier than the sword, but the camera whomps them both.
posted by Artful Codger at 11:28 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Reminds me of this chilling This American Life segment: Still Life
posted by Rhaomi at 1:40 PM on August 2, 2012


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