To whom are we responsible? I have a photographer friend, successful nationally known artist, who feels that his greatest responsibility is to the viewers of his images. I know many photographers who would say that their responsibility is to whomever is paying them. Or, for some people I would imagine their reflexive answer would be to say it is to themselves.
Photographers have an extra-ordinary amount of power in how the outcome of their images effects the subject. We are making the context, we are editing the circumstance of how this person will be seen. If the picture is published widely, it can have a tremendous power. In the case of working with models, there is a collaboration. Its a group effort that I as photographer lead. Even so, I don’t think I would be comfortable asking someone to do something they would not be proud of doing. Its just bad karma. When working in portraiture, it is even more important to respect and in a way, to love , the person being photographed. They have given me the enormous privilege of letting me into their world. Without this permission I am nothing. It is a space to be respected and protected.
On my commercial jobs, I will ask, I will plead, I will cajole to get a moment to happen, but I will not try to get someone to do something that would open them to ridicule or shame. Its not my jam. I know some photographers thrive on that scene. I don’t. My first agent also repped Guy Bourdan, a first class sadist, whom I heard all the stories about. Great images, but did he really need to tie the girl to the tree for 8 hours? Really? Yuk.
This is a bit of a touchy subject that will probably get me in some hot water, but the most important thing to me is how I feel about myself. Taking a great picture makes me feel great about me, humiliating someone, or trying for that gottcha moment makes me feel like a creep, and I really really don’t want to go there. As I often quote from the great Ed Kashi “ To be a better photographer I need to become a better person”.