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Old 08-25-2004, 06:10 PM
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Default Disatster Photography

Recently, in Florida, we had a hurricane go through, leaving a lot of devistation in its wake. Today, I noticed that a typhoon is hitting Japan and Taiwan, and leaving lots of damage and flooding too.

I wonder what anyone's thoughts are on taking photographs of disasters, including of course, those taken for journalistic efforts. Whenever I see photos like these, I cringe a little, because it is taking photos of very sad times in people's lives, and seems like it is intruding on their sorrows, to some extent. Do you all have any thoughts on these things?
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Old 08-25-2004, 06:49 PM
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Default Re: Disatster Photography

I would feel odd about trying to capture people at their worst moments but I wouldn't hesitate to capture the devastation itself. Even if my own house got destroyed, I'm sure I'd be taking pictures of it.
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Old 08-25-2004, 06:58 PM
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Default Re: Disatster Photography

I guess all depends much on the objective you're take those shots. About the devastation of property I believe there's no much problem, but to capture the people in those moments requires more sensibility I. Not all will feel confortable with that action, but some will not mind especially if they understand that the use of that image may be useful for others to help them.

From what I've been reading (because I've got no experience on this subject) it depends much in the sensibility of the photographer to perceive the reaction of the people and stop when they don't to be photographed.
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Old 08-25-2004, 09:48 PM
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Default Re: Disatster Photography

excuse a literary diversion...

In the Grounds Beneath Her Feet by S Rushdie, the narrator is a pro photographer... in the opening of the book he finds himself near a woman he loves in the middle of a devastating earthquake in Mexico. she leaves on a helicopter, he stays because he feels he cannot leave his camera, it has become his life and also included taking pictures of people during disasters...

i won't tell you what happened in case you want to read the book. it is a fantastic read and one of my favourite Rushdie books.
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Old 08-25-2004, 11:21 PM
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Default Re: Disatster Photography

Recently i posted a picture of a beautiful old shop in Cornwall, England, sadly the shop was destroyed by The Boscastle flood. This sort of picture should be shown to the rest of the world as it was of historic interest (built in 1600).
There are obviously borders that one must not cross, when photographing disasters but these are mainly people related photography (death for instance).
As for disasters, i wish there were none in the world but when they occur i would like to learn about them, after all that is one of the reasons for this website.
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Old 08-26-2004, 03:31 PM
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Default Re: Disatster Photography

I think the dilemma extends beyond natural disaster-- it extends into the question of respect for another's humanity; be it as simple as a homeless person on the street. I think it's up to the individual person. Many will walk past such a person, perhaps drop a coin, but rarely take the time to open up and treat the homeless person as another human being on equal terms. I think, if one can get past that threshold, to form some sense of understanding then you should be able to shoot, both with their consent and your own peace of mind.

PJs may disagree with this idea sometimes, often it's not in their interests to engage in that level of interactivity; to become involved. You want to remain distant, to be quick and on your toes.

I would not hesitate to photograph a disaster if I wasn't in imminent danger myself (it's not my job afterall) and there were no people that I would have to approach closely in the scene. A street full of people presents few issues. An intimate portrait in an environment is a tough call. I hope I am never in a position where I am faced with that issue.

Finally I think it's circumstantial. We aren't photojournalists, this isn't our job, it's both a hobby and sometimes a quest to engage with other people, to learn about their humanity. We will know when it's appropriate or inappropriate to shoot pictures. Will our efforts seek to ease their pain or merely make it worse for them? Are we in a position where putting the camera down and actively doing our part is possible? Obviously assistance in any way is the first call above taking pictures.


There's a section on Steve McCurry's site explaining what he was thinking when he photographed September 11, 2001. He was relentless in his goal to get past the security and record the scenes.
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Old 08-26-2004, 03:33 PM
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Default Re: Disatster Photography

You touch on the very heart of journalistic photography and the point at which one moves from recording a decisive moment to intruding on someones privacy. At the end of the day it depends on your intended use for the photograph. If you are a PJ looking to convey the story within a newspaper/magazine then there is a strong case for making the picture so that others can see the suffering and pain that goes with the physical damage to property. On the other hand, if you are just taking pictures without a specific objective or reason for taking them then it is perhaps more appropriate to step back and leave the people to their privacy.

Human pain and suffering is a natural part of our existence, done sensitively and with compasion for the story there is no reason that a photographer should not take the pictures.
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Old 08-26-2004, 08:52 PM
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Default Re: Disatster Photography

Thank you so much, those who have shared their views on this topic. Capturing the human spirit, in joy or in pain, is so much a part of our lives, whether we do it in photo or in word. I think it tends to make us stronger in some way, for only a few will let it destroy them.
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Old 08-27-2004, 03:02 AM
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Default Re: Disatster Photography

An interesting topic of discussion Michell. Last year when a major hurricane struck my region, there was serious property loss in my neighborhood (I suffered no damage to my home except a mess in the yard)many of my neighbor sustained serious damage. I had intended to go try my hand at photo-journalistic endeavors. However, after surveying the damage and the emotions existing herebout, I found that the desire drained and never took out the camera. It just didn't feel right, perhaps it was just too close to home.
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Old 08-27-2004, 11:32 PM
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Default Re: Disatster Photography

personally , since i intend on getting into photojournalism and since i'm especially inclined towards social issues which do cover wars and disasters, i would love to take photographs of disasters. when i say" love" dont misunderstand me . it's not just the pain and suffering that must be looked into , even though it does for an essential part of all this, but i think it would be really nice to try and bring out heroes . these heroes need not do the biggest things, even the littlest of things make heroes. even a person with the smallest amount of courage in this case will be a hero and i think this is good enough to give hope to a lot of people. so i dont really think that one must feel guilty when one indulges in disaster or any similar kind of photography.
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