For Thursday: Blog Discussion #2

This project: Photographer as Witness: A Portrait of Domestic Violence, has drawn considerable outrage and scrutiny.  In the comments section here, weigh in with your thoughts on the many ethical issues involved with this piece.  What would you have done if you have been the photographer?  What would you have done if you were the editor?

This entry was posted in blog discussion, ethics, visual journalism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to For Thursday: Blog Discussion #2

  1. This is one of those cases where imagery really does show and do a lot more than any written narrative could. Looking through the pictures made me sick. Obviously the pictures of Shane violently attacking Maggie were upsetting to say the least, but the photos of Shane and Kayden accompanied by captions explaining their “competition” for Maggie’s love and affection say a lot. Just simply being a human being, it must have been obvious to notice that what was going on in that house, and in Shane and Maggie’s relationship, wasn’t normal. The photographer took a backseat to the serious situation at hand, instead making his photography his fist priority. He should have made a call to the police before the domestic violence incident even happened, having seen the way Shane, an ex-convict, interacted with Kayden, a four year old. No one, who calls himself a man, would ever try to compete with his girlfriend’s four year-old son for attention. It’s ludicrous and sickening.

    When it comes to the domestic violence case, I don’t agree with the photographer’s stance at all. When something like that happens, it comes time to stop being a photographer, and start being human. No, Maggie did not get seriously injured, nor did her children, but how could the photographer not think that things could have gotten a lot worse, especially considering Shane’s background? He should have stepped in, at the least making sure that Memphis was safe when she went over to console her mother as Shane was screaming at her.
    After I confirmed one of the housemates had called the police, I then continued to document the abuse — my instincts as a photojournalist began kicking in. If Maggie couldn’t leave, neither could I
    “After I confirmed one of the housemates had called the police, I then continued to document the abuse.”
    There’s so many things wrong with that quote. First, she makes it seem like she did the right thing after “confirming” that someone had called 911. But more importantly, why didn’t she just called the police in the first place?
    It’s just a no brainer to me, it’s simple.

    As an editor, I would seriously think about if I want this photographer working for me in the future. Regardless of how good she is as a photographer, morales and ethics would mean more to me. I also don’t know if I would have published this piece either. Yes, the photographer did get Maggie’s consent earlier on when she first met her and Shane, but what about after the domestic violence case? I hope that she did, but if she didn’t there’s no way the editor should have gone ahead and published this piece.

    • stevejfox says:

      Josh — Good points but the photographer was a woman. But, does gender make a difference here? Steve

  2. Looking through the images in this piece I honestly did not even know what to think. From an artistic place it is amazingly shot photographs, from an emotional place it is impactful, moving, and heart wrenching, but from an ethical place it is just completely alarming on so many levels.

    Obviously the main issue here, which the photographer admits many people have confronted her with, is the issue that while domestic abuse was taking place she was snapping away on her camera.

    The photographer, Sara Naomi Lewkowicz, defends her decision to photograph the assault saying law enforcement officials have told her “physically intervening would have likely only made the situation worse, endangering [her], and further endangering Maggie.” While maybe she should not have physically gotten between the two, she definitely should have made every possible attempt to remove the children from the situation. Honestly, I do not care if there is a risk you could get hurt, there was a small child wedged between a violent man and his girlfriend…do something about it. It may not be your obligation to step in as a journalist, but it is most definitely your obligation as a bystander and witness. To me, seems pretty clear to me that she saw an opportunity during the beating for her story to take a far more interesting turn, and as we can see she ran with it taking no ethical issues into consideration. Had she really been looking out for Maggie maybe she would have still taken photos, but as evidence of the attack not for publication.

    The photographer says, “After I confirmed one of the housemates had called the police, I then continued to document the abuse — my instincts as a photojournalist began kicking in. If Maggie couldn’t leave, neither could I.” That last statement clearly is intended to make her look like a hero, sticking around to defend Maggie. This way in which she is trying to defend her self is a big issue for me. She is attempting to change the viewers’ minds by making herself seem heroic. However, my question is when your photojournalist instincts started kicking in, where were your human instincts?

    Another big issue I have with the piece is that I feel from the beginning it foreshadows domestic violence. Every photo alludes to it, especially the ones where they are fighting and Shane is jealous of the attention Maggie gives to her children. Although there is obviously no way to know, I have a strong feeling that this was not the first time Maggie was abused by Shane, and I also have a strong feeling the journalist knew this too. Shane’s behavior is irrational, and disgraceful even before the assault occurs. His jealousy, temper, and history prove he is extremely unstable, as the relationship between the two was visibly unstable. It seems there were all the signs of an abusive man in Shane, and the photographer should have stepped in earlier to avoid the beating Maggie later had to endure.

    I admit there are both good and bad that could come out of publishing this piece, and it must have been a challenging dilemma for the editors. On one hand, it is arguable that the raw, haunting nature of this piece could be extremely impactful on viewers, shedding more light on the issue of domestic violence. According to the photographer, Maggie even agreed to the publication saying, “Women need to understand this can happen to them. I never thought it could happen to me, but it could…Shane was like a fast car. When you’re driving it, you think ‘I might get pulled over and get a ticket.’ You never think that you’re going to crash.” On the other hand, as a publisher you do have to question how the photos were taken. Knowing how the photos were taken obviously should have raised more concern about the photographer’s motives.

    While I see the photographer has a strong ethical justification for publishing the photographs, I feel she had an obligation to Maggie as a woman to put the camera down and help her.

    • stevejfox says:

      Good points, Maggie. The question every photographer/videographer must ask themselves is: When do I put the camera down? Steve

  3. I came across this photo story recently when I was looking for journalism stories about domestic violence for another class. It was difficult to find piece on specific cases rather than on campaigns. As the photographer of this, Sara Naomi Lewkowicz, explains, “Domestic violence is often shielded from public view. Usually, we only hear it muffled through walls or see it manifested in the faded yellow and purple bruises of a woman who “walked into a wall” or “fell down the stairs.” Despite a movement to increase awareness of domestic violence, we still treat it as a private crime, as if it is none of our business.” Lewkowicz’s piece exposes one example of domestic violence and brings attention to this issue, but also brings up questions about the ethics of doing so.

    The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) sets standards and outlines the codes of ethics for visual journalism. One of the codes states, “Treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy.” While Lewkowicz asked her subjects, Shane and Maggie, along the way if she could photograph them, I hope she did the same before publishing these photographs, especially for Maggie. Domestic violence often remains hidden out of the respect and wishes of the victim. From an editorial standpoint, I hope Lewkowicz considered the impact this would have on the victim and her children, and got her permission to publish this.

    This same code continues, “Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see.” This piece is striking and catches the attention of many to increase awareness about violence against women. In this sense, publishing it could be justifiable. However, another issue is that Lewkowicz was photographing them to tell the story of Shane as an ex-convict. So, many people may stereotype him as an already bad or violent person. This could make the story loose credibility as a way to raise awareness, since people may see this as an incident that does not happen to just anybody.

    Lewkowicz also received criticism for taking pictures instead of intervening during the abuse. She justifies this by saying, “actual law enforcement officers have told me — that physically intervening would have likely only made the situation worse, endangering me, and further endangering Maggie.” While this may be true, she should have also considered that she was already putting herself in a bad situation by continuing to take pictures and possibly further enraging Shane by doing so. She also says that she watched the argument escalate into physical violence. So she probably could have stopped taking pictures and spoken out before it reached this point. Even more alarming, she talks about Shane attacking Maggie in front of their daughter. So clearly, she could have at least been doing something to help the kid and take her away from the situation rather than taking pictures. Additionally, she explains that she “continued to document the abuse.” While taking a quick picture or two to show what happened could help the victim, there was not so much of a need to take pictures the whole time.

    Overall, if I were the photographer, I bet there is something better I could be doing than taking pictures. As an editor, I would be sure to ask the victim if I could publish the photos. However, having this story out there could definitely impact their children in the future, and since they are too young to ask for permission, I do not think I would publish it. I see it causing more harm and negatively impacting the victims than anything else.

  4. samafaithra says:

    While I found this piece very compelling, it is evident there were some ethical issues involved. If I had been Lewkowicz, I guess I don’t really know what I would have done when Shane became aggressive. It was responsible for her to make sure that someone in the house had called the police; however, how could she just stand there, like a fly on the wall, witnessing domestic abuse and taking pictures of it? On the other hand, I have never read a more real account of domestic abuse than this one.

    Domestic violence is, unfortunately, a prevalent incidence in today’s society. It is rare for journalists or photojournalists to capture the truth about what is going on behind closed doors. Because Maggie had given permission to Lewkowicz to document the abuse, the ethical issues diminish here some. Moreover, even though readers and viewers may feel uncomfortable picturing Lewkowicz standing in the kitchen witnessing a horrific event and doing nothing about it, you have to realize that it was okay with Maggie. If I had been the photographer, I probably would not have taken pictures because I would have felt wrong in doing so. On the other hand, I admire Lewkowicz for capturing the violence because it shows people how dangerous such relationships can become.

    If I had been the editor, I probably would not have published the story. It was a bold thing for the editor to do and I would have to bet that there are many victims of domestic abuse who are proud of Maggie and pleased to see this story getting so much attention. Rather than writing about domestic violence in an ambiguous manner, Lewkowicz portrays a true story. Although the ethics of journalism here are questioned, Lewkowicz and her editor brought to light a very important story and Maggie was brave enough to allow her story to be shared.

  5. After reading this picture and text story, I felt really embarrassed for the Time Lightbox publishers. I understand that these sorts of things happen, and the public should be educated, by publishing this story seems completely wrong. It is not news, nor does it concern the general public. I think there is a reason why police reports are accessible by the public- so that these sorts of stories do not need to be told. Not only does releasing the names of the children put them in danger, but also it is dangerous for the children to be photographed in the middle of a domestic violence fight.
    I thought the images were really disturbing. While the pictures had great impact, I don’t think it is appropriate for a news organization to publish the story. It doesn’t seem ethically or morally correct that children can be photographed in the middle of criminal activity, and that these photographs should make for a good news story. It seems like the reporter had a lot of sympathy for Shane, since he had just gotten out of jail and was determined to start a new life. But like the police officer from the story said, that kind of behavior doesn’t ever stop and victims will often times become resistant to the emotional affects of abuse. Domestic violence is often times shielded from the general public for a good reason- stories like these do not teach anything. All I got from the captioned photo story was that a mother and her children were exposed to domestic violence, and that although they escaped; documentation of the incident is still present.
    I think that if these kinds of domestic violence stories are going to be reported on in the media, then there has to be a lesson to be learned at the end of the story. I also think that children should always be left out of any kind of detailed reporting or photographic content about the child’s involvement.
    As a photographer, there is no way I would have shot the scenes pictured in the story if I knew that my content was going to be used to tell the story of domestic violence escaped merely by running away. The story says that the mother wanted to take her children to Alaska, were her ex-husband was being trained for the army. This doesn’t give any kind of resolve to the abuse that both she and her children were exposed to.
    As an editor, I would have never published the story. I would worry that the general public would be exposed to too much of a bad thing, and also that the children in the story would be affected greatly, if not now then definitely in their futures. This is not the kind of story that the media should take advantage of it they want to the public to know about domestic violence and how to learn from domestic violence.

  6. Ryan Bemis says:

    The photo essay by Sara Naomi Lewkowicz is an eye-opening piece of photojournalism. She began the assignment with the intentions of documenting an ex-con’s adjustment to the real world, and she ends up witnessing a whole other beast.

    Domestic violence is a serious issue in today’s world, but like Lewkowicz says, we only hear through the walls or see it via the bruises on a women’s body. I cannot recount of any news package that address this issue in such a compelling manner.
    She was able to change her approach on the fly as the domestic incident escalated. The pictures prior to the incident foreshadowed a physical confrontation. We have the picture of Shane ‘competing,’ with a four year-old

    Ironically her photographs work very well to complement on another. Images of Maggie and Shane arguing lead on to draw the assumption that Shane would become violent.

    I can appreciate Lewkowicz dedication to documenting this malicious act, but I can also understand why her actions are drawing scrutiny. She was dealing with several ethical decisions and all of them had their own consequences.

    She did wait until she was sure that officers were on their way before she continued shooting. People can say that she should have called the police herself, but like she said her photojournalism was “kicking in.” We need to understand that people will scrutinize journalists no matter the situation so we have to remember to do our job. Lewkowicz would have done more harm by putting the camera down and interfering because she would not have the photos to prove Maggie was assaulted.

    The police officers told her that if she intervened it could have made the situation worse. This could have further endangered Maggie and her children. Some people can jump to the conclusion that she was using the officer’s statement as a line of defense, but she what was she suppose to do? An ex-con with a history of violence is not the kind of person a woman would want to get involved with.

    Her decision to continue taking pictures as the assault was occurring allows this case to be first hand documented. If Lewkowicz did not take the photos then the news pieces would not be convincing. I think her pictures are just as powerful as the photos taken by war journalist documenting soldier causalities. Of course people do not want to see thee kinds of photographs but the truth is that these things are a part of life, whether we like it or not.

    I believe that Lewkowicz did what the best thing she could have. Her pictures probably helped put Shane behind bars because of the undeniable evidence of physical abuse. The photo essay also highlights this issue that has been tormenting many women for years. As editor I would publish this story because it can only help future victims recognize domestic violence. Maggie statement, “Women need to understand this can happen to them. I never thought it could happen to me, but it could,” is a very powerful quote because she realizes that the documentation of these events will help women. Lewkowicz efforts will help women avoid people like Shane and let them know when to get out of abusive relationships.

  7. danieljrodriguez93 says:

    Sara Naomi Lewkowicz’s essay “Photographer as Witness: A portrait of Domestic Violence” really depicts the ethical issues journalists face when reporting.

    Lewkowicz was in a sticky situation; should she have gotten involved with the fight, or should she have continued taking pictures?

    If I were in her shoes, I would have done exactly what she did. Forgive me if this sounds harsh, but Lewkowicz did the right thing.

    In my opinion, attempting to stop the fighting would only have made the matter worse. It could have easily put both women at risk, as it is very possible that Shane could have attacked Lewkowicz as well.

    Another benefit of not getting involved in the physical argument is that the photographs Lewkowicz took could be used as evidence in court to prove that Shane did attack Maggie. This is probably going to be substantial in convicting Shane of domestic violence.

    I know myself very well, and the thought of attacking someone would be something I could never do, unless I myself was being threatened. Although Maggie’s child sadly had to watch her mother being violated, I personally would have taken the child by my side and told him or her not to watch and continue to photograph the incident. If the child was being attacked, I may have done something.

    Being the editor, I would have asked Maggie for permission to use the photos, only if they were not too graphic. I understand that a journalist has to be careful when using sensitive photos too, but I think it provides a clear picture that society must be aware of the physical violence that takes place more than we think.

    Meghan Connolly mentioned earlier about a National Press Photographer’s Association’s code, which states “Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see.” But when does this become the case? It is a really hard question to ask yourself, but I personally think if Shane had a gun, then things may have been a little different as well.

    Being a journalist, you really have to take into consideration that these types of situations may happen. I think this is one of my greatest fears once I enter the media field. I can only hope and pray that I use common sense to make sure I’m safe and that a situation never escalates to the point where I must intervene.

    In your years of being a journalist, were you ever in a situation similar to this one Steve? If so, what did you do?

  8. alindsay2013 says:

    If there was one thing I have learned in my two years of being in the Army, it was to put the treatment of others before myself. For example before Winter Storm Nemo hit on Friday, I witnessed a woman robbed right outside my classroom. In my mind, I thought it would be a great story, but instead my human instinct kicked in and I decided to help her catch the criminal. In this occasion, with Sara Lewkowicz’s photo essay “Photographer as Witness: A Portrait of Domestic Violence,” I would not have acted in the way that this photographer did.
    The big issue here is where to draw the line between being professional and being human. During Sara’s time with the couple, she came upon the scene of actual domestic violence. At this time, she stated in her article “After I confirmed one of the housemates had called the police, I then continued to document the abuse — my instincts as a photojournalist began kicking in. If Maggie couldn’t leave, neither could I,” which then led to the public outrage of her deciding to take photos instead of helping the woman being abused. Granted Miss Lewkowicz defended her reasoning by stating “that physically intervening would have likely only made the situation worse, endangering me, and further endangering Maggie,” but it still raises many questions on why she still took pictures instead of helping Maggie.
    If I were in Sara’s position, I would drop my camera and help Maggie, whether be through physical intervention or by calling the police. For me, seeing a woman being attacked would be if I saw best friend, who I consider a sister, being attacked right in front of me. Personally, if I were the editor of this paper I would have berated her for not doing the right thing and helping her. I understand that Sara must remain professional as a journalist through the ordeal, but I think there should be a fine line between professionalism and plain human instinct.

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