Photography ethics workshop

This workshop was funded by Rebecca Vassie Trust’s pilot programme for education and project development.

Images and text by Savannah Dodd

Last year, Photography Ethics Centre founder Savannah Dodd delivered a workshop for community youth workers at Greater Shankill Alternatives in Belfast, Northern Ireland. This workshop focused on the ethical considerations of photographing people in the local community.

Photography ethics can be a challenging subject to talk about because ethics are fluid, contextual, and subjective. This means that different people will answer ethical questions in different ways based on their own life experience, personal judgments, and photographic vision. This also means that a person might answer the same ethical question in different ways depending on the context, because the appropriate response is not always the same in every situation. This is why it is important not preach ethical guidelines, but instead to teach photographers how to be ethically literate.

Ethical literacy is about ensuring that photographers understand important ethical principles and that they know how to apply those principles in their work. In order to promote ethical literacy, the Photography Ethics Centre runs workshops to give photographers practice at working through difficult ethical questions. These ethical questions often drive at the heart of principles like dignity, responsibility, and power. For example: How do we portray someone with dignity when they are injured or suffering? What responsibilities do we have to our subjects? How can we manage the power imbalance between photographer and subject to ensure that consent is freely given?

Experience of working through difficult ethical considerations gives photographers tangible tools to be more effective in their work. It helps photographers to build relationships, to communicate effectively, and to gain access to communities in a socially responsible way. It also prevents photographers from unknowingly breaching national or international laws and ethical norms about privacy and confidentiality, consent, and child protection.

At the recent workshop funded by the Rebecca Vassie Trust, Savannah led discussions and exercises around three key ethical principles: consent, understanding, and honesty. The workshop format included elements of role- play, group discussion, lecture, and partner work. Participants engaged in an animated discussion about how these principles apply to their work by looking at examples from other contexts and relating them to their own experience.
The session concluded with a brainstorming exercise about what kinds of visual stories should be told about the local community and how can they to ethically approach these stories. Participants walked away from this workshop with an increased awareness of how photography ethics applies to their work, and an increased sensitivity to power dynamics when photographing members of the local community.

This workshop was very interesting and gave me a lot to think about

-participant feedback

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