- Written by Dr Greg McMillan with Lisa Kurtz
APS Ethics Statement
A member shall be ethical in making and presenting photographic images. A member shall be honest in performing and reporting any/a service to the Society. Any breaches will be managed through the APS Disciplinary Process as set out in the pdf Rules of Association (415 KB)
The standards which must be adhered to are described below. Also, it is expected that all APS honours applicants would have earned those honours honestly, so that the value and respect we give them is maintained.
APS Ethics Standards
1. a) Photographers entering any photographic competition, either endorsed by APS or any other governing body must adhere to the rules of that competition, particularly that any image entered must be entirely the making and work of the entrant.
b) Any image accepted in an APS-recognised exhibition shall not be re-entered in the same or different format in any section of that exhibition, either under the same title or using a different title. An image so similar as to be confused with the original work, must not be entered. An accepted image may not be re-titled for entry in the same or another section of any other APS-recognised exhibition.
c) Images submitted in internal (APS members only) competitions, folios and the like shall follow these standards.
2. Information included in skill honours proposals shall be exact and true. Nominators and seconders for service honours and awards, when signing such forms, shall be conscious of the fact that they are vouching for the accuracy of the information supplied.
3. Material and photographs submitted for possible publication in APS Publications and on the APS Website shall be the work of the author(s), who must hold copyright for such photographs and written material. Quotations from other authors’ work, or the use of other authors’ photographs, may only occur if permission is obtained from the copyright holder and also the author/copyright holder is acknowledged.
APS Ethics in Photography:one perspective
Given the diversity and complexity of the range of activities undertaken by the Australian Photographic Society (APS) members, APS does not have a formal Ethics in Photography requirement as part of APS membership.
However, the APS Management Committee (MC) has an endorsed Code of Conduct and polices on ethical image submissions, plagerism and copyright and Rules for Photopgrahy Compeititons.
Members are encouraged to read this paper as part of an individual members thinking on their ethical approaches to their photography.
The challenge of developing any ethical position will be that some members may argue they need to be stronger, others may want more in or out, and others may well say that it simply lies with the individual. Each of these positions have merit, and in this conext the role of APS is to encourage members to:
- think about the issue of ethics,
- reflect on their approach and
- to build an ethical position that they can defend as a photographer as needed.
Where do Ethics Come From?
In a broad context, ethics come from within the society that we live in and the collective beliefs and values of the citizens of that society. However, ethics also come from an individual willingness to make choices and decisions and to consider what they see as ‘right and wrong’. A key challenge is that one person’s right, may be another’s wrong and often issues are more nuanced than a binary ‘right-wrong’ position.
In a photography context, ethics are about the principles that guide why we take, how we take and how we share photographs.
Outside of any Rules or Membership Codes or Conduct (or similar) ethics are subjective, influenced by context and can change. Therefore, while there may be similarities between individual photographers’ ethics, there will also be differences given each individual photographer’s life context, experiences and values.
One challenge facing us all, is that ethics underpinned by what is ‘socially acceptable’ today can:
- be different within different countries and cultures, and
- what can be seen as acceptable standards can, and probably will, change over time.
Ethics and Change
Photographers who do not adapt their ethical positions in one context to another and / or who do not change and adapt their ethics to changing society norms may face personal challenges in the future. This does not mean that a photographer should not be resolute in their ethical position on issues; however, it does mean that as photographers we should undertake regular self-checking on what is our ethical position on a range of areas. For example:
- Language (written or spoken words) that was acceptable in one era may no longer be acceptable today and this may influence, for example, the titles and supportive texts photographers use for their images
- Taking candid or social documentary images may be more influenced now by their context than in years gone by. As the world has become more open, and more images are being displayed online, the intent or purpose of the image you have taken is now potentially more subject to public assessment, judgment and critique than ever before
- An approach to taking nature images that was acceptable or even encouraged in years gone by, may now be considered socially unacceptable behaviour. Various Photography Associations (including the APS) and competition organisers seek to regulate behaviour standards to protect nature and the integrity of an
- While this has not had the same influence in say Street Photography, it would be potentially naive to anticipate that this genre is one that will not be open to more scrutiny as time goes
- Street photography has been and continues to be subject to extensive scrutiny and the key concept is the right to
- In Australia we do not have a right to privacy, and we do not have personality rights (other countries have different rights); however, these matters are constantly being revisited by legislators (at this stage this is mostly in the context of harassment or revenge porn, not candid street photos).
- Photographers need to become knowelegeable in the genres they work with, and understand the full ethical and legal frameworks
- For example, photographers need to understand what the definition of commercial photography is.
- Did you know that you can sell a photo (at an exhibition or online) as a work of art and it is not commercial; however, if you use that photo to promote a workshop it is deemed commercial and then permission becomes critical.
Trust and Respect seem to be two critical elements of ethical photography. Do we respect the focus of our image: this may be a person, people, a scene or an object? Secondly, can the viewer trust that we have created this image in a manner that is appropriate to the context of that image and the purpose or usage of the image.
It is reasonable to argue that if we take an ethical approach to photography, we are more likely to consider the impact of our image on ourselves (reputation), on the subject we are photographing and on the community or society that we are engaging with
If you research a variety of publications on ethics and ethics in photography you will find a range of perspectives and questions, some that will resonate with your ethics, other that may not. For example:
- There are some that state: ‘always ask for consent before taking a photo, whether through gestures or the native language’. However, does this negate the opportunity for candid images, or images that fit within a social or photojournalist framework?
- Am I entitled to take a photograph of individuals or groups of people that are not within my community or my culture? Does this negate the opportunity to take travel images and/or to present another culture through your / different eyes?
- Where is the line between social documentary on poverty and poverty porn?
- We should not take images of the low-socio economic areas of developing countries without also showing the modern aspect of these
- We should not take and display images of birds nesting given the potential risk that the birds will be under as a result of your presence? How do others know that you took a nesting image in a socially responsible way using a long zoom lens?
These examples simply reflect the challenges for photographers in the 21st century. What was once unknown and wonderous is now common-place. What was once the domain of a limited few, is now the domain of billions. In the eyes of many, what was, is now no longer, what should be.
The APS encourages members to consider the following elements in developing an approach to Ethical Photography.
Steps to Ethical Photography
Whether you are photographing people, scapes, nature and wildlife or are creating composite images using different elements, it is suggested that you take the time to:
- Research the circumstances and context of your
- Photography is a visual art, you are an artist. You may find it of value to read the critical theories of art, photography and meaning to provide broader context for the work you make. For example:
- Walter Benjamin, Michael Foucault, Edward Said, Susan Sontag, Rosalind Krauss. Locally, Rosemary Hawker: https://griffith.academia.edu/RosemaryHAWKER
- Understand how your subject has been represented in photography, both now and in the past. This will provide insights into how you choose to represent the subject in your own
- Are there any emotional or physical issues to consider? Are there any political, economic, cultural or social issues that should be considered?
- Will taking the photograph cause the image in some way to cause potential emotional or physical harm to the subject because of the image being shown in some format (social media, competition etc)
Can you gain consent before taking a photo, through formal agreement, gestures or mutually understood language?
- If you cannot receive consent, should you take the take the photograph?
- If at any point a participant indicates they don’t want their photograph taken or used, should you delete the images?
- Can you share the image with your subject/s, either at that time or later to seek further consent?
- Do you genuinely believe you have consent and / or that the image taken will be used constructively but without harm to the subject/s?
- Do you have permission to photograph traditional symbols or rituals that may be a part of the heritage of a particular community?
- Are you complying with local regulatory or other legal requirements to take a photograph in a public or private place?
- Arguably ‘the law’ sits alongside ethics and can be discussed separately as it’s broader and more nuanced than just
- The law covers privacy laws, harassment, voyeurism, access,
- Here is a link to an article that has been written in the context of Street photography but can easily be extrapolated to other situations. https://www.artslaw.com.au/information- sheet/street-photographers-rights/
This is a wide ranging issue and so very influenced by each person’s ethics, the context of the image being taken and the reason for taking the photograph, however, consider the following:
- Are you simply re-emphasising negative stereo-types in your images? Are you better able to tell the story through a series of images?
- Does your single image distort or negatively portray the place or people you are photographing?
- Should you provide compensation for taking an image? Was this pre-arranged? Is the compensation inadvertently encouraging or supporting a poor or unethical practice within that community?
- Is your image seeking to exploit a situation or is it there to portray a truth or reality (editorially) relevant?
- Have you staged or altered your photo but implied that is it a natural occurrence and what were your reasons for doing so? Have you provided information about your photographic choices in the title or supportive text where possible?
- Have you read and understood the relevant Rules for any competition that you submit images into?
- There is a growing community expectation that knowledge of the art practices and visual language of colonisation, particularly photography, is critical in understanding if the work you are making is respectful and
- Members are encouraged to understand the role photography has played in the colonisation of first nations communities, and other communities where you might use the term colonisation more broadly: the institutionalised, the criminal, those with disabilities, the homeless (poverty porn as you called it), the “other”.
- In Australia, many contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander photographers explore this through their own work. This is also an international issue so it is important to understand the global
Provided by Lisa Kurtz, here is an excellent source for an overview of First Nations self-determination: https://visualarts.net.au/advocacy/campaigns/first-nations-voice/
Artists who have explored the issue of photography and colonisation:
Sources of Information
The APS hesitates to provide a series of web-links to information on Ethics in Photography as it does not want to appear to be directing members to a particular focus or emphasis on ethics and therefore we encourage members to undertake their own further research on this critical issue. Most importantly, APS encourages members to develop a personal ethical position on their approaches to photography that they can defend / articulate if required to.
Developed by Dr Greg McMillan with input from Lisa Kurtz