Through the Lens: 6 Photographers on What Ethical Photography Means to Them
Over the past many months, with much of the world in uncertainty and seclusion, the grandeur of travelling seemed like something of a distant memory. As the world begins to open up once more, and with many of us eager to venture further out, we celebrate the power of photography by taking a look at images from around the world. Photographing abroad, as with any form of photography, demands a level of compassion and respect that can vary depending on the situation. In this spirit, we ask six photographers from around the world to share a few words on their take on what photographing ethically and consciously means to each one of them.
Alexandra Leese, Hong Kong, China
London-based fashion and portraiture photographer Alexandra Leese’s photographs demonstrate her unique sensibility for capturing warmth and intimacy in her subjects. In particular, her photographs taken in Hong Kong, where Alexandra spent the first 11 years of her life, are celebrated for its defining expression of diversity in Asian masculinity.
For Alexandra, ethical photography is as simple as being empathetic and compassionate – “Often the power dynamic and control is tipped in the photographer's favour, but when you listen to, or observe and are sensitive to your surroundings and who you are shooting, it becomes a safe space of mutual respect”
Natela Grigalashvili, Adjara, Georgia
Natela Grigalashvili is a documentary photographer based in Georgia. Having spent her life growing up in the mountainous landscape of rural village Tbilisi, Grigalashvili has an affinity for documenting the rural areas of her country where she connects closely to the people and landscapes over bigger, urban spaces. Her ongoing project documenting the life of Georgian Nomads aims to educate viewers on the traditions and socioeconomic situation of Adjara.
“I always try to get to know the place and people before I start photographing. Becoming close to people, learning what makes them happy or sad is extremely important to me and this helps with the process. I want people to understand that for me it's not only about photography, but about being with them and enjoying spending time with them. Respecting their dignity is crucial and the reasons why people don't want to be photographed are different. I can happily say that after they get to know me, most of the time they grow to accept me and give me permission to photograph them - after some time, they don't even notice the camera."
Alex de Mora, Ulaanbatar, Mongolia
London-based photographer and director Alex de Mora travelled to Mongolia in 2019 to document Ulaanbaatar and its undiscovered hip-hop scene in his short film “Straight Outta Ulaanbaatar”. Tying Alex’s love for music with photography, the project explores the influence of Western music and hip-hop culture in Mongolia in the aftermath of the dissolution of Mongolian Communist State in 1992.
For Alex, documenting locals in this way requires extensive research and building a rapport with the community. “When photographing abroad, it's important to research and be respectful of the culture you are immersing yourself into”.
Kemka Ajoku, Lagos, Nigeria
North-London based portrait photographer Kemka Ajoku captures Lagos locals in his series “We’re All Workers”. His project was carried out before a national lockdown ensued in Nigeria in March 2020 and highlights the importance of work and craftsmanship in their daily lives.
For Kemka, using his own craft is a great way to connect with locals. He stresses the importance of being able to effectively communicate with his subjects, ensuring transparency along the way. To him, this means “a brief discussion before the photoshoot, understanding the boundaries set by the subject and respecting them, whatever they may be. And the same applies for image usage, it is important that you discuss beforehand what an image is to be used for and where it is going”. Without transparent communication, Kemka explains that photojournalism can quickly transcend from authentic documentation to exploitation: “A lot of the time, photographers travel to third-world countries, looking to capture the poverty and hardship present in that nation, much of which is for their financial benefit and without the full consent of the locals. I believe with the right code of ethics things would change within the photography community”.
Bettina Pittaluga, Marseille, France
Bettina Pittaluga is a French-Uruguayan photographer with a background in sociology and reportage. Her focus on documenting raw, natural and intimate moments is born out of desire to challenge themes of objectification that often presents itself in photography and the wider media. Her take on ethical photography is to take photographs from a place where there is only “trust, respect and kindness”.
Carl van der Linde, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Carl van der Linde is a South African photographer whose transportive photographs captures the vibrancy and vitality of the places he documents. His project, “A day is short in Africa”, explores what it means to be a young mang in Zanzibar and observes diversity in their cultural, religious and ideological identities.
For Carl, understanding his position as a traveller is crucial - “Whenever I'm travelling; pursuing stories, approaching subjects, or simply knocking back a few with locals, I believe one should tread as lightly as possible. These aren't your streets or neighbourhoods, be respectful and leave them as you found them. You're simply a visitor peering through a lens at the daily lives of people who call these places home, so be sincere and humble in your approach. Be mindful of your surroundings - feel the energy, history, culture and allow this feeling to draw you closer to what you're searching for. Approach subjects confidently, be straight to the point and be honest about your intentions. It takes only one "yes" out of ten "no's" to create a stunning image. Leave only when you've learned something new; either about the subject, or about yourself”.