To document or to assist

Recently, a man was pushed onto the subway tracks in New York. This incident was captured on camera by Mr Umar Abbasi, photographer for NY Post. This sparked an old debate about whether Mr Abbasi did the right thing by photographing the incident and not stepping forward to help the fallen man. NY Post was also criticized for publishing the photograph.

So when does a photographer stop documenting an event and start assisting/getting involved in what’s unfolding in front of him/her?

BBC ran this article yesterday – Legendary photographers like Steve McCurry and Stuart Franklin (of the ‘man infront of tank at Tinanmen Square’ fame) weighed in on the debate.

A friend on Facebook, Camus Wyatt (, alerted me to a photograph of Don McCullin  ( taking an elderly woman to safety during conflict in Cyprus, 1964.

I suppose we (photographers or not) have a moral duty to help those around us in times of need. But things like the subway incident above happen so quickly that its unfair to criticize the photographer without understanding whether he was in a position to actually help the man lying on the tracks. Like Stuart Franklin said, “the ethical responsibility for running the picture lies not with the photographer, but with the New York Post’s editors.”

The image on the left by Kevin Carter caused a similar uproar about a photographer’s ethical responsibilities.

The Guardian UK ran this article after an incident in India earlier this year where two journalists were under fire for recording and not intervening in a sex attack – A quick read of the comments about the article is enough to realise that this is quite an emotional subject for a lot of people and one that’s not going to be resolved anytime soon.

This entry was posted in Photojournalism and tagged , , , .

One Comment

  1. rc January 8, 2013 at 7:23 am #

    interesting information you wrote here, keep posting

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