January 29th, 2013

Newtown Photograph Sparks Discussion of Photojournalism Etiquette

In Emmanuel Dunand's photograph of Aline Marie, once can see the reporters gathered behind her. To see a larger version of the image visit NPR's The Picture Show.

In Emmanuel Dunand’s photograph of Aline Marie, once can see the reporters gathered behind her. To see a larger version of the image visit NPR’s The Picture Show.

A photograph by AFP/Getty Images photographer Emmanuel Dunand of a woman mourning on the night of the Newtown, Connecticut shootings sparked a bit of controversy and a lot of discussion about journalistic etiquette on NPR’s The Picture Show blog yesterday.

NPR had run the photograph of Aline Marie praying in front of a statue of Mary outside a Newtown church with a story about the shootings. Marie got in touch with NPR to voice a complaint that her very private moment had been interrupted by photographers, and none of them had asked who she was. “I felt like a zoo animal,” Marie told NPR. “No one introduced themselves. I felt violated.”

Marie’s response was measured. She didn’t ask NPR to take down the photograph. And her story ended up on NPR’s blog.

There Coburn Dukehart wrote that he’d spoke with Dunand, the photographer, who said, Dukehart writes, “He thought that leaving her alone [with her grief] was the most respectful thing to do.” Dunand also told Dukehart that AFP did not require photographers to get their subjects’ names when making images in public places.

Getting the name of a subject helps a photographer deliver a more detailed caption that gives editors more information with which to work. This clearly isn’t possible during a fluid situation, especially one that involves large groups of people or takes place in the midst of a conflict. But when a photograph captures an intimate moment, and the power of their image is predicated on the emotion of a single person, being unable to identify that person runs contrary to the feeling of the image.

As one commenter noted: “I’ve been a professional photojournalist for nearly 30 years, and if I ever went back to an editor with that photo and no name, the first thing they would say is “‘nice photo, but we need a name.’”

On the other hand, there were clearly a number of photographers and videographers around Marie. Would she have wanted each one to introduce her or his self? Was it realistic to do so?

What would you have done?