For this exercise, we are asked to consider the ethical concerns associated with an article in the New York Post showing a photograph of a man moments before he was hit and killed by a subway train. Below, I have noted some of my thoughts:
- It is the photographer who appears to face criticism for taking the image rather than the newspaper for publishing it. Questions are asked about why he did not intervene to help the man, but, no mention is made of the other subway travellers who failed to do anything.
- There is a video of the lead up to the man ending up on the tracks which shows him and the man who eventually pushed him arguing. This is presented without comment – there is no mention of why the man who filmed the altercation, or indeed any other witnesses, did not intervene – something that could have stopped the event escalating.
- I wonder if there is a significant difference in the way we interpret and digest still and moving images? The fact that the photograph freezes forever the few moments before the man is struck by the train makes it undeniably more powerful than the video footage of the men arguing. The question about what the photographer could have done to help, rather than take the image, literally confronts the viewer.
- The photographer is described as a freelance, but this is clearly an example of citizen journalism by an amateur rather than a professional photojournalist. The photographer was able to take the image because he happened to be in the subway when the events unfolded and he had his camera phone. Would the criticism be more or less if the photographer was a professional?
- It is astonishing that there appears to be no criticism levelled at the New York Post for publishing the photograph. It is this alone that sensationalises the events and surely the story could have been reported just as accurately without the photograph. It is arguable however that it is the image that makes the story newsworthy enough to appear on the front page.
- In his blog post “Why?”, Jose Navarro uses the term “voyeuristic complicity” in reference to the BBC’s decision to show smartphone footage of a cinema shooting in Canada in 2012. To feel complicit is a difficult emotion to process so it is perhaps understandable that critics of the photographer of the subway image choose to deflect this by placing blame onto the image maker rather than themselves – despite the fact they have viewed the image. There is a certain amount of taking the moral high ground involved in considerations about how they would have behaved differently in the circumstances.
Abad-Santos, A. (2012) Who let this man die on the subway? The Atlantic, December 4th, 2012. Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/12/who-let-man-die-subway/320843/ (accessed 4th July 2020)
Conley, K. (2012) Suspect confesses in pushing death of Queens dad in Times Square subway station. New York Post, December 4th, 2012. Available at: https://nypost.com/2012/12/04/suspect-confesses-in-pushing-death-of-queens-dad-in-times-square-subway-station/ (accessed 4th July 2020)
Dienst, J., Prokupecz, S., Strahan, T. (2012) Police question man in deadly subway push. NBC New York. Available at: https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/train-station-police-midtown-man-pushed-subway-tracks-death/1969330/ (accessed 4th July 2020)
Navarro, J. (2012) Why…? WeAreOca. Available at: https://www.oca.ac.uk/weareoca/photography/why/?cn-reloaded=1 (accessed 24th May 2020)
Zara, C. (2012) New York Post subway death photo: unethical or just tasteless? International Business Times, 12/04/12. Available at: https://www.ibtimes.com/new-york-post-subway-death-photo-unethical-or-just-tasteless-918619 (accessed 24th May 2020)