Forum: Power & Responsibility
Refugees cross from Croatia into Slovenia in October 2015 © Jeff Mitchell/Getty Images https://goo.gl/gtrmU6
Jeff Mitchell’s image of refugees crossing from Croatia to Slovenia in October 2015, was used controversially by the UK Independent Party during the 2016 referendum campaign to leave the European Union: Guardian Article
What ethical questions does this image, and how it was used, raise?
In teaching children (or adults) the importance of online safety, a key risk to mitigate is the posting of images on social media. The advice is simple: once uploaded, control of an image is lost, so due care is required. Submitting images to trusted agencies or stock photo galleries carries similar risks. While there are fantastically detailed editorial policies, contracts and agreements, designed (primarily) to protect the interests of the photographer, there is surprisingly sparse guidance or legislation to control the destination and use of the photograph. A photographer could be content in knowing that their image has generated an income and is going to be used in a proscribed manner, but beyond that, control of the image is lost.
In keeping with many other photographers, I am part of ‘the talented Getty Images & iStock contributor community’, to use their vernacular. Concerns over the potential for misrepresentation of my images has meant that I have not yet posted content onto my account, but am working meticulously through my potential portfolio in an effort to minimise exactly the sort of situation that befell Jeff Mitchell’s image. There was nothing wrong on a technical licencing front with UKIP’s usage of his image, but it is clear that they were using the story behind the image in a manner that caused offence and worked against the intentions held by the photojournalist when capturing the image. Undoubtedly, he would not have allowed his image to be used in this manner, but nevertheless was happy to receive his share of the £485 fee (presuming ‘standard editorial rights’) for the image to be used, essentially, for any purpose.
A humorous yet poignant take on this matter was discussed by Dave Gorman in Series 4, Episode 2 of Modern Life Is Goodish (first broadcast on Tuesday, 15 November 2016). Here, the comedian explored the perils of stock photography from the perspective of the lowly model. Happy to receive a small, flat rate for the use of their portfolio, the model might not realise that they could become the face of a product or service for which they would not ever wish to be associated.
Stock photo agencies provide a potentially lucrative outlet for a photographer, but the moment they upload their image to the agency, the photographer’s opinions, intentions and ethical judgements are cast to the wind.