Quality journalism, photography and integrity


General Photography

Duckrabbit’s Benjamin Chesterton just published an article about photographs by photojournalist Ron Haviv being used for the arms industry. The ads can be found on the photographer’s website. On his own blog, Haviv responded. What are we to make of this? (more; updated below)

Here is what I think. Obviously, a simple comment would be that photographers need to make money, and it’s hard to argue with that. Or you could be happy with Haviv’s statement (quoted from his response)

“I draw a strict line between my photojournalism and commercial campaigns and feature examples of both on my website, where they are clearly labeled for what they are.”
I just don’t think it is that simple. You can draw a strict line between your photojournalism and your commercials campaigns all you want, but when as part of a commercial campaign you’re making money advertizing the very same bombs whose effects you’re photographing as a photojournalist then there is a bit of a problem.

In an interview, Stephen Mayes, Managing Director of VII Photo Agency (Haviv is a co-founder), said that “Quality journalism, photography and integrity are key” for the agency. This is a noble and noteworthy goal, and VII deserve credit for it. I just don’t know whether your integrity will not be affected when you sell a photograph to a major weapons manufacturer (regardless of whether it’s stock or not).

Here’s the thing: Weapons manufacturers are in it for the bottom line. They’re interested in making money. That’s their business. Whether or not their weapons are used for “humanitarian intervention, detente and defense” (Haviv’s words, from his response) they don’t care about. The people who might care about “humanitarian intervention, detente and defense” are the customers, the (mostly) governments who use the weapons. So if you support “humanitarian intervention, detente and defense” (who isn’t, right?) support governments (we could have a serious argument here whether that’s really a journalist’s role). If you’re taking money from arms manufacturers you’re in bed with the wrong people.

Update (28 May 2012): For a great follow-ups read Michael Shaw’s War Enabling: Duckrabbit vs. Haviv, VII in a Larger Context, Colin Pantall’s What’s for Sale, and Stella Kramer’s Making the Hard Choices.