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About the Author

Andrea Arzaba
Student / Blogger (Mexico City)

Andrea Arzaba defines herself as a “journalist, peace activist, indigenous cultures lover and an eager world traveller”. Currently, blogger for Global Voices Online and for Adopt A Negotiator Project. Andrea is studying her BA in Communications at Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City. She studied last year at Universidad Complutense in Madrid, Spain.


Behind the lens: Ethics and Morality on Photojournalism

Published 20th May 2010 - 21 comments - 8831 views -

This picture took my breath away:


Picture taken by Walter Astrada


Last week I went to an exhibition, “FotoPres: 09"  at CaixaForum in Madrid. This is an annually exposition that brings together pictures from countries in conflict, or different social issues that reflect a social situation – in other words, very impressive pictures-.

This photograph was taken by Walter Astrada. He won a second place on CaixaForum’s contest by showing Post-electoral conflicts in Kenya. This was also the first image you could see from his exhibition, as an introduction to his work.

Children at war and conflict. In this picture we can see on the face of the kid that he is very scared. His body language, particularly his hands and eyes, show how alarmed he is. There is at least one soldier, to who he is looking at. Just striking.

There is a very strong background, and this was a picture that made me wonder so many questions about different war photographer’s ethics and cases. In order to be a war correspondent, or in this case a conflict photographer, it is necessary to have a strong professional mentality. It is not easy to just take pictures about what is happening and not do much about it, especially when kids are in a dangerous situation.

We could even start a discussion on image’s objectivity, the reality that it wants to reflect and the situation where the photographer stays.

Is there one point where this barrier is broken? Until when the photographer will be able to resist, and he will let go the camera? Is there a double morality behind?


(Andrea Arzaba, May 2010)

Category: Media | Tags:


  • Tiziana Cauli on 20th May 2010:

    Hi Andrea,
    I saw that picture at the same exhibition at Caixa Forum in Barcelona some time ago. I think it’s amazing. You have to be a very good photo-journalist to capture feelings like the ones expressed here. Luck also plays a crucial role here though.
    In this case we have no idea how the story ended up, but we know how the kid was feeling. We can tell ho terrible the situation was in Kibera in those days (post-2007 elections I think) by the look in his eye. I think the photographer accomplished his mission here.
    It’s true, you need to be really balanced and strong to do that. i once read a very good book on war photo-journalists and how they learn to tame their emotions and act as spectators. It is so unnatural that soometimes they fall into depression. Some of them even committed suicide years after taking some of the world most famous and rewarded shots.
    I think the work of these people is crucial for the international audience’s understanding of conflicts and emergencies across the world.
    I am a journalist but I must admit that in war areas the work of cameramen and photographers can be way more useful than that of reporters, who tend to take credit for the full story package sometimes without even going out on the field.

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 20th May 2010:

    Interesting and valid questions Andrea but only the photojournalists themselves can answer these questions. I’ve attended discussions on this and they say that it really depends on the situation. There are no hard and fast rules. It really depends on the situation. But personally, I do not want to question their ethics because as a journalist, I know that any self-respecting photojournalist does his or her work with utmost respect to the subjects and the craft.

    Without their images, people would not really be aware of the effects of conflicts and war. Most of the time, in times of conflict, there are only images that tell the stories, that can show the world what’s happening or what has happened.

  • Kevin Rennie on 20th May 2010:

    Looks like an amazing exhibition. The ethics of photojournalism also struck me when we went to Steve McCurry’s retrospective in Buenos Aires. We are not just extensions of the camera. The right thing to do must always depend on the person involved and the particular situation.

  • Lara Smallman on 20th May 2010:

    Very important questions I think. I agree with Iris and Kevin, perhaps we can get some insight from professional photojournalists on how they decide where the line is?

  • Bart Knols on 20th May 2010:

    Interesting discussion. Two weeks ago I was in a children’s ward in a Tanzanian hospital, where a comatose child (malaria) lay in the arms of its mother. The despair was clearly visible on the face of the mother. Although I had my camera ready, I could not set myself to making a picture. Even asking to do so is something I passed doing.

    So I clearly drew a line there for myself. My gut feeling told me that this would not be good, ethical, appropriate. But then, I am not a photojournalist that has to make a living of getting such dramatic images, selling them to papers and magazines, and entering contests to win prizes. Because of this, I do not find it hard to believe that the boundaries are shifting more to the extreme and that these photojournalists will go further, step by step…

  • Johan Knols on 20th May 2010:

    Hi Andrea,

    The way I see it: Do we put away our computers and stop writing?

    If an image clarifies a situation that should be brought out, yes, the photographer should (or must?) click.
    Bart’s case is different as we all know already that children die of malaria.
    Were there is un-justice, stories must come into the open.

  • Andrea Arzaba on 20th May 2010:

    I can imagine falling into depression after taking some strong pictures like this. It reminds me of Kevin Carter’s famous picture, where he won the Pulitzer Prize but he commited suicide after taking it:

    It is indeed a difficult subject, but then again, if photojournalists/reporters do not do it, how would we get to know about what is happening in the world? And then do something about it?

    And then, in the other hand, you get other type of comments, where people just critize photojournalists on how “they could just take the picture and do nothing else”...

  • Giedre Steikunaite on 20th May 2010:

    A very interesting topic, Andrea. I think people who get into professions like these - photojournalists, war reporters - realize what is at stake. Or they should if they don’t. One cannot go to photograph war and expect it to be a nice holiday of some sort.

    Depression, guilt, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), they might all follow once a reporter is back home, and that’s completely natural. But before they go out, they have to accept that this might happen, and make a conscious decision, whether to go or not. Nothing can prepare you for the atrocities homo nonsapiens is capable of, but you alone have to decide if the risk is worth the result.

  • Aija Vanaga on 20th May 2010:

    The question is important, but we also need to consider that picture is really strong method to bring the story and to make the story. The question is when the need for story influences work of photographer more .

  • Robert Stefanicki on 20th May 2010:

    This is the wild wild world. Freelancers often can’t make enough to survive (a colleague told me that was paid recently one euro for a photo), in result there is an army of blood-thirrrsty hunters on look-out for one shot that would make their living for a year. No mercy. smile And, well, the rule I find reasonable in stressful situations is “shoot everything, think before publishing”. In reality very rarely you can do anything except saving your own bottom.

  • Daniel Nylin Nilsson on 20th May 2010:

    Really strong picture… I think the discussion here is touching on something very important. Another matter worth thinking about is how much more emotional pictures are than texts. Seeing a picture can make you change your heart and mind instantly. So whoever deals witht hem must know what he or she is doing.

  • Andrea Arzaba on 20th May 2010:

    So Robert might be saying that this type of photographs might be taken by people who care more about the money they will make - or the contest they will win - rather than the moment they are taking. Or maybe they care about both…but is just the first fact more important than the second?

  • David Coons on 20th May 2010:

    Wow! A very interesting article! Something I am thinking about is not just “Is it the duty of the photographer to do something?” but is it the ethical responsibility of the photographer to tell the whole story? Just like journalists tend to do, they can easily manipulate the message by only selecting and publishing certain photographs. Maybe this picture does not truly represent what is happening. Like people have said above, he could have just gotten lucky.

    Very insightful, I think I am going to share this article with some people smile

  • Hieke van der Vaart on 21st May 2010:

    Hi Andrea, the link below is a long read but it’s worth it.
    In this case, no photographs are involved, but as I read the questions in your post correctly they could also be applied to jounalism ethics in general: when should the journalist/photographer become an actor, when is he/she only a reporter?

    Journalist Sonia Nazario follows Enrique, a sixteen years old kid from Honduras, in his dangerous quest to find his mother in the US. Afer reading, I wondered:  Nazario, as an American citizen, could have helped Enrique to cross the border. But then she would not have had the story (that won a Pulitzer prize).

    I guess there will always be an double moral behind stories or photos that have a great impact and involve war or conflict.

  • Helena Goldon on 23rd May 2010:

    Hi Andrea! Find a post on a similar topic right here:

    and feel free to join! smile Cheers, H.

  • valeria vera on 27th May 2010:

    I think that been a war journalist, or photojournalist, is extremely difficult, because you have to stop being you in some way, in order to keep the calm and report whats   happening,  even if it is the most dangerous time. You (the photographer) are there to report, no to judge,  your judgement   there goes according of the   media you are representing, if you as a person think it is not right,  change to a media where you totally agree with its ideas.

  • Andrea Arzaba on 28th May 2010:

    @Hieke: So in the end journalists/photojournalist should only stay as observers and write about the issues they see, but without interfering (just like Sonia Nazario?)

    @Helena: This is a very broad topic indeed smile Let’s join the discussion!

  • Gerhard on 29th June 2010:

    Thank you lens for the information.

  • Andrea Arzaba on 26th July 2010:

    Dear Walter

    I am so happy you could read this article. I would love to tell you that your picture moved me very much, and it is great to know that you wanted to make a change, your main goal was to inform people all over the world about what was happening: AND YOU MADE IT


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