April 28, 2009

eleemosynary \el-uh-MOS-uh-ner-ee\,

1. Of or for charity; charitable; as, "an eleemosynary institution."

For today's word of the day, I headed down to the Shepher's Table Soup Kitchen on Morgan Street in Raleigh. The homeless problem in our city is pretty bad, and the line outside the door was probably about 50 people long before 11 a.m.

And as a woman passing by the soup kitchen mentioned to me (rather bitterly), photographing people in line at a soup kitchen brings up an interesting ethical question: when is it OK to take someone's photo without their permission?

The answer to that question is complex. There is, of course, a very easy answer to the question of legality: if you're in public and your subject is in public, you can pretty much just go ahead and shoot it (with a few exceptions). But on which side of the ethical line would you find yourself while shooting a dying man, a cancer patient, or homeless people without their permission? I think the answer is different on a case-by-case basis.

For example, I didn't feel like the photo for today's word intruded on someone's privacy - not the sort of privacy you find while in your own home per se, but the "personal bubble," borderline harassment type. In cases where I expect my presence while taking someone's photo will affect their physical or mental being, I tend to talk to them in the first place; permission often makes the photo easier to get to, especially when you want to get close and keep your subject from being visibly awkward (or angry).

I wouldn't categorize this blog as journalistic. If it was, though it might not be necessary, I might feel compelled to ask for the names of my subjects. Nor is it commercial. This blog, I think, is some sort of "art," and in that case, I don't feel I've crossed any ethical lines in today's photo.

But there are many sides to this kind of conversation. So if you've got any thoughts, please put them into the "thoughts" section at the bottom of this post, and I'd love to discuss.

In the meantime, eleemosynary is an interesting word of the day, and I'd love for you to send some photos along to me in an email!

1 comment:

  1. What I like about this photo is that it captures, very effectively, the accompanying text: you became aware of an ethical quandary - you wrestled with it - and Art, writ large, won. The right of the photo -- closer to the actual charity-giving -- progressively darker; the faces of those in full sunlight are indecipherable. Something about the scene suggests "charity" (church windows?) but otherwise this could be any queue -- people waiting -- some with clarity, some not. Like life. Interesting photo, Rob -- great narrative.