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The Cyclopes


March 28, 2007 · A panel of judges from a federal appeals court in Denver (10th Cir.) affirmed summary judgment last week in favor of a Harper’s Magazine journalist who photographed the open casket of an Oklahoma National Guard member killed in Iraq.”

The journalist in question here is no other than fame photographer Pete Turnley .
“Following the photo’s publication, Brinlee’s father, Robert Showler, and grandfather, Johnny Davidson, sued Turnley and Harper’s on claims of invasion of privacy, false representation, fraud, unjust enrichment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
[Judge] Seay pointed out that the family — not Harper’s and its photographer — chose to have the casket open at the funeral and invite the press.

One has to ponder about this event for a while. Death, in itself, is not a “private moment”, it is a full part of the life cycle. There is nothing more common then death, an ability that we share with all living things. Photographing dead people has been done since the birth of photography, from public execution to the legendary Weegee and numerous extremely talented war photographers. Death is even more an integral part of war. After all, do we not pay our soldiers to legally kill our “officially declared” enemies with the obvious risk of getting killed themselves? But then, we should mimic the three wise monkeys ?

Todd Heisler Pulitzer, NPPA, World Press winning photo essay is all about war inflicted death and how we, the living, try to cope with it. I think there was more invasion of privacy there. Yet, no one sued.
When and why someones life becomes private ? Since a soldier, like a policeman or firefighter, is paid by our tax money, shouldn’t he/she be a public figure ? We have bought their time after all. We even pay for their death expenses and after. We consider the battle ground as a public place and publish images of dead Iraqis every day. But no US soldiers? What exactly makes their death more private then that of the woman going to the market and being suddenly pulverized by a suicide bomber. And those thousands upon thousands of dead bodies washed up after the great tsunami of 2004? not private. The corpses floating in New Orleans after the Katrina hurricane. Not private.
We consider soldiers lives, even the most mundane moments, as fair game. They have deliberately walked in the modern gladiators arena whose walls are only defined by photojournalists and paparazzi. They are in and belong to the Public Eye, the same one that demands pictures of Ana Nicole Smith, Paris Hilton, and our presidential candidates.

The photographers are not the voyeurs, but the masses. Photographers only fulfill a need, thus a market demand, for these images, leaving the boundaries of private/public extremely blurry. What I would like to see, one day, is the masses, the ones that rush to the newsstands and pay to see these images, to be sued. After all, they are the ones who invade our privacy with their curious eyes, not the photographers. Or vote with their money, as it is so often done in this country, and cease to purchase publications, surf websites and watch TV shows that offend them. But a crowd has no moral, does it ? The photographer, along with the editors, have this responsibility. However, their ethics are only govern by one thing: money. And we all know money has no morals either.

So lets not all stand there as hypocrites. The image consumer, the viewer, the crowd, the Cyclopes as I call them, are the ones with the real moral choices. If they do not want to see more images of gladiators dying, then they should let us know. And if our society decides that the majority is not ethical, then lets create a photojournalist oath, like Hippocrate did for medicine, and let us abide by it.

But let’s cease this incessant photographers harassment.

Full article on Peter Turnley’s case here

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