ethics

Introducing the Photography Ethics Centre by Savannah Dodd

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If you subscribe to my newsletter, you may (but probably do not) remember a vague comment I made last March, that my work in photography might look very different at the end of the year. Or perhaps you saw my blog post in June about the workshops I conducted on photography ethics in Thailand and Vietnam. Well, many months later, I'm ready to tell you about the Photography Ethics Centre.

In anthropology, we talk about ethics all the time. This has greatly influenced my work as a photographer, and it has given me a huge advantage. Bringing ethics into my work has helped me to gain access to communities and situations in socially responsible ways, and to build relationships around the camera so that when I return, I'm welcomed. The ethical approaches that I have adopted  give me confidence to post photographs online or to share them with you here, because I know that I have consent and that I have respected the dignity of the people in my images.

When I began to get more involved in the world of photography about 3 years ago, I realised that ethics is not at the forefront of many photographers' minds - for some it isn't even on their radar. Exploring this more, I realised that it isn't so much a total rejection of ethics, but a lack of awareness about what ethics means. That's why I founded the Photography Ethics Centre: to bring the kind ethical training that we get in anthropology to photographers.

The Photography Ethics Centre is a social enterprise dedicated to raising awareness about ethics in photography. We offer workshops and consulting services, and we will soon offer online training. If you would like to learn more about our work, visit our website, follow us on Facebook, get in touch with me directly by email, or register for an invitation to our official launch in Spring 2018.

Workshop: Understanding Ethics in Photography by Savannah Dodd

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As some of you may know, my academic background isn't in photography, but in anthropology. In some ways, I think that not studying photography formally has been a disservice, mostly because my lack of formal training makes me self-conscious about my credentials, second-guessing my abilities as a photographer. In other ways, I think that there is no better subject for photographers to study than anthropology.

Anthropology helped me to develop skills fundamental to photography, from strategies for gaining access to observation techniques to thinking critically about what I see. I think that there are many things that photography and photographers can learn from anthropology, but I think the single biggest contribution that anthropology can make to photography is the understanding of ethics.

My passion for ethics in photography began a little over a year ago. Since then, I have been talking with photographers and artists about ethics, reading about the various perspectives on photography ethics, and following the latest ethical discussions taking place online (my friend and fellow photographer wrote an excellent, reflective article on the recent case of ethics in the work of Souvid Datta). I have combined my research and my understanding of ethics from anthropology to design workshops for photographers on ethics.

So far, I have conducted two pilot workshops, one in Chiang Mai, Thailand and one in Hanoi, Vietnam. These pilot workshops will help to inform the workshops that I will soon be offering for hire and the development of a bigger project that I have brewing. I can't say any more on what's to come just yet, but I'll keep you updated as the project progresses!

Photograph by doc.arts.asia

Portraits one year on by Savannah Dodd

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Last year, the Yangon Photo Festival coincided with Myanmar's historic presidential election. I photographed the streets on that day, and those images became my Election Day series. The series includes several portraits of people I met downtown.

I was impressed by the willingness of people to be photographed. Perhaps this is because Myanmar only recently opened to tourism and people are not yet fatigued by the onslaught of tourist cameras. But I worried that people would feel like I was taking their image and leaving them nothing in return.

So this year, as I packed my bags, I included a selection of prints from the portraits I had taken last year. With the immense help of a friend and translator, I was able to locate 11 of the 20 portraits I brought. Each time we located an image, we asked to photograph the individual with the print from the previous year and we gave him or her the print.

We were not always able to find the individuals pictured, but friends, family, and coworkers were happy to step in and accept the photograph on their behalf. I think people were happy with the images, and many were eager to direct us to the person in the next photograph.

Of course offering a photograph is a token gesture. But maybe the next time someone asks to take their photograph, they will remember this experience. Maybe this is a step toward a more reciprocal relationship. Maybe it is a step toward nothing in particular, but it feels good to give something back.