The Ethics and Morality of War Photography

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Is photographing the effects and destruction of war crossing ethical boundaries?

Shortly after I began pursuing a career in war photojournalism, I read an article discussing the motives and meaning behind war photography. Its message resonated with me because it opened my naïve eyes to the ethical dilemma faced by war photographers.

Image Credit: Picture-Alliance/AA/H. Nasar

Imagine yourself in this situation: You are a photojournalist reporting on the Syrian civil war. A bomb was dropped last night, and you are walking through what is left of the city to capture the destruction with your camera. You see a young girl, nestled between scorched bushes and piles of rubble from the collapsed building that was once her home. Do you point your camera towards her to get your powerful shot? Or is taking a photo of this distraught girl, searching for her home and the comfort of her missing family, unethical?

This is the moral dilemma of war photography. Many will argue that you should put the camera away and comfort the girl, but war photographers know that a single photo can open the world’s eyes to the injustices of war. The camera is used to document its brutal realities and to show the world what it caused this young girl and so many others to lose. Think of a war photographer’s camera as the visual voice of those who have lost everything in war and cannot open the eyes of those fortunate enough to be safe at home with their families. It is not the mission of a war photojournalist to exploit human tragedy; it is their hope to expose its horrors.

Image Credit: PictureCorrect

Photographs act as the eyes of the reporter. Through these photographs, the world can see what trauma and bloodshed the journalist witnessed. The photographs can motivate a society to stand against its gruesome injustice. Rather than perceiving these photographs as a violation of ethical standards, view a war photographer’s work as a way to see what is occurring in conflict-stricken countries. Use these photographs to speak for those who are silenced by conflict. Warfare itself is unethical; a war photographer is only doing their part in bringing its immorality to light.

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