For the most part it’s fair to claim that photojournalists are trained to be image-capturing machines. They’re trained to capture those necessary, sometimes emotionally charged images that add clarity and context to the articles that accompany them. Sometimes, however, the images that are captured are so disturbing that we question why they were taken and why they were run. The photograph above is a perfect example. John Harte of the Bakersfield Californian captured the moment that five-year-old Edward Romero’s body was shown to his family after having been recovered from a lake. Although managing editor Robert Bentley ultimately decided that the photo should run (in part because it would serve as a potential warning and help stem the high number of drownings that were taking place in the county), he later said that he regretted the decision.

Similarly, the photo below (from 1975) captured the moment that a fire escape collapsed sending 19-year-old Diana Bryant to her death (her 2-year-old goddaughter, Tiare Jones, survived). The photograph was taken by Stanley Forman and was published on the first page of the Boston Herald. In a 2005 interview with the BBC, Forman reflected on the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph. Some claimed that Forman’s photograph helped establish stricter building codes for fire escapes.

Does the good that these photographs do outweigh any harm done to the relatives of the victims depicted in them? Should these photographs have been taken? Should they have been published?



  1. In my limited photography instruction, the one thing that was emphasized over and over again was respecting the dignity of the subjects/future subjects. The top picture feels like such a raw, intimate, horrific moment that should have been kept private for the family. A number of different pictures or even graphics and charts could have illustrated the same point–the high number of drownings and their seriousness–without disturbing the readers or risking the privacy of the family. That said, though, I understand the idea that until someone sees or experiences something, it can be hard for them to grasp the gravity of it.

    Regarding the second picture, all I can think is, if you were in such close proximity to the tragedy, why did you just stand there and take a picture of it? That’s not meant to be a judgement or me ignoring how hard it would be to try to do something to help, but if I were in that situation, the last thing I would think of doing would be taking a picture of it. That photographer literally stood there and watched a young woman die. I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t try to help in some way, if all I did was snap a quick picture. I really don’t think it should have been taken or published.

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