Today a woman who works at a group home where I've taken pictures asked me who I was and what I was doing, asked if I had formal consent from the people whose lives I was documenting in pictures. When I started taking pictures of the residents I didn't know who they were or where they lived because I met them elsewhere. The residents have freedom to go places and do things outside the home. When, after some time, I realized where they lived and what that implied I stopped and talked to some of the staff to find out if they were considered competent to give consent for use of the pictures and was told they were legally independent, could make these sorts of decisions themselves. Even so, I wondered if putting up pictures, even with formal consent, was o.k.. With or without permission, a photographer has to consider how those pictures might be used and what the consequences to the person might be. I struggle with the ethics of photography where it intersects with voyeurism, exploitation, and what Doug Dubois calls "slumming." I'm not sure exactly what he means by that word, but something about how I was taking pictures of people of a lower socioeconomic class, people I'd likely never be able to help or do anything for, simply enjoying the social interaction across class and race, made him challenge me to consider what I meant to accomplish.
Here are two recent examples: Mr. L, who I met today at the cemetery/park on Lodi Street.
The woman from the group home wants to see the blog, and wants a formal consent agreement, which I will do to satisfy her concerns. She says it will protect me. Ultimately, I have to have to exercise judgment beyond the letter of the consent. I don't want to abuse anyone. I'm interested in taking pictures of ordinary people, the undocumented people of our world, not exploiting them.