Ethical Dilemma

I took my camera for a walk along my selected location for my “Street Photography” assignment. There were no people out and about on this bright but very cold Sunday morning. But I kept the phrase “portray the human condition” in my mind as I walked.

The sign in this storefront caught my eye:

IMG_3883 Vintage Store Front

I also photographed the sign which is taped to the window and the shut off notice laying on the sidewalk next to the door. The sign explains why the shop is not open and how to contact the owner if you want to purchase anything. The shut off notice clearly shows the owner’s name, address, amount due.

I feel the three photographs together make a comment on “the human condition.” But should I post pictures of the sign and notice, or is that a violation of the individual’s privacy?

UPDATE: I’ve decided to remove the name from the shut off notice and post the photos:

IMG_3880 - Sorry We Missed You

IMG_3881 - Shut Off Notice Name Removed

I was surprised at the range of opinions on this matter. In the end, it was Kim Turners comment that while there would be nothing illegal about me showing the photos, I should listen to my gut… and my gut said to erase the name. The truth is, anyone really interested in finding out who this is could. I’m sure there are public records that could be searched to find the property owner’s name.


6 thoughts on “Ethical Dilemma

  1. Norbert Haupt March 22, 2015 at 12:07 pm Reply

    If it’s a public notice on their front door, they have it coming. Sorry, anyone can walk up and read this stuff, or take pictures of it, or publish those pictures as a representation of the human condition. Chances are the subject will never see the art work anyway, so there isn’t even the chance of an awkward condition.

  2. Mark Kirsch March 22, 2015 at 12:44 pm Reply

    I think the dilemma is more artistic than ethical. The photo you have posted is about the ‘thing’- the window, the store, the contents, old versus new, how we value the past. Its outward and passive in nature. Introducing the writing changes it to active, and makes it about ‘us’. It becomes a series about the economy, loss- it turns the narrative inward.

  3. Patricia Briggs March 22, 2015 at 1:13 pm Reply

    wow–that is difficulty question. If it is a public notice you should be able legally to do it I would think. Do you think the artwork would be stronger with the person’s info showing or not?

  4. Deborah Lanni March 23, 2015 at 6:39 am Reply

    I think that this set of images taken together does indeed raise the question about “us” as Mark indicates. It asks us to consider what this human condition means from a social and economic perspective. For those reasons, these images have value. The sign is posted for anyone to see. The fact that it contains contact information and personal content underscores the vulnerability of the people affected by this situation.
    I believe these images should be posted.

  5. Susan Turnquist March 23, 2015 at 9:05 am Reply

    Legally, I believe you have full rights to photograph this interesting woeful story and publish it. But ethically? I would wonder how I would feel if that was my store, my sign, my failure, that someone was photographing in the name of art.

  6. Jennifer Schlick March 24, 2015 at 7:23 am Reply

    I posted a link to this on Facebook. Here are more comments from there:

    Plum Brownrobie Edit it out.

    Maria Bonfiglio Does it say closed due to urgent Medical attention? The storefront picture makes me want to stop in and shop. The other two pictures are sad. Prayers for them…

    Debra Eck Can you just blur out any identifying information. Does knowing the individuals name make the work stronger?

    Victoria Norvaisa I like the “shut off notice” one…sad…

    Kathleen Tenpas I think the three together are good, just blur the name a address what Deb said

    Jean Mcewan I don’t think enough photographers think about the ethical ramifications of what they’re taking photographs of, especially in ‘street photography’ where permissions are often not asked for so I think its good that you are asking these questions of yourself Jen! Is there a way of checking with the owners? I’m interested to know have you taken photos of people yet, and what are your thoughts on asking/permissions.

    Amy Jo Dorler I feel it is already public because they displayed it for anyone to see.

    Jennifer Scott Schlick the sign, yes. but the shut down notice was obviously placed there and the owners haven’t seen it yet.

    Jennifer Scott Schlick Jean Mcewan: I have taken a few with people. It isn’t easy for me to ask, but I did, and people are very gracious.

    Kimberly Meabon I’m with Amy, the sign is public, as is the notification. I could have seen the same if I was walking by the street scene, some of the most iconic photographs show the human condition in its most raw form

    Amy Jo Dorler However, it does seem quite personal now that I read more carefully. I would either ask permission or blur out personal info like someone already said.

    Ed Rudman Public is public, there should be no expectation of privacy, by law.

    Ed Rudman Very nice photos, by the way.

    Ylsa Maj They could possibly be embarrassed that their lives are on display but it IS public where anyone could see it anyway. And you are not shaming them, it is a poignant portrayal of the human condition, indeed. It’s real, it’s sad, and it shows struggle. …See More

    Kim Turner I always say, if it’s visible from a public space, it’s acceptable to photograph and present. With that being said, always trust your gut feelings on your personal ethics.

    Lisa Danko It is all public but I wouldn’t show any names

    Cynthia Horton McKane I would be more comfortable with blurring the name…but wow. These photos hit me deeply.

    Cynthia Horton McKane I also wonder if paying off the balance would help this person….

    Renate Bob It was hard to read the sign. It was in the open ,so it is public, On the other hand ,the sign LYING in the street has a phone number on it, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable making it more public.

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