Dan Barry writes of his relationship with Ángel Franco, the photographer that collaborated with him on his column “This Land.” Franco retired last month, 10 years after creating the column with Barry. Barry recalls his journey to all 50 states and the stories they told together. Pieces of Franco’s work are shown, the most striking is captioned, “Daryl Hilton, who killed his four children in a martial dispute, was put to death in a Tennessee electric chair in 2007.”
This sparks an interesting discussion of issue that follows both photographers and reporters in if it is ethical to report on such stories. On one hand, the public has a right to be informed on these events. But is it harming or exploiting those involved? In this example, it may seem easy to say that Daryl Hilton doesn’t deserve to be shielded by any backlash that may incur. But what about his wife and other family members that it could bring harm to? An image is only capable of providing a snapshot of the story in which the photographer has total control of the representation of the subject.
To provide another example, what about a series documenting homelessness in the city? Is it exploiting them? Or raising awareness, in turn benefiting them? Ultimately, all these questions answers depend on how the photographer chooses to frame the subject. When Franco photographed Hilton, he presented him in a purely documentary fashion. The image itself is not connoting praise or hatred towards the subject, and the caption is merely presenting the facts. If Franco would have put his own feelings behind the image or the caption, it could have been considered unethical. But in this situation, a tough topic was presented in away that could inform the public without bringing more harm to those involved.