An Ethical Dilemma
Last week one of our website visitors submitted a truly striking photo for possible publication in our Contributor’s Gallery. The image that Enrique, our Peruvian visitor, emailed us portrayed a beautiful Peruvian child who looked about three years old. He noted in his message that the picture was taken in a small mountainous village in the northern part of his country, about 4,000 meters above sea level.
We were floored. Of the hundreds of visitor photo submissions we’ve received since FreePhotoCourse.com went online, this is by far the best one, without a doubt. It would clearly win the best image of the year, hands-down, no contest!
We’d love to show you Enrique’s beautiful photograph; heck, we’d like to use it as an anchor photo to support a new how-to article about travel photography. The image is in all respects perfect. It is definitely National Geographic front page caliber, in all aspects of quality related to technical, composition and content.
The little boy portrayed in this image is absolutely adorable. His huge brown eyes seem to look deep inside your soul and they speak of a cautious curiosity. The boy’s beautiful warm skin tone contrasts pleasingly against his slate blue colored hat, ivory sweater and dark coat, all of which appear to be hand-made from local llama or alpaca wool.
The shaded location allowed the natural light to fall gently upon most of the boy’s face, his right cheek defined more sharply by a bit of sunlight. Short depth of field blurs an outside wall in the background, creating a beautiful bokeh in which the viewer can barely discern a patche where a large piece of paint has peeled off.
Beyond all of this attention to photographic detail, the boy’s eyes are the winner here. The honesty and innocence are exquisite.
So, do we go ahead and post the picture?
First we consider the legal. We always ask for a model or parental consent release if there is a recognizable subject in the photo. It isn’t legally necessary for our purposes, but we like to have it in any event. The photo in question did not have the accompanying release. Having said that, photos in our Contributor’s Gallery are not commercial in nature, in that we don’t use these images to sell, associate with or endorse any product or service. We also do not sell these Contributor’s Gallery images to anyone. Our gallery is merely a way for our visitors to have their best photographic work celebrated and displayed.
With these facts in mind and since the image was photographed in a public place, we are as reasonably entitled to post it in a free gallery, as would be Flickr, Photobucket and a multitude of other free photo viewing sites. (Hint – search for "Peru Child" in Flickr; you’ll find over 16,000 results and it is unlikely any of those photographers had a release.)
So, even though we’re reasonably entitled to publish it, why did we decide against posting Enrique’s remarkable photograph?
In a word, ethics.
As we discussed what to do, one of the members of our submissions team said something that left everyone speechless. She said, "Fine, so it’s legal. But just humor me for a minute. Imagine that you were at a local outdoor market with your three year old child. A tourist happens to think your child has an interesting ‘look’ and takes his picture. The next thing you know, that picture has won a contest and is posted on a photography website that gets visitors from over fifty different countries every day. So just how comfortable would you feel as a parent if that happened?"
She made an excellent point and we all understood.
You see, what we’ve come to realize through this experience is that it really doesn’t matter whether a child is in a remote village way up a mountain in a far-off country or in the park a block from where you live; the child should have the right to his or her privacy in a way that surpasses specific legal rights. And parents deserve to have a say in what happens with images of their own children.
This is the reason we decided not to publish this picture. In the end, we’re happy with our decision, despite how much we really wanted to let our visitors appreciate Enrique’s photo work.
p.s. We did send Enrique an email to recognize and congratulate him for his excellent photography. We also mentioned that we’d be thrilled to publish his picture if he were able to get a parent release to us. Let’s hope that happens!