London Is Burning – To Shoot or Not to Shoot

by Amy Weston/ via NY Mag

To borrow a line from The Clash, “London’s burning”. And the photographs of the mayhem are stunning. The above shot here is by Amy Weston/, as seen in NY Mag. (That image and a bunch more images from NY Mag here).

I’ve been been near riots of this magnitude on two occasions – Paris in 2005-6 and Seattle WTO riots – neither of which I photographed. I’ve also seen a guy get hit by a car and had my camera at the ready but did not shoot. And plenty of other things that I’ve not wanted to photograph. As a pure photographer, only-career-I’ve-ever-had guy, I’m not sure what’s in me that doesn’t pull me to want to shoot so many of these photos, even when I’ve had the chance (like this post). I’m deeply moved by such images -ala London riots, or trama, or the war in Afghanistan. Often times these images are so important to our culture, but at other times it’s shallow and cold to shoot them. I’m especially conflicted with the images coming out of London.

How about you… When do we shoot? When do we help or decide not to spread the horror?

UPDATE: Interview with the photographer (Amy Weston) that captured the stunning photograph in the earlier post below in an article over here at my Google+ page …offers some insights into what she was thinking and plays well with the ongoing discussion here on the blog and over at my Google+ page. (Add me to a circle if you’re G+ing so I can meet you too).

118 Responses to London Is Burning – To Shoot or Not to Shoot

  1. rye_one August 10, 2011 at 10:00 am #

    if i encounter the same thing as this, i’d shoot only what’s worth captioning. i’d shoot only a frame that tells the 5 Ws and 1 H being a PJ.

    • Taurean Branch August 11, 2011 at 3:37 am #

      Let me first say that I admire all of your work and you have encouraged me to re-enter the field of photography. I know now that it was my lack of education the prevented me from reproducing what was in my head and what I saw on my camera.

      London is Burning and as a journalist your/our job is to capture these moments so that generations from know people can see with their eyes the magnitude of such events. If photojournalist never captured the civil rights movement how would the new generation know about it. Books are one things, some one telling you a story is one thing, but seeing it with your own eyes. Pictures are worth a MILLION words and being able to offer the opportunity for others to bare witness to the world millions of miles away is priceless.

      Yes, I can imagine it is disheartening to see someone being thrown from a window, but has it changed your opinion or perspective? It has changed mine.

      • Andy Stuart August 11, 2011 at 5:18 am #

        Firstly I must make a correction, this woman was jumping from a burning building to save her life, nobody was thrown from the building.
        When it comes to whether I’d shoot the Riots or not that comes down to making an assessment regarding my personal safety. No image is worth serious injury or my life, I have the utmost respect for those who make a different assessment. I would not travel into a war zone or an area of public unrest to capture an image, but if it was on my doorstep and I was already at risk I might then consider documenting events in as safe a manor as problem.

        • Taurean Branch August 16, 2011 at 5:29 am #

          For the sake only of clarification, to me it seems as though she is being pushed or guided or whatever you wanna call it by someone still inside the building. I agree that we should never put ourselves in danger, but if I die and on my camera is the best picture in the world that captures the essence of life, or community, or the world than so be it.

  2. Robert Babington August 10, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    I think it’s okay to shoot these photographs. I certainly would. The most important things to do in a situation like this though, is to see if you can help in any way; photography comes second. I know some photojournalists will say that a journalist should never get involved, but I think being a decent human being is better. If I had to make a decision between helping somebody that’s on fire, or putting the fire out, I’d help them. If I could do both, and the story was one that needed to be told, then I’d do both.

    • Bradley David August 10, 2011 at 10:15 am #

      I agree completely. It comes down to the moral obligation you have to yourself and your photography. Any die hard photo journalist or NPPA member would say shoot shoot shoot, but at the same time, you got to realize what kind of person you are and your direction in getting a photograph. I personally would help or support anyone in need then shoot during and/or after. The G-20 in Pittsburgh was an example like this for me. I marched the whole way with the protestors and compiled a photo story of before the riot, during and after. When the after part came and the police forced everyone out, I felt it was my moral obligation to abide by them since I would cause more harm than good still following the protestors – and that was not my duty.

    • Nils August 10, 2011 at 10:21 am #

      Hello Chase,
      Hello Robert,

      i think Robert get it the right way. I guess i would react in the same way as he do. From my point of view
      it could be very easy. First see if you could help. When you can’t help or other people were faster than you be sure
      not to disturb the helping ones. And only after that you should start taking photos.

    • Donovan Williams August 10, 2011 at 10:33 am #

      I agree with Robert. Photography should come second in this situation and ones like it. How could you fathom not trying to help because you’re getting a few frames off? Sure, its our passion and what we do for a living, but when another human being is dying and you choose not to help, wouldn’t that just make you feel horrible? Just my thoughts.

    • neal carpenter August 10, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

      I don’t think she can help. If she helped every time she saw someone in need, she would never push the button. This is why I couldn’t do this job. I’d want to help.

      As an analogy from my world, if I help the bride lace her dress, I can’t photography it. Not a life and death situation, but one that I imagine many more of us face.

  3. Daf August 10, 2011 at 10:05 am #

    I had to walk home through the riots.
    I’m not a pro – but always thought that if something like this happened clsoe to home I’d be straight out with a camera. However it was really quite un-nerving – double decker buses on fire, hooded + masked guys all around carrying petrol, riot police running around etc.
    Plus the fact that i live in an area that’s predominantly a certain skin-tone, and I am not of that skin-tone – would have meant me carrying around a big telephoto would have been a high-vis target.
    So once I got home – I decided to stay there.
    Do I regret it – yes. But I (and my kit) live to tell the tale.

    Cameraphone videos of my walk home :
    Blog has links to a pro photographer twitter that saw photographers mugged also.

    Unfortunately when the area was at it’s strongest (walking past looting and guys carrying petrol bombs) I decided to put my phone away. (Damn)

    I personally saw nobody in danger or being harmed – so was just a matter of shops and property. Not worth risking my safety for.
    I think it’s a personal decision based on so many factors – such as your experience and current surroundings that it’s a difficult one to give a blanket yes or no to. SOmeone does need to cover it for history and to show others what went on so hopefully it doesn’t happen again.

  4. Dan August 10, 2011 at 10:05 am #

    I guess if no one photographed these moments, people would be blind to what is going on throughout the world. It is images/video that capture things that the media might alter or not want us to see and that provide moments for others to have a moment of awakening and realize “WTF are we doing to our planet and to each other?”

  5. Sergiu August 10, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    While not as tragic as a war for instance, these are importaint events.Other than the material loses, they have a symbolic attribute.It’s up to what you feel in the end.If you’ve ever done photojournalism ,even as an amateur, you’re gonna shoot the stuff., but if not , you mind find in harder to point a camera at somebody getting beaten .Niether one is more or less ethical I think,altough there are times when even a photojournalist should put down the camera and have some respect for someone’s tragedy.

  6. Dave Kesarisingh August 10, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    I think it is important that someone is able to capture the images of the unfolding events. It’s very important to record such important moments, not to forget what and why. If you’ve a camera, you should try to capture what you’re seeing, unless of course if you can be helping those less fortunate. Yes take that photo, but not at the cost of someone’s safety.

  7. Greg Wyatt August 10, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    I do think sometime in cases like this as a photographer the human side takes over instead of the photographer reactions. But it’s really tuff to know if you would capture this or try to help people.

  8. Mervan Ayberk August 10, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    Very well said there Chase ”…it’s shallow and cold to shoot them”. I totally agree.. Unless it is your sole purpose to be their at that right moment, and there are others/professionals assisting the problem its every human beings ”must” to help others in need, at times of distress.

  9. Zee Kid Leung August 10, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    I think personally for me I would shoot because I would want to document what’s happening. These things will happen whether or not you take a photo or not.

    The exception would be when you can actually do something to prevent a tragedy. For example, someone is about to be clubbed from behind and you see the assailant walk up with a weapon. Hopefully everyone would jump in and stop it, or at the very least, warn the would-be victim. I hope no one would sit back and “hope for something to happen so that they can get a dramatic Image”.

  10. Kurt Wall August 10, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    I absolutely would should these photographs if there’s a story to be told — in this particular case there is a very compelling story.

  11. Bluestill August 10, 2011 at 10:08 am #

    Boy that’s a great question Chase. I say it’s great because it has two sides to every coin. It is images like these that bring awareness to the global situations. Imagine if no one could relate to the starvation on the continent of Africa (Yes Sarah Palin, it is a continent, not a country), or the atrocities in Libya, Iran, California, and other places we read about. Sometimes you have to pull the trigger and use with caution. The other side of that coin is the suffering side, the thoughts of loved ones and families having to view the image again and again. The perception that we as photographers want our 5 minutes of fame in the lime light, or the worst, to be labelled “paparazzi”. I recall your story about the victim in the auto accident. Photo journalism requires a totally different kind of mentality. I know this because I recall taking out a camera in a war zone, and after miraculously making it out of that area, viewing the images and deleting every single one of them. Yet what I saw still plays in my mind from time to time. So I guess to answer your question, I say shoot, and then decide.

  12. Joe August 10, 2011 at 10:08 am #

    I too am a pure photographer. Never studied, straight in at the deep end working internationally across many fly away destinations, primarily in motorsport, and i feel that it’s at our own discretion what we shoot. However, have you ever seen something and not shot it, that someone else has, then wish you had snapped it.. Or thought about what a good shot it would have been, what a moment in time it was, how iconic it could have been for that split second. In such instance as the London Rioting, I would love to travel down from my home on the east coast of the UK to London, to capture some of this ‘horror’. Not so much for the graphic content that may be there, but for the shock and impact that the images can give. I’m so thrown back from the sites i keep waking up to in the mornings this last week, and yet for some reason i feel there’s shots there to be had that would be like no other. I hate gore, pure horror and those graphic things, but i love images with news impact.. Things we can’t comprehend.

    The strange thing is, i haven’t jumped in my car and driven down. I would fear a little to much for my gear, and my well being! I want to be able to capture all these moments, but the sheer hatred towards any media person(s) from the rioters themselves only puts me in a risky situation. If it were images of something slightly more predictable but also with the impact, i’d be there, but when it’s such a risk, I pay my respects to the balls of those who are there snapping

  13. ghislain August 10, 2011 at 10:09 am #

    Pictures are important but video even more. With videos, you can easily broadcast the real situation. Our regular news channel are so deeply control by our government that I don’t trust any of them anymore… Everything is modified to fit what they want us to see. I am not paranoid, it’s just a fact. It,s amazing how different a story in Afghanistan are reported in the states and in Canada. Now they are very similar but before we had all our troups there, the story was different. So it always depends on the situation.

    Videos and photography that are taking by us and if they are broadcast freely, reflect the reality. It reflect the pain that are on the planet.

    We are at a point where a great revolution is about to begin, companies has taken too much from people just like religion and the monarchy did centuries ago…. Human never learn from the past…. People are tired… We are loosing are liberty and freedom, we are loosing are savings because our government aren’t doing anything to control the banks and oil company…. it’s a free world for businesses… not our society… how many things are being tolerated when it’s a company that is doing it? Take the example of the pig factory in North Carolina that hires illegal mexicans but the authorities don’t say anything as long as the company give 15 names per month…. everybody looks good…. except those who risk their lives in that factory because yes, one of the month dangerous job in the us in 2011 is to work in a pork or beef factory… If people would see how the animals are treated in there, nobody would eat any beef and pork…

    So yes Chase, if we want our world to be free, if we want real justice to prevel, we should take as many photography and video as we can and broadcast them all… I know I’ve been going way too far in my comment but hey…. at some point, things needs to be said out loud!!! :)



    • ghislain August 10, 2011 at 10:16 am #

      And at the same time, all the loosers that took the opportunity to steal from someone else should be punished :) hehe

    • Shawn Colborn August 10, 2011 at 10:54 am #

      I agree Ghislain.
      That is why I stopped eating meat in 2007. It was because of people who were brave enough to infiltrate the system and risk bodily harm to obtain images that speak to us on so many levels. They have touched me deeply and changed my life.

      • ghislain August 10, 2011 at 11:08 am #

        Hi Shawn, at the same time, there are still some farmers who really care about their animals and treat them with respect. Of course they kill them in the end to sell it to us, but at least they were free, eat well and had lots of space during their life.

        I won’t stop eating meat, but I buy my stuff locally and I try to buy everything BIO without OGM. It’s really hard, it cost a fortune but at least I won’t eat any medicine :)

  14. John Cornicello August 10, 2011 at 10:09 am #

    For me, it goes back to high school. A girl friend was also a photographer and there was a house fire on her street. She didn’t take any photos (I wasn’t there), but for days after kept talking about the pain of seeing photographers at the scene just recording the destruction and not in any way helping with the rescue, and possibly being in the way. That just stuck with me forever (or at least the past 35 years).

    • Marlies Anastasia August 12, 2011 at 12:50 am #

      You make an excellent point, John. And as someone who is former military and First Responder and does Security work, I cannot say how many times I just wanted the people with cameras to just vanish so we could do our jobs. I have had to say too many times, “Yes, I am a photographer too. Now get out of my way so I can do my job!”

      I lost my home to a fire in the wee hours of the morning in 1996. There was snow on the ground and did they think to offer me or my children a blanket? Shoes? No. They were all about getting pictures of the flames consuming my home. And my gear! But oh, the art! When I saw those pictures published, I felt so angry at their lack of compassion. That was my life. But all they could think about was documenting the moment and our pain and anguish for their own gain. It was one reason I gave up photography for so long.

      Now, as a photographer, I am a human, and humane, first. If someone needs help or comfort, screw the picture. My karma does not allow me to do otherwise.

  15. Tim Baker August 10, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    I have always bought into the “Samaritan’s Law”…if I could help in any way…lay down the camera and do it…if not…I think you have to shoot tempered with compassion and the “journalistic” filter…not a sensationalist filter.

  16. tucker joenz August 10, 2011 at 10:11 am #

    This is a tough one for me. I find myself at times wanting to shoot but feel more that I should help.

  17. Emily Crisp August 10, 2011 at 10:11 am #

    I think this shot is amazing, it’s unfortunate that London has “caught fire” but I don’t think that it should stop photographers from capturing shots like this to remember such a tradgic event in history.

  18. Tropical Ties August 10, 2011 at 10:11 am #

    It is a dilema. I can see a need for some of the photojournalistic images but at the same time I see photographs of some situations and have thought to myself, “the photographer who took this could have been helping this person instead of taking their photo”. I guess the view is the photo can help in other ways.

  19. Andrew August 10, 2011 at 10:11 am #

    I personally think that when it is not a life or death situation then you should shoot (photos that is). On 2 occasions i have been at events where somemthing has sparked up and i did not shoot: On both occasions the police asked as the offical photographer whether we had any images.

    You have to remember that even if you not directly helping sort out the situaton you are helping the course of justice.

  20. Elizabeth August 10, 2011 at 10:11 am #

    Don’t have any answers, but share the same internal conflict in many situations I’ve found myself in overseas with Do I whip out my camera to capture the horrifying, shocking moment of a young girl being prostituted on the streets of Kolkata or how about the two-year-old who’s on the risk of death from starvation in Cambodia? I find that while I, too, appreciate compelling, thought-provoking images of world events, I also (for whatever reason) seem to want to put my camera DOWN in those moments and just be present. Maybe it’s because I know that with my camera to my face I tend to hide behind the lens instead of live fully in the moment. Maybe it’s because somehow it seems to exploit the reality of what my eyes are seeing … or that I’ve seen too many before me do so. Or maybe it’s just some strange internal way that I’ve been made to tick.

    Whatever it is, it’s refreshing to see/hear the conversation begin on a larger scale in the photography community. Thanks for initiating it!

  21. Mark August 10, 2011 at 10:12 am #

    I agree that you can never stand by someone in need with the excuse, “I’m taking a photo.” At the same time these events (and others like them) must recorded. Coming from Birmingham (an English city hit by the riots), there must be records so that people can learn and understand them later – politicians, media, residents, and future generations of children. Its not easy but must be done because images, like the one who posted, are so powerful.

  22. Rhys August 10, 2011 at 10:14 am #


    I’ve recently been thinking about this very question, especially in light of Tim Hetherington’s death in April. I watched Restrepo about a month or two before he was killed, which is what initially got me thinking about this topic. I mean, Hetherington was filming guys getting killed right in front of his eyes – but he kept shooting. That was his job – to document. Like it was the troops’ job to take care of their fellow soldiers.

    I don’t think that this kind of work is for everyone. I do think it’s for me, personally. I’m traveling to Iraq in January or February to make a documentary film about the health care crisis and I’ll be filming in operating rooms where children will be receiving open heart surgery right in front of my very eyes and camera.

    I think this topic is great food for thought, and I personally think that the determining factor in whether someone can be a successful photojournalist is not necessarily technical skill level, but whether or not they have the ability to remove themselves emotionally from a situation. Not everyone can do it, and there’s nothing wrong with that, IMO.

    I will say that if faced with a situation like this, and I was the ONLY person to help another person, I would obviously choose to help save a person’s life before I would choose to film or photograph it. But I do plan on being in lots of situations that call for documenting events like this. But like Hetherington, I plan on being in these situations where my job is to film.


    • Richard August 10, 2011 at 10:23 am #

      You make a great point Rhys. Once upon a time I thought war photography would be something that I’d like to pursue but after some real deep thought decided I was way too sensitive to be able to do it without becoming a basket case. I do think though that it is important these events are photographed. I watched a great video by James Nachtwey and to para phrase him he said that his photography often gave a voice to people who didn’t have a voice. Of course the riots aren’t war but still they need to be remembered and photography is one way to do that.

      (Good luck in Iraq)

      • Rhys August 11, 2011 at 9:09 am #

        Thank you, Richard! What video was it? I’d love to check it out.


  23. Shola Animashaun August 10, 2011 at 10:14 am #

    I guess photogs who do, do such 4 posterity & also 4d records regardless of the trauma behind such situation.

  24. Shay Nartker August 10, 2011 at 10:15 am #

    I think it goes without saying that if someone is going to photograph something of graphic nature, there needs to be a great about of care and deliberation in their actions to make the photo a tasteful. I have seen images of war, trauma, riots, etc. that have moved me in ways that words cannot. I think as humans we need to see what we are hearing about for it to make sense. We are programmed to take in visual stimulation. I also believe photographs such as the London riots can be used to educate others who are not in the area about what is going on and just how vast the extensive and extreme the riots are. On the other end of things, if you are a photographer brave enough to shoot the horrific event, be prepared to take heat and criticism. Kevin Carter and his image of the starving Sudan child is a prime example of what can happen. I think the photographs need to be taken, the images need to be seen, we as photographers need to educate with what we see through out viewfinders.

  25. Costas August 10, 2011 at 10:18 am #

    I always shoot when it is a public event.
    The only time I won’t shoot is if it is something private: if someone hits a tree driving his car, I don’t shoot. It is a “private accident” and there is no reason to picture a person in pain or embarrassment in something that does not really concern the public.

    In riots, floods, fires, demonstrations etc I always shoot (but I might edit myself later and not publish an image that I might find tasteless).

    My photojournalistic side is stronger than my photographic, and I have seen many times this same nightmare:
    I am walking accross a chain -link fence which is probably the fence around an airport. Suddenly, I see a plane losing a wing and emitting smoke, moments before it crashes. I try to open my waistpack to get my camera out, but I never make it. Sometimes the zipper gets stuck, sometimes I grab the EOS1 but I cannot align the lens and fix it in time, for one reason or another I never make it in time and the plane crashes out of sight before I make a single frame.
    It may sound sick, but it is abslolutely true: I have seen this nightmare many times, so the anxiety of “missing the shot” is firmly in my subconscious. It is a dream, so there are no feelings about the tragedy of the accident and the lives of people, and it always ends at the moment of the crash, but I hope this answers the question posed…

  26. Kevin Fuller August 10, 2011 at 10:19 am #

    Documentation is one of the most important facets in life. Of course things would be different if the photog was the only person available to help.

  27. Rosie August 10, 2011 at 10:21 am #

    I Just Wanted To Say I Pretty Sure The Above Photo Wasn’t Taken At London Riots We DON’T Have Road Signs Like That Here And I’ve Saw It On The Front Page Of Several Newpaper But It as Later Said That I Had Been Photoshopped For The New Paper To Look Like It Had Been Taken Here.

    Also I Wanted To Go Photograph The Riots. Not So Much People Getting Hurt Part But The Way Shops Where Left After They Where Looted And The Burning After Effects Of The Riots I Feel Its Important To See Whats Happened Our (England’s) Capital. I Watched The New Constantly Pretty Much Since Saturday And When I Was At Its Worst (Monday) Everything Looked So Toy Like On Tv. I Don’t Think Its Right Though Standing There Taking Photo’s While People Need Help and Getting In The Police And Fire Crews Way.

  28. Michael Kalbo August 10, 2011 at 10:22 am #

    I couldnt imagine shooting a photo when something like this is going on. Yes it’s important to document events like this, but my human instinct would want to put down the camera and help.

    The image is incredible but its an image I wouldn’t have ever captured given the same situation.

  29. Ross Gillespie August 10, 2011 at 10:24 am #

    Hi Chase, to shoot or not is a very difficult decision…ike you I am torn. I work mainly in portraiture, corporate etc and I’m not sure if I the ‘instinct’ for this kind of work. Having said that, I think that in the heat of the moment during a riot I would take shots…it’s later (when things/I’ve calmed down) that I’d have second thoughts about how to use them. I’ve a lot of admiration for the bravery of the photographers (and public) that are covering the current riots (a number have been attacked to stop them taking images)….one very good usage of the resultant shots is posting them online to help identify the trouble makers.

  30. Rosie August 10, 2011 at 10:26 am #

    Also The People That Have Taken Photo’s Have Done Alot To Help The Police Get Who Is Responsible For Some Of The Terrible Things That Have Happened These Last Few Days.

  31. Kostash August 10, 2011 at 10:30 am #

    Sorry chase but being from Greece i’ve seen my share of protests and riots. You DO have to shoot, and then you can decide if you are going to publish or not. Around here photographers, both pro and amateurs, are the lifeline of people arrested and abused for no apparent reason by police forces. There are many examples of people arrested and then framed by police with rucksacks full of Molotov bombs only to be released by a photograph showing the time of arrest. (quite a feeling for just one click)

    My ethical question is whether we are helping big brother by contributing more pictures of people for them to identify..

  32. Jim F August 10, 2011 at 10:31 am #

    I think it’s important to capture the images. I doubt that these images are stoking the violence. They may help by putting pressure on those in power to take appropriate action to bring it to an end.

  33. Andrew Dewar August 10, 2011 at 10:33 am #

    Personally I think there’s nothing shallow/cold about it, because if no one documents the events (via photo, or video) then how will anyone know whats happening and see the truth of what’s occurring…a recent example of this it Tyler Hicks images of the Somalian famine, all the media was covering political stories, while the NYT placed his Somalian image on the front page, which made people realize that Somalia was going through one of the worst famines it’s had in a long time, and very little was being done to help them.

    Also if you take a photo and look at it after and decide it’s too invasive or too personal of a moment or too cold/shallow then there’s nothing forcing you to publish that photo/video of the event, and you can just let it sit on your hard drives or even delete it.

  34. Chet August 10, 2011 at 10:35 am #

    It’s hard to find fault with professional photojournalist who shoot news full time. It’s their livelihood. They shoot mind numbing city council meetings, as well as riots and war. I do take issue with the hordes of people showing up to events like WTO, London riots, etc. with cameras in hand just for the thrill of shooting drama. More and more these wannabe PJ’s are outnumbering the event participants. I’m sure the police have difficulty distinguishing between rioter and photographer. Yes, they have the right to be there, but should they? What value is added by their presence?

    The London riots are a tricky. So much of the reason behind it seems to be anarchy for the sake of thrill and mayhem. Images like the one you posted of the lady jumping are moving, but do they add meaning to a mostly senseless act of violence? Is it glorification or documentation?

  35. Damien Noble Andrews August 10, 2011 at 10:46 am #

    When I was in college we were lucky enough to have James Nachtwey come speak. It was right after his book Inferno came out and he recently returned form another documentary trip.

    One of me fellow students asked, (paraphrasing as this was 12 years ago) “how do you do this? How do you stand by and take photos of people starving to death and not put your camera down?” His response is what prompted me to write in.
    JN- (paraphrasing) “It crushes you… every time. And as soon as I’ve taken the shot, when I feel its done, I put it down and do what I can. In Africa, we would load our truck 6 times a day with individuals too weak to walk and bring them to the medical tents. But most situations that I photograph are so much greater than one person, so where I personally can affect change is by telling their story, bringing it the masses. And that is only thing that lets me sleep at night.”

    Personally, I think it has to be a judgement call on a case by case basis. To take those photos you have to be compassionate on a certain level, and as others have said, if you can make a difference in that particular moment, then put the camera down and help… unless you’er James Nachtwey (or similar).
    Thanks for posting an interesting question.

  36. Alfred August 10, 2011 at 10:47 am #

    I think it is perfectly normal to stay true to your style of photography!
    On the other hand someone has the obligation to record events like that and that would fall to the News Photographers, that is what they do and do best!

  37. Bryan Mitchell August 10, 2011 at 10:50 am #

    Shoot. Its history and needs to be documented. But my background is in newspaper photography and I still shoot for papers (just not as much) not commercial. Photojournalist and instructor David LaBelle talked about this. I don’t remember which book off hand, The Great Picture Hunt or Lessons in Death and Life, I have both. He received a letter from a reader that he thinks didn’t even realize she was paying him a compliment. She said something like nothing is safe from Mr. LaBelle’s camera, he shoots everything from the womb to the tomb. Dave goes on to explain its not if or what you shoot (everything should be shot) its how you go about it and present yourself. His site is -Bryan

  38. Jonny August 10, 2011 at 10:53 am #

    There’s no question here… the answer is always: Shoot.

    A story without photos is just a story that can be twisted to the whims of whoever has the power and money to influence it to the spin of their choosing. There is no denying a photo, it carries far more weight than mere words.

    • Jonny August 10, 2011 at 11:00 am #

      A side note: Look back to 9/11 – all we have are photos and video. If not for those who decided to shoot that day, what would we have?

      The decision to censor ourselves at the risk of temporary offense is a far worse sin than the long term regret when we have no visual record of the event in question.

  39. Shapewear August 10, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    This is one of the beauties of photography, you get to capture things that some people fail to see.

  40. Thomas Doggett August 10, 2011 at 11:00 am #

    I have to agree with Chase; Having been a full-time forensic (crime scene photographer) for almost 20 years I never have an off the clock interest in shooting anything that would not be considered beautiful to look at. I think that photography is an extension of who we are as people and what we want to capture and share. Dont get me wrong; I love my full-time job, the experiences it has given me and have photographed some of the worst violence that can be imagined but really have no interest in showing those images…..

  41. Joe August 10, 2011 at 11:01 am #

    I’ve never been in a situation like this. It’s hard to say what I would do.

    All in all, I guess it’s important to document such things, but looking at the images, I still get the feel of “disaster porn”.

  42. jjpare August 10, 2011 at 11:19 am #

    I think most people have said it on here: there should be a line between being the camera, telling the stories that need to be told, and being human.

    I’m always torn by the Kevin Carter photo of the starving child in Sudan being stalked by the vulture. It’s an importantly shocking image to get out into the world, that might hopefully motivate people to act — but at what point does your humanity turn back on? When do you stop being ‘the photographer’ and just walk over and kick that bird in the head?

    There’s an interesting video that came out of the G20 mess in Toronto last year of one of the marchers taking down a looter:
    Everybody cheered and thought it was awesome. But my big question was, what about the person shooting the video? They’re obviously chuffed to have captured this moment, and are playing it up on Youtube. But from the way the event seems to unfold, the camera person couldn’t have known that that would happen when they started shooting. Which means they were initially just filming somebody looting and were content to let that happen (as was everybody else in the area).
    And that, for me, is completely on the wrong side of the line.

  43. michael August 10, 2011 at 11:26 am #

    i would take pictures instantly because they have “news” value…by value i mean story, and history too…i won’t lie, the money from the shots are a added bonus. but the to me the chance to witness a story or even history in the making whether it’s from a good chapter from the human race or a gruesome chapter, to me it doesn’t matter because my mindset is to let the world know and future generations know and maybe learn a thing or two from the images i have captured.

    but i also know have a code of ethics that i conduct my self that is based on the norms and culture that i was brought up. i won’t go as far as the paparazzi or the opportunistic vultures that sometimes forget about the human “element” in the story. if i was at scene of some riot and i see a innocent by-stander get beat up by a mob, i would stop taking pictures and help that person. my responsibility to a fellow human in trouble is greater than my need to tell a story. maybe that’s why i can’t be a PJ because of my biased way of viewing my surroundings.

  44. Gabi August 10, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    I blogged about this in the context of Jodi Bieber’s World Press Photo Award earlier this year. My conclusion is here.

  45. Zach Johnson August 10, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    That’s a good question, and one that needs to be answered well before you’re in the situation to take the photos. So many of these moments are so fleeting that you can’t afford to make a moral judgement call as it’s happening.

    My first jobs in photography were as a photojournalist and those questions bothered me a lot at the beginning, then I realized that to do my job I had to shoot first and ask questions later. I know that that sounds crass, but it was the only way for me to function effectively. Just because you have a image doesn’t mean that it needs to be published, but you can’t publish a shot that you missed.

    The bigger question happens before you go out to cover an event. What’s the purpose, why am I going out to cover this?

    I worked for two years as a photographer for Mercy Ships in Africa, one of my responsibilities was to document the needs present in a country. I photographed many things that I would not have felt comfortable photographing had I not been working with an organization that was working to meet those needs.

    I am no longer a photojournalist, but I have the utmost respect for the men and women that document our world.

  46. J August 10, 2011 at 11:35 am #

    Valid and important questions. It has been raised a lot lately particularly with the number of conflict photographers who have been killed and injured over the past year. Earlier this year “Fresh Air” on NPR had an interview with Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva that, in part, addressed this question. Their book, “The Bang Bang Club,” also addresses these issues. There is an importance to documenting these events. Not everyone with a camera can do it, nor should they necessarily do it. To capture images of events like the photographer putting themselves at risk. They may also be putting others at risk if they need assistance. These are considerations that a person seeking to photograph a conflict must consider before venturing forth.

  47. Gina Gerdes August 10, 2011 at 11:40 am #

    Chase…I share your mindset on this…sometimes taking that shot only victimizes the victim further. Sometimes a moving image, while a great photograph, is an incident so personal to the individual being photographed that its almost an invasion of privacy. Other times, however, taking that shot could mean the difference between a victim being able to recover damages for physical injury, a criminal being brought to justice, etc. Its a VERY hard decision. I also agree with some of the others posting here that in some cases, like this riot, photographing those images only rewards the thugs with the notoriety of performing the criminal act. I would certainly be more likely to photograph those images that so the victimization of the innocent in hopes of bring about consensus to punish the thugs than to photograph those images that merely document the criminal committing the crime. If that makes any sense…

  48. Ryan P. Kelly August 10, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    Like Thomas..I am also a forensic photographer…on the civil end. The images taken during these events are not just a way of telling the story to those who were not there…but many times are evidence that can be useful in both the criminal and civil precedings that will no doubt come after the riots have subsided. Look back to the Los Angeles riots. How many convictions were made due to the news coverage on the ground? The PJ on the front lines does not return fire when the unit he is embeded with comes under fire…nor should the PJ in London pick up a fire hose to assist when the flames are out of control…he should document.

  49. Ryan P. Kelly August 10, 2011 at 11:42 am #

    looks like Gina and I were typing the same thought at the same time :)

  50. Mark August 10, 2011 at 12:13 pm #

    life isn’t all bubblegum … shoot the good, the bad & the ugly!

  51. Seth Hillinger August 10, 2011 at 12:14 pm #

    “sometimes you should just enjoy the sunset” is what you once told me. Your point was about being in the moment. I think the same rule applies to any intense situation like a riot. As soon as you start shooting, you are separating yourself from the situation. Sometimes shooting can heighten a moment but sometimes you end up taking away an uninhibited, natural, feeling that only makes us human.

  52. Rabi August 10, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    I’d shoot. But I’m also a photojournalist. I have outlets where I would publish the photos; I wouldn’t just be shooting for fun/art.

  53. Dave August 10, 2011 at 12:32 pm #

    I found a dead body once and after the police arrived etc I started to phone a photographer friend to let him know but stopped shirt once I remembered I was a photographer/photojournalist.

    I took some pictures while the situation was being assessed, the guy was young enough lying face down in a river. It turned out it was death by misadventure. In hindsight I probably should have taken them but photographers aren’t like writers- we work with the now.

    • Dave August 10, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

      Shouldn’t* have taken them

  54. neal carpenter August 10, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    Like so many things, motive is key. If you were doing it to be sensational…If you were doing it for a big payday (image of a starlet stumbling out of a nightclub)…If you were doing it for some sort of personal gain, then you shouldn’t.

    If, on the other hand, you are a career journalist, or you have the opportunity to document something that might enlighten us (images of starving children in Africa), then you must. She is there to do a job. One that might be difficult at times, but a job that needs to be done.

    I wouldn’t want to be there. I wouldn’t want to have to be there. I’m glad she and many like her are.

    AND, given all that was going on around her, this is simply a miracle of photography.

  55. jeremy August 10, 2011 at 1:14 pm #

    You can never know what kind of man (or women) you are until faced with the decision. I feel a lot of photogs use the camera as armor against the horror. These things will always happen as long as we are human, and just as interesting history is to us, it will be to the next generation.

  56. Chris August 10, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    This is an easy one, be nice? if someone is hurt and you can help them then help?…. However if a potentially historical event is unfolding in front of you terrorist attack/ riots etc and you choose not to pick up your camera and take the shot then your failure to bear witness to these events and preserve them for future generations, denies that these horrific atrocities ever happened, and as history has show if we ignore the mistakes of the past then we are only going to repeat them in the future,…….. what if Abraham Zapruder had put away his camera?

  57. Patrick Connor August 10, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

    Many of the images are both amazing and horrific at he same time. I’m a huge fan of great photojournalism, as it evokes emotion and causes viewers to pause and reflect…and even react. Without photographers like James Nachtwey, Steve McCurry, Kevin Carter, Robert Capa, Matthew Brady we might be less informed or in touch of the reality of such atrocities. I’ve recently watched the Bang Bang Club and suggest anyone responding to Chase’s blog should check it out…it actually touches on this topic.

  58. Chris August 10, 2011 at 3:33 pm #

    besides….when did pain and suffering become a taboo subject for artists….. or do photographers no longer consider them selfs artists anymore?… just a thought

  59. P Bizzle August 10, 2011 at 4:04 pm #

    I think I agree with the general sentiment – help first, shoot later – but a story without shots won’t achieve anything and could be moulded into anything people want it to be. Snaps don’t let this happen.

  60. Russell Perkins August 10, 2011 at 5:46 pm #

    I’d be shooting everything I can or felt safe to. I think of all the world press awards and precious winners, most are from these kinds of events, pure mayhem and violence be it a riot or a war.

  61. dan August 10, 2011 at 7:44 pm #

    As a combat photographer in Iraq and Afghanistan I think it is important to capture the moment, the human story. Not so much of a question as to take the photo or not to, but rather how you use that photo to tell the story and hope some good comes from it. I am now out of the Marine Corps and shoot fires and draw the line at photos that show the identity of the subject out of respect for their personal suffering.

  62. Chad August 10, 2011 at 7:47 pm #

    It saddens and frustrates me that you question even for a second whether or not this type of documentation is necessary. It’s fine if you don’t have the stomach for it but this type of photography is far more important to us as a society than any commercial job you will ever do.

    • Chase Jarvis August 11, 2011 at 12:09 am #

      @chad – please don’t put words in my mouth, take pot shots at the way I make my living, or make foolish assumptions about what I’ve got a stomach for. It’s not my stomach that I’m talking about here. Believe me, I understand very very intimately the rich tactical and cultural value of photojournalism images – I’m just raising some theoretical, social, and ethical questions for my self and others like me who are compelled beyond just the image in some cases. The answer is NOT “always shoot everything”, as your position implies. Clearly it is NOT that. Not to Nachtway, Adams, or any of the greats. There is discretion – and my questions lies in where that discretion should fall. After all, the world and being a human in it are both much bigger than photography.

  63. Andrew August 10, 2011 at 9:03 pm #

    Why should we be so reliant on video or photos to remind us of bad things (like the riot above) happened. The written word is still a very strong tool (as you can see through a blog such as this). If one can not or doesn’t feel it’s right to photograph a situation and instead help another in need, why not share that instead in either writing or word of mouth to fellow friends and strangers. Remind people how good it feels to help rather than to share a horrific moment someone else had.

    Saying that, I understand some are not very good story tellers and able to paint a feeling with words. In that case, maybe take the picture to remind yourself how you felt and share it with others.

    (excuse my grammar. I try but am not the best)

    • J August 11, 2011 at 7:04 am #

      I don’t think that it’s an issue of being reliant on video or photographs, it’s just that the image carries a very powerful message that stays in our minds much longer. Many words have been written about the riots in the UK, as well as tragedies throughout history. When we associate those events with an image, it makes it real for people, especially those who are not directly experiencing the event. It is one thing to read about the riots, the refugee camps in Kenya, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the destruction of the World Trade Center, the Rwandan genocide, the holocaust, the destruction of Hiroshima in 1945 . . . , but the images give us an immediacy to event that allow people to feel what the written word cannot convey. That’s why Amy Weston’s image that was used to start this discussion is so important.

      • Scrope August 15, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

        If we didn’t think images have tremendous power we would all be writers instead of photographers.

  64. Cameron Brown August 10, 2011 at 11:35 pm #

    I stepped in to try to help stop people lighting fires during the Vancouver riot and ended up with 3 stitches and a busted camera. It might have been smarter to just stay back and take photos, but I felt like I had to try and do something to stop the rioters from doing what they were doing.

  65. James Kar August 11, 2011 at 12:26 am #

    When the London riots started over the weekend all I wanted to do was pick up my camera and start shooting. It was all happening right outside so I felt I had no excuse. It escalated quickly and people were talking about cameras being smashed and photographers been beaten. This put me off but still the anger of seeing people causing havoc in your city was enough to not worry about yourself or your camera.

    However, seeing the damage after the first night my thoughts quickly turned to how I could help and not what pictures I could take. I was more concerned about the clean up that I felt it wouldn’t be right for me to take my camera. Off course I wanted to take my camera but it didn’t feel right. Something made me feel ungenuine about wanting to help if I was trying to take great photos for my blog. At the end of the day that is what I would be taking them for. Images to create more awareness of my self as a photographer from an event where peoples lives have been ruined.

    Its not an easy topic and I have deep respect for the photojournalists covering countries at war. It just wasn’t right for me this weekend.

    It is so important that photographers are out there capturing great photos like Amy Weston’s one above, but my favourite has to be this one from the clean up…


  66. Noppadol W. August 11, 2011 at 1:47 am #

    Like James Nachtwey said:

    “I have been a witness, and these pictures are

    my testimony. The events I have recorded should

    not be forgotten and must not be repeated”

  67. Paul Carroll August 11, 2011 at 2:11 am #

    You can read the photographers account on what was happening as she took this shot here;


  68. Gerhard August 11, 2011 at 3:05 am #

    I was out shooting skateboarding when I found myself on the scene of a car accident and as I had my camera I shot some photos. I called up the local paper and the editor asked me was there any blood? I was pretty shocked at that yet it dawned on me then that that’s what sells papers. No there was no blood and the shots were of the upturned car and the traumatized driver being tended to by paramedics. I deleted the images because the paper was only interested in photos sensationalizing a car accident. The driver certainly did not want them to remind of the traumatic day.

    Personally I’ve always had a preference to focus my attention on that which uplifts me and others. I ask myself what am I and my fellow Beings co-creating by placing my attention on anything/photography/communication which lowers my vibration? I know this sounds all new age yet ask Yourself this. How does it make You feel to see war, poverty etc. How does it feel to see fun, play, prosperity etc. What serves the Greater whole more?

    If it resonates with You to communicate war, poverty, strive, suffering by all means go out and do so. Even if You feel compelled to shoot photos with no concern for the Beings featured in the images.

    I Trust that we are all Guided to do what we are here to do and share the stories that are in service of The Highest Good.


  69. Leoraul August 11, 2011 at 4:36 am #

    Maybe it has been said, but we all are different types of photographers. And I’m not talking style or title, within us, I’m talking more like a personality.

  70. fas August 11, 2011 at 5:08 am #

    NOt to shoot but to help people around.

  71. Chirag August 11, 2011 at 5:29 am #

    If you are a photo journalist, then it’s become your duty to show. At the same time it’s your social duty too not to horrify your viewers by showing something that helps spread the evil.

  72. JeffH August 11, 2011 at 6:22 am #

    Chuck the camera and help. I see many who say “if you’re a journalist, it’s your duty…” but I wonder if those journalists have forgotten, perhaps, that they are humans first, like it or not. And the highest calling of all humans is to serve others.
    Of course, it can be argued that taking photos might actually BE the best way to “serve others.” So it must be left up to the individual’s own moral compass. I’d just be a little wary of one who might decide to snap images and forget to apply that direct pressure to an open wound.

    I don’t even like to shoot weddings! But not because of the high competition, high stress, and low pay…. but because I don’t like to be the photographer standing around being so out of place it’s silly. The presence of a photog, however necessary and even desired, seems to cheapen the whole event, simply because he wasn’t fully celebrating the new couple – traditionally what that ceremony was about!

    To be sure, I don’t condemn any photog who shoots pain or strife, but I am very encouraged by Chase’s decision not to, and I stand with him on it.

    Thanks to all.

  73. Michael Leather August 11, 2011 at 7:05 am #

    Interesting article. Living in London I know people that have been affected by the rioting issues. Political issues aside I agree there are times where I would never take my camera out of respect. However I have to say some of the images i have seen of this and other times or trouble (including the image above) are extremely emotive and carry such power to the viewer. They tell it how it is, there is no media twist, bullshit or hype. An image of this type (i.e unedited reportage) can’t lie to you and gives far more than just words could ever convey.

  74. richard August 11, 2011 at 8:04 am #

    I recently saw the Ai Weiwei photo exhibit in New York featuring the 10 years he lived in New York’s lower east side. He had several photos documenting the riots that were occurring due to the struggles of the time. I feel that these sort of photos are important because they help to show where we have been and how far we have come as a society.

  75. Elis W. Alves August 11, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

    I know what you mean… Before I became a photographer it always stuck me as cold hearted to see how could someone not stop to help and simply shoot. Now that I’m a photographer I guess sometimes you get lost in the moment. But to me the person involved is still more important than the photograph. And I will help if I can. If I cannot do it with my hands then my camera will come in.
    Nevertheless I’m deeply moved by these said photographs… It’s a paradox I guess.

  76. Ulrich Schuster August 12, 2011 at 12:46 am #

    this is a really good question and really hard to answer in terms of ethics. I bet you have watched the documentary about James Nachtway a fearless Photographer in my eyes. He was described by some other video journalist who said that Nachtway would not shy away when it comes to get involved He said that when he is taking pictures of somebody that is about to get killed (machete scene in Indonesia) he would drop the camera step in and try to prevent the bad thats about to happen. If you end up in situations like that and something not right is happening I think you gotta have the guts to drop the camera and help instead of shooting or walking away … if thats the case and your not desperate about getting the cruelest image but document independently for the good I think its definetly a import part of journalism and society.
    Greetings from Germany

  77. J August 12, 2011 at 7:56 am #

    On Yahoo news there’s an interesting piece related to the destruction of the World Trade Center that does relate, in many ways, to this discussion:

  78. Ron Dawson August 12, 2011 at 9:52 am #

    Great question Chase. When I was running my podcast F-Stop Beyond (on which you were a guest a couple of years ago), I had on your good buddy Vince Laforet. This was before the 5DM2 came out, so it was actually possible to get him on a phone. :) Anyway, I had asked him about a photo he took during Katrina, as well as a question my daughter (about 13 at the time) asked about a newspaper photo she saw of dead bodies in the middle east. She wanted to know what the man who took the photo didn’t go over and help the people. Vince gave a pretty good answer. He shared that first, in many situations like that, there are already people on the scene better trained and suited to help. In the case of his Katrina photo, it was Nat’l Guard. Second, and more important, he pointed out that the photos he takes, as well as those by thousands of PJs all over the world, bring this information to the masses and it moves and mobilizes people. The haunting photos he took of Katrina that were seen by perhaps hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, may be much more good for the overall cause then him helping a few people here and there. I thought that was profoundly wise.

  79. Mongo August 12, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

    I am a firefighter full-time and a photographer part-time. With that being said I love to shoot fires, car wrecks, and other emergency situations. I attempt to focus on the firefighters or emergency responders, to show the world what it is that we do. Yes this may seem heartless, but I do not think that most people understand exactly what we do or how hard it can be. So in this respect I am trying to educate the public. I will make an attempt to help if there are no emergency responders on scene yet, once they arrive, it is now their time to go to work and I will try to document that, out of their way.
    These riots are not a “normal ” emergency. I think I would be somewhere in the middle, trying to help and show what was happening, all the while watching for my own safety. After all that I say shoot it; when you go back to look at your images then make your decision for what you think you should do with them. Someone needs to shoot what is happening even though they may be unpleasant images. It is still a story that needs to be told.

  80. Ash August 12, 2011 at 7:26 pm #

    It’s imperative that photographers capture all aspects of life. The horror included. To do it in a way that affords both subject and photographer dignity is the only point of contention.

  81. Troy August 12, 2011 at 10:25 pm #

    If I knew my photographs were bringing light to the subject and ultimately peace, I think I would be all for it. I do understand the need to photograph for documentation and history’s sake, but for personal gain? That makes me uncomfortable… Great post and pose of question Chase.

  82. Andy Beck August 12, 2011 at 11:28 pm #

    What happen in London is terrible but this shot of the burning building and the girl jumping is perfectly timed. I don’t think you could improve in this one. Absolutely fantastic journalist shot! Well done Amy!

  83. Greg Beams August 13, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

    Save a life, limit suffering in the now vs potentially changing the course of events that saves tens, hundreds, thousands of lives or siffering in the future – cuts to the core of each of us. Eddie Adams, John File, Kevin Carter and countless others took images that changed how we viewed war, authority, etc., arguably changing the course of events. I believe we are all the better for it. The subjects of their photographs are not.

  84. Rob Goldstein August 15, 2011 at 8:44 am #

    Chase, you are obviously an artist and not a journalist. The importance of shooting is to document. If no pictures were taken of the holocaust it would be a lot easier to forget all these years later.
    You don’t shoot for trophies you shoot to document and expose the event.

  85. Oliver Edwards August 16, 2011 at 9:31 am #

    Its often best not to shoot at riots as you will often get a punch for showing the identity of those committing crime, My friend has recently got out of hospital with some stitches from being kicked in the face while using his camera when a mob turned on him in Brixton.

  86. David August 17, 2011 at 1:18 pm #

    Don’t know if anyone has mentioned it, but the UK media have found the lady pictured, and the man who caught her (a neighbour), who claimed that the men in uniform weren’t handling the situation very well.

    Anyway, I tend to find myself unable to photograph situations like this, or any kind of personal moment involving strangers really. That’s not to say I have an ethical problem with it, just a personal shyness.

  87. Elaine August 21, 2011 at 10:49 pm #

    Chase, it’s not your genre of shooting, but it is for James Nachtwey.

  88. Lori August 22, 2011 at 11:56 pm #

    I was on vacation, so you’ll have to excuse my late response to this. I can COMPLETELY appreciate where you are coming from with this post. I contributed an image to the Dasein project that I shot of my daughter after she was bit in the face by my dog. That image haunted my soul and I couldn’t even look at it for weeks after I took it. The only reason I did take it was because my father wanted to see how bad it was and I thought (preshoot) that it would make him feel better knowing she wasn’t deformed or anything crazy…just a small scar. It was when I loaded it into my computer that I realized how much emotion it brought out in me by how much emotion I captured from her. I still don’t like looking at it. It aches my heart, but it also is another mark for the record books. It’s a conflicting situation for sure. I don’t know that I would pull the trigger for the situations you’ve discussed either, but the shot above is incredible!

  89. armaziuradu September 9, 2011 at 9:27 am #

    I think for me its like this, if there is now posible way that i can help someone experiencing a tragedy, and by no means put their life in danger by stepping in the scene, then yes, i would take the photo…but im not gonna watch someone die and not call an abulance only after i have a few good shots…it that be the situation.

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