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| p.2 #2 · Petroglyph Thefts - Ethical Questions for Photographers |
This is a complex issue, and the all-too-common strategy of critiquing another's response because it isn't "black and white" enough is more about the fun of argument than about getting at truth, which can be a bit complex and often is more about the gray areas than the black and white.
(This argumentative strategy might be described as "I claim that you are not perfectly consistent in absolutely everything you say and do, therefore your points are not worth considering." It is closely related to the "arguing the absurd" strategy that begins by claiming that your opponent holds to some absurd position that you constructed merely to make him/her look silly.)
For my part, with one small caveat, I never said that it is wrong in all cases to share photographs of things that are sensitive or fragile or subject to damage. (Again, please read my actual article rather than relying on your impression of what you imagine I might think.) Frankly, I don't see the harm in camperjim's post of a photograph of a place that almost no one will locate, and even fewer will seek to find. In fact, I posted a photo of petroglyphs as part of my article about this issue.
I did so precisely to address* the complexity of this issue. Frankly, posting a photograph of a fairly generic desert landscape and disclosing "which park its in" hardly causes a real risk to the place. Yes, I'm sure that some among you might actually be able to guess where his photograph was made - but we're not really worried about you, and this place isn't likely to be overrun or become iconic. So there is virtually no risk to it on account of this photograph.
If I post a photograph and limit my identification of the location to, say, "Death Valley National Park," anyone who has an ounce of familiarity with that place will understand that it is really, really big and that only the very most serious and persistent researchers will likely have a clue of even where to look. Oh, and if you happen to know where the place is or can figure it out on the basis of what you see and you disclose more specific information, that is hardly the fault of the person who concealed it. You, too, perhaps have a responsibility to let the vague description stand. :-)
The photograph I posted was described as being of "petroglyphs on a rock face overlooking desert terrain." Now, unless you want to believe that petroglyphs don't exist in the desert terrain - thus rendering your participation in a discussion that began in response to the protection of petroglyphs in desert terrain - this caption discloses nothing of use to a person wondering where this is. A second point that I hoped to illustrate with that photograph was that it is possible to contrive to show the thing in ways that avoid giving away its precise location. If anyone reading this is familiar with my photography, they might recall that many of my landscape and similar photographs tend to hold everything in relatively sharp focus. At the time I made this photograph I chose to shoot at an aperture that would blur out the background terrain, and I chose to include only a fairly nondescript and generic portion of that terrain.
So, I'm not saying that one cannot photograph places that are precious and sensitive and fragile - not at all. What I am saying is that somewhere between the absurd extremes of "Don't photograph anything" and "Photograph it and then lead others there too!" an ethical balance is to be found that isn't all that hard to understand or act upon.
(Oh, and I'm positive that there have been and will be inconsistencies in my own presentation of photographs and text. I'm human, and my sensitivity to and understanding of these issues has evolved over the past few years - as I wrote. Just this morning I found and retitled a photograph of mine that gets some attention here and there - it now has a title that doesn't refer to the geographical location of the subject, and I have made my text description more generic. It wasn't that hard... and I'm sure there will be more to fix.
* I chose to post the photo rather than explicitly comment - no doubt at length - about how an image of a fragile thing might be shared ethically. In the back of my mind, I might have been thinking of the first sentence of something Ansel Adams purportedly said/wrote: "When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence."