Photographers are facing enormous ethical questions posed by the allegations aired during the ongoing Leveson inquiry. Here, Max Houghton, course leader in MA Photojournalism at the University of Westminster and a writer on photography offers her personal views on the challenges ahead.
“For a number of years I was relentlessly pursued by 10 to 15 men, almost daily… Spat at, verbally abused… I would often find myself, at the age of 21, at midnight, running down a dark street on my own with 10 men chasing me. And the fact they had cameras in their hands made that legal.”
Such was actor Sienna Miller’s shaming testimony to The Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press, which has shown news photographers in an unflattering light.
Professional bodies such as the British Press Photographers’ Association (BPPA) have been quick to counteract this tarnishing, insisting – accurately – that such behaviour does not typify the approach of the majority of news photographers. Yet in order for any meaningful change in these appalling practices to occur, those of us who work in and with photography are charged with taking this criticism seriously.
Miller’s testimony needs to serve as a wake up call for the whole profession, not as an opportunity to trot out the ‘we made her who she is today’ defence, nor for the principled majority to distance itself from the unethical minority.
Public figures have the right to a private life. Miller became famous because she is good at what she does, and was a lucky winner in life’s beauty lottery and is therefore prodigiously photographable. These elements combined do not de facto entitle every aspect of her life to be invaded.