Photos of the Anti-Trump Riots and the Morality of Photographing Such Events

Photos of the Anti-Trump Riots and the Morality of Photographing Such Events

The fallout from the recent election has been tantamount to a natural disaster and shows no signs of slowing down quite yet. To say that Donald Trump has had a mixed reception would be somewhat of an understatement, but as a positive person -- whose vote didn't see them on the winning side -- one might feel compelled to initiate Operation Silver Lining. In the face of adversity there is usually one opportunity for the (hardened) photographer: journalistic coverage of events.

Image courtesy of Andrei Gorbatiuc

In 2011, rather abruptly and without as obvious a causal event, London was thrust in to riots. Seeing large scale unrest is unsettling to say the least but there was an opportunity for a photographer to capture and record the chaos. Although it was a large step out of any remnants of a comfort zone, the photographs taken felt significant and useful. I received responses to my images that could be categorized into three; a nod of approval for risking my welfare and camera gear to capture the events, a shake of the head for risking my welfare and camera gear, and finally a glare of disgust for an earful for "benefiting off of the misery of others." I merged the first two reactions in to a hybrid with essentially a single driving sentiment: acknowledgement of risk for the "cause." I then completely disregarded the third stance. Well, I say completely disregarded, I have internalized the comment ever since.

Image courtesy of Andrei Gorbatiuc

Was this profiteering on my part? I went out with the sole intention of capturing the chaos in what could be a historic event; my motivations were not monetary. However, I did get approached by media outlets and I did sell images of the riots to them. At the time I hadn't entertained the idea of this act being remotely deplorable but rather recompense for the risks I took. I am a photographer and we photographers look to capture the interesting, the important, and the beautiful, and singular events -- including tragic ones, even especially tragic ones -- offer a wealth of such opportunities. One might name any number of important historical events and often a matching photograph is immediately summoned to the mind's eye; Tank Man, Vulture Girl, Napalm Girl, and so on. The intrinsic moral discussion of these images is well-trodden ground, particularly of Vulture Girl which arguably contributed to bringing about the consequent tragedy of Kevin Carter's suicide. Despite the skepticism, I'd always felt strongly that a service was being provided and it was and is an important one. I have read and watched as much material on the subject as I can and the personal suffering and change -- particularly in war photographers like Don McCullin -- is comparable ot that of a soldier. 

Image courtesy of Andrei Gorbatiuc

There is one truth that perhaps underpins all others in the "pro" column: the photographs of major events are information and important information at that. The written word will never do justice to the magnitude of such events and as long as the images are created honestly, they have great value. Perhaps "created honestly" requires unpacking a little. While I'd support the recording of current affairs by photographers, there is an unspoken responsibility to reporting the circumstances accurately as one might with words. Hyperbole isn't a concept exclusive to language and disingenuous reportage photography -- that is, photographs created to mislead viewers about the severity of the situation (etc.) -- is just as dangerous as written or spoken exaggeration of the facts. 

The capturing of major events is an important (albeit morally complex) task, but please, if you choose to do so, take care and prioritize helping people in need where possible!

Image courtesy of Andrei Gorbatiuc

 

What are your views on photographing war and major events?

Images of the Anti-Trump Riots 2016 in Portland, Oregon courtesy of Andrei Gorbatiuc. More images of the riots can be seen here.

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37 Comments

Anonymous's picture

I applaud you on a well thought out and reasoned article. Particularly, I appreciated your treatment of "created honestly," which I think isn't done as often as you could wish. These days (or maybe it's always been this way) people tend to equate frequency of reporting with the frequency, or magnitude, of the events being reported. If we could separate the global weight of an event from the individual weight, it would be easier for everyone to appreciate both.
As for photographing major events, I think it needs to be done and in the way you describe. I, however, could have never photographed "vulture girl." It would have never occurred to me to do so.

Studio 403's picture

At age 70, I am well aware of protest in American culture. What a freedom we Americans have. My brother was killed in Vietnam flying a navy helicopter on a mission to save lives. Years would pass before I came to peace with my bitterness, anger and contempt for President Johnson. A war that divided the Nation for many years.

What the morality of protest photos does not show are groups (well funded) that fuel these events. Thus a straw dog is elevated that does not exist. What people fear they fight. Mr Trump has not even been in office and these overly sensitive, immature, self righteous little boys and girls have failed to grow up. They hit the streets cause they are not getting their way. I know, those kids are me many years ago.

Of course my rant will not change anything, however, photographers who document these protests need a morality to tell the whole story. God bless these protesters, I hope they come to understand truth, the grey areas of life and sheer pain of reality. So, give Mr Trump some mercy, leave behind your contempt until investigation. You will find life will give you many loss's and wins. Honor truth look for the blindness in your own eyes and let your lens find you looking for truth.

Anonymous's picture

So there's no difference between a soldier and a hitman!?

Studio 403's picture

Your cryptic response is noted, i have no training in cryptography. Kind regards

Anonymous's picture

A soldier and a hitman are both paid, as part of their job, to kill people. The former employs morality as part of the job, and the latter, not so much.
See? Pretty simple. :-)

Anonymous's picture

My son, my father (WW II), my father-in-law (Korea), both my uncles (Vietnam) and my sister were soldiers. None of them felt certain, or even a little, the actions they participated in were immoral.

Regardless of the orders given to a soldier, they can, and usually do, apply moral standards to them. Of course they can be court martialed for disobeying but that's also a choice. If you don't follow a code of morality in every moment of your life, you're no better than an animal and worse than some.

Clear and complete. Respectfully, of course. :-)

Anonymous's picture

I would recommend The Bible, whichever translation you prefer.

Anonymous's picture

I'm detecting a theme here. Out of curiosity, I looked up "The Moral Landscape" and the most glowing review was by Richard Dawkins.
I'm guessing you wouldn't be able to get Jefferson's Bible but, sure... that'll work. ;-)

So let's review my choices: On the one hand, there's the best selling book of all time, unique in the fact it was written by multiple individuals over several centuries but still retaining a continuity that seems to bolster the claim that it was inspired by God. On the other hand, there's a book nobody (present company excepted) has ever heard of, written by a guy nobody's ever heard of and endorsed by a guy with a penchant for self promotion.

Hmm....

Anonymous's picture

That's okay. If I had no rebuttal to your arguments, I might be tempted to write something like that. Of course, there's no chance of that happening.

I think you're just upset because you couldn't find a topical GIF like mine! :-)

Anonymous's picture

You can stop anytime.

Anonymous's picture

Go ahead. Be sure to explain, in your report, why you keep replying.

Studio 403's picture

Yes, I suggest you do that

Kyle Medina's picture

I, myself, have been fascinated with war time photos, WWII to be specific, for sometime now. I have a personal collection of both Nazi, Americans, and Japanese fighters. That I've collect over the years. When I heard the first day of the protest has taken place, it got me excited that a second day might happen. Why, I say excited because 1. Its an historical moment happening in the US (which ever side of the fence you are on) and 2. It lets me feed that want of being a photojournalist. I searched the internet to find out if there was another one being organized for the next day. I found a Facebook group that had over five thousand people saying they were going. The protest followed through and looking back three days later. It was the biggest in Denver, CO. I walked over 5 miles without saying a word to anyone, just photographed what was happening. It has been the most fun and fulfilling I've ever had photographing. Ever since I picked up a camera five years ago. Now if only I was a proficient writer. I could have written a story for Fstoppers. Here are those images http://bit.ly/2gaRpuN.

To be balanced it needs to include the $1 Million dolars worth of damage. The boarded up businesses. People who simply wanted to live their lives in normalcy in their neighborhoods which they loved; were terrified; not by Trump but by the rioters. Demonstrators were unable to get the anarchists from doing further damage. Images cannot capture the insults and profanities hurled at police who want to prevent damage to property. The mainstream media has not learned yet that much of the country is fed up with this. How many of the instigators were paid? Follow the money. The outcome is that no one will ever trust the media or their photographers again.

Amen. The silent majority of Americans feel the same, IMO. Rioters are thugs, nothing more, looking for an excuse to riot.

The problem is that when "A picture says a thousand words" there is far too much that is "not said" and it often makes that photo a lie.

I'd love to use politics as an example but it upsets too many people so lets talk baseball.

When the Cubs had their city wide celebration then there were articles talking about the littering and trashing of the city by citing an area where the street was literally covered by garbage. But the reality is that trash cans were removed intentionally in order to take away the temptation of throwing it through a store window, and the trash photographed was mid-cleanup where it was swept together and about to be collected.

Overall, the "7th largest gathering in human history" was a success. The looting, attacks and crime usually found in big events didn't exist. Yet those authors who want to paint a negative story are still there churning away garbage in hopes of getting clicks.

I said I wont use politics here but I think its painfully obvious that the media is painting a picture that they would like to admire, but it is not one that accurately portrays the post-election climate.

You're absolutely right. There must be pictures. However, in regard to the paid rioters, professional agitators, and crime hoaxes- that is a staple of the left and has been for decades. The alt-right you refer to is growing and they are learning from people like George Soros you're going to see fighting fire with fire. I suspect that the culture is going to remain volatile for the near future.

Am I confusing photographers with rioters? No. Does some of this information come from Alt/Right? It has to because the mainstream media will ignore it or dodge the issue. Trump probably won because no one trusts the main stream sources. Proof is more likely to come from WikiLeaks, and investigative panels. The events that spawed this are behind closed doors by intention.

Rex Larsen's picture

Such colorful language describing Americans reacting to the outcome of a provocative presidential election.
"Thugs." "Immature." "Overly sensitive." "Self righteous little boys and girls have failed to grow up." "Looking for an excuse to protest." My hunch is these words are tame compared to what was said about protesters marching for the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote, and those who gathered with loud voices to advance civil rights, and end the war in Vietnam. The people marching for clean safe water in Flint Michigan may find some critics here as well. "Cry babies"

What stands out as absurd is the belief that people are paid to act as protesters. What other motivation could there be ? An important picture to get would be the "protesters" receiving their paychecks.

JeanLuc LaBarre's picture

Rex. Please, please tell me you did not just compare **peaceful** civil rights campaigners and women's vote marchers to these masked, foul mouthed louts.
I think that is absolutely insane.
What happened was an entirely left wing press just spent a year convincing these leftist kids (and you) that Trump was unelectable, and it backfired.
Why do I keep referring to their political leanings? Well, how many times do you hear about conservatives rioting and setting fire to things when their candidate doesn't get in?

Rex Larsen's picture

JeanLuc, when you say peaceful you must have not have seen the images of dogs and fire hoses. The strategy of the right is to demonize. It's more effective than turning over a car. The President is a secret Muslim who will take all guns away and bring down America. Government will be brought to a grinding halt for 8 years. Secretary Clinton is a Criminal. That strategy has worked.

You are wrong, the "left-wing press" didn't convince me Mr Trump was unelectable. I saw George W. Bush elected twice.

President Obama makes a strong point when he says "elections have consequences." We will be seeing those consequences each day.

JeanLuc, will we see a picture of the "professional protesters" receiving their pay checks ?

And, is it "left-wing" to publish quotes and tweets from Mr. Trump and show videos of him speaking ?

Wow, so much misinformation. I don't wish to insult, I will instead encourage you to question with boldness and explore some additional news sources.

Anonymous's picture

Of course he can answer for himself but what is the relevancy of your question to the subject at hand?

Anonymous's picture

Of course I have an idea but I don't like to make assumptions despite the frequency with which I do.
Since you're inviting it, though, you DO know that Hillary Clinton started the "birther" movement, right?

These people who are rioting are employees of someone trying to stir the pot. Look at Craigslist under event gigs where they advertise. The pay is $ 100.00 a gig. Nice photos.
greg

Rex Larsen's picture

What a great story to follow and photograph if it is true as Greg Chapel says. Groups of people around the United States acting as protesters for $100 each. It should create some strong pictures and be easy to sell with the help of a a good agent. Are the fake "rioters" paid in cash or is it on the books ? Who is financing this effort ? Does their employer help if there is legal trouble ?
Perfect for the New York Times Sunday magazine.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

Greg- Do you have a link for that...I could use $100

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