Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 1999/01/12

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Subject: Re: [Leica] ethics of staging
From: Alan Ball <>
Date: Wed, 13 Jan 1999 08:29:58 +0100

Just back from a trip and read with great interest the thread related to
the staging of pics by masters of street photography such as Doisneau
and HCB.

I would like to submit my own opinion regarding this exchange.

First of all, I find really unimportant to know that some of those
wonderful historical images have been staged by the photographer or not.
I find it much more imporant to know if the models have received a
chance to due retribution for that staging if the picture becomes
commercially successful (i.e. signed a release form or received a model

There is a difference between hard core university type documentary
work, where staging would amount to transform a situation into another
one with a hidden agenda in the mind of the photographer, and
photographic work much more related to the communication of feelings
through expressions, composition and light (the work of Doisneau, HCB
and many others).

I have seen many situations where photo journalists ask the subjects to
repeat gestures allowing different angles of view or asking other people
to move in or out of the view. We all have seen the preparation of pre
and post-negociation pics for example. Is that staging ? If it is, 90pct
of CNN footage and of press images implicate at least some amount of
staging. Keeping the kids from waving towards the camera is staging,
since the kids are really there but hidden because of the photographer's
or cameraman's orders. Asking someone to look at the camera is staging
since that person was not looking at the camera....

The fact that some of the people in many Salgado pictures are looking
straight at the lens shows that - to some degree - the photographer has
influenced the reality of the scene. Either by his attitude, either by
his words. Maybe his noticed presence has prevented revolt, maybe it has
provoked it. Is this staging ?

When a nature photographer brushes dirt from a mushroom or sprays
droplets of water on it, he is staging his image. If he attracts an
animal with a bait, he is staging his image.

There are obvious ethical limits to the amount of acceptable staging of
course. Those limits have a lot to do with the captionning of the image
and with the objective seriousness of a situation. A pic of a crying
wounded kid taken after a car accident in Texas may NOT be presented as
a young victim of Columbian paramilitaries, to illustrate this in an
extreme way. 

The 'staged' pics of Doisneau do NOT cross the ethical boundaries I
agree with. I believe those boundaries are socially acceptable as well,
unless he robbed the models from their normal chance to a fee. They do
convey the mood, the light, the culture of a precise place at a precise
moment of time. They completely fulfill their documentary AND esthetical

To my eyes, there are very few cases of 'pure' photography (pure candid
pics, real paparazzi work, etc). Photography generally implies
interaction between photographer and subject. It is the viewer's mission
to ALWAYS remain critical and not give more credit to an image than to
text: both are as near reality and truth or as far from them as the
photographer and the editor themselves.