This morning I received an email from a person who had seen my site and the image of a girl who has scarred herself through self-harm.

Not receiving mail on this image very often, I was interested to hear what the person had to say but found that I was being involved in part of their harming process. The mail contained a request to make the person “famous” and included two images of their fresh injuries and a photo of the sender. Aside from sending a link to a support group, it’s hard to think what else I should say. In a way, this is a similar situation to the dead horse comments as it is being assumed that I can offer some answers/help/support to a stranger just because I shot the image. However, when safety and injury are involved, it’s hard to just dismiss it.

When a photographer shares an image, does that make them responsible in any way to justify it or is their job completed purely by displaying it? It’s easy to assume the latter is correct but can this just lead to people shooting images with no message or intention other than to shock? I know this happens all the time in the art world but for press photography, are the rules any different?

Despite my questions, I know where I stand on this subject as I believe that each story needs it’s own consideration and thought. Sometimes, you just have to trust in the strength of the viewer.

11 Responses to “The question of responsibility”

  1. Hi Leon. That’s some cry for help. Interesting that they came to you for ‘fame’. I wonder who it is that they really want to reveal their hurt to – believe me, it’ll be a much smaller audience (even of one maybe?), and I’m sure, deep down, this person knows that fame is not the answer to their pain.
    As for you and the responsibility that comes with your job, I think your only responsibilities are honesty and sensitivity, both of which you never fail to apply. Even your more ‘shocking’ photos have been taken in such a sensitive way that they move the viewers emotions to sadness or anger, the reactions caused by the event captured rather than the reaction to the photo itself.
    I don’t think a press photographer is responsible to justify their images. You are capturing images, not creating them. The world through your eyes etc.
    I hope the person that contacted you finds their way. It’ll take years, but if they were strong enough to e-mail you, they sound like the type of person who will get there in the end. Just remember though Leon – when safety and injury are involved in self-harm, there’s ultimately only one person who can take responsibility for it!
    Love ya. Proud of ya. Beth xXx

    Posted by Beth
  2. Thanks, Beth. It’s an unusual situation to be in and I agree with everything you say on the subject. I just hope that the person has support and help to get through this obviously difficult time.

    Posted by tabascokid
  3. this is a truely touching photo, and I feel deeply for the waman, I think people that go to extents of asking you for help is because you have been in touch with said personand may know how she now copes. mind you there seem to be allot of teenagers that scratch themselve4s up and display it for a fashion statement, I tuely hope this was just one of thoose and it’s a stage that will pass them quickly, self injusy is a dangerous addictive thing and should be dealt with carefully, I’m sure you did the right thing, and the photograph is great, you are displaying pain peopel go through which isnt for attention or some stupid fashin statement, this you cannot call that, I applaud you!

    Posted by Francsesca
  4. Thanks for your comment, Francesca. It’s true that some teenagers may be harming themselves for fashion but anyone who purposefully injures their body for any reason is clearly in need of some help or attention. There are many reasons why people do this with a different message coming from each of them. It just needs understanding from the people close to them to help them to find what assists them best, be it psychiatric help, medication or just someone to talk to.

    Posted by tabascokid
  5. I think that poor girl needs a lot of care and help, i used to self harm.. badly. Now and again that urge to do it comes back and haunts me. Self harm has become a popular form of ”pain relief”. It is one we need to get rid of. Suicide has become a massive ”way out of pain”. These problems need sorting out. If we all work together and help each other, then just maybe this feeling of, depression, worthlessness wouldn’t be felt so often.

    Posted by TrashPhace
  6. As I’m sure you’re aware, there are many reasons for self-harm with some people using it as a cry for help while for others, it is a symptom of their mental illness. The subject receives support and love from all sides so, aside from the inevitable set-backs that life occasionally throws, she’s doing well.

    Posted by tabascokid
  7. Francesca-
    i might point out that even a teenager who ‘scratches themselves up’ as a “fashion statement” is still suffering, if they are prepared to do that to themselves.
    other than that i would like to say that this is a beautiful image, i self harm myself and i like the fact that you have used natural lighting. One day i’d like to just have old scars as well.

    Posted by elle
  8. i will not write a name to define myself, but as i used to cut, i felt the need to correct a little. if im not mistaken, this picture is not showing the ‘fashion trend’ of cutting, it is showing the beauty in brokenness. yes, there are people that cut for the look and/or attention, but i assure you those cuts will not run deep. the cuts shown above are formed with self-hate, in a way it is us showing the way we believe our insides look. ugly, scarred, not loved by a single person. seeing scars is a daily reminder of how broken we are, yet we survive. to me, this picture is extremely inspiring. it makes me feel sane when i see myself, knowing that there ARE people out there with as deep of scars as mine.

    Posted by nonameneeded.
  9. @nonameneeded As I’ve said before, everyone has their own personal reasons to self-harm ranging from self-hate and low self-worth through to fashion statements and cries for help. All are just as valid as any person who is prepared to cause such physical damage to themselves cannot be dismissed just because of what they state are the reasons.

    In this case, the cause is mental illness with the subject cutting herself to both feel a release of pressure caused by incidents in her life and assuage feelings of guilt for the damage that cutting herself caused. It’s a truly vicious cycle. During her darker times, she told me that she felt no pain at all as she cut herself, only a real rush of physical relief.

    Following on from how I opened my comment, the reasons for doing such a thing should be irrelevant as anyone who feels the need to do this is in need of help, whether through medical assistance or just someone to talk to.

    I hope your situation has improved and that the future holds happiness and security for you.

    Posted by tabascokid
  10. Hi, i came across your image through a friend in university, at the moment i myself am doing a project that involves displaying scars and marks. And i really found this image moving.
    I myself have scars from other things but was wondering why you shot your image in this way? Just so i can include it within my research. And also a few professional advice on press photography. Such as the things it involves and the work you get. Im very into analogue and documentary photography however try to experience a bit of everything.
    this is says a lot and i really like that you decided not to include the sitters face as it could have drawn the attention more towards her and her own story therefore making it less accessible for a wider audience to connect with in a more personal level as it has done.
    Thank you for your time

    Posted by Letitia
  11. Hi Letitia, I’m glad you like the shot. Despite it being one of my earlier pictures, I’m still proud of it. As you have recognised, I did not want the person to distract from the impact of the scars as far more can be read through expressions and first opinions of people on their looks. Framing it this way was the best way of keeping the subject neutral. You mentioned your research above; what is the course that you are taking?

    Regarding professional advice on press photography, it’s such an open ended subject, it’s not something that I can exactly condense into handy nuggets. Just shooting lots of pictures is a good place to improve!

    Posted by tabascokid

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