Thoughts after a week on Princess Di and the Paparazzi : LUSENET : Dirck Halstead : One Thread

"from a very old guy watching this horrible story unfold--let me tell you my friend, time is running out to do something constructive on this blanket accusation of all photo journalists--the average uninformed viewer listening to these so called experts put the finger on photo journalists for everything that has happened in the last 50 years needs tempering very fast. ..believe me Dirck, I feel what you are hearing and viewing is only the start of a tidal wave in this never ending battle--i can just see the next time a guy misses a putt at the masters ,the gallery will attack the paparazzis near the green. cjm"

These words are from my mentor in photojouralism, Charlie McCarty, the former head of Reuters photos, who has been watching and readng our list this past week from Brussels.

We have expended a lot of words this past week, a lot of them trying to defend ourselves or rationalize what we do for a living following a terrible tragedy that is having enormous implications around the world.

I was at the Martha's Vineyard airport tonight covering the departure of the First Lady as she boarded her plane to fly to Princess Diana's funeral.

I found myself looking around me at my collegues,and wondering...which one of them, if they had happened to be in Paris that night, hanging out with their buddies around the front of the Ritz, could have found themselves in jail with the condemnation of the world facing them.

As I looked at them, I realized they were looking at me.

-- Dirck Halstead (, September 12, 1997


Reply to Thoughts after a week on Princess Di and the Paparazzi

Hi Dirck,

Thanks for the 'clippings' sent my way this week. I have watched with interest the earnest debate and soul searching that has been evident. I thought it might be useful to chip in with the perspective of someone outside the field of journalism, yet certainly confronted with issues of privacy that are hurtling towards us with the lightning fast growth of the Internet and accompanying digital technologies.

First, in the actual instance of the accident itself, it is still unclear whether the true blame should rest on reckless driving on the part of the driver more than any actions by chasing photographers. In any event, the public reaction to indict an entire profession based on the alleged actions of a few individuals (actions which are still heresay, not proven) is ludicrous.

It certainly seems healthy and appropriate to use this tragedy as an opportunity to re-examine ethical issues facing photojournalists, journalists and the industry as a whole. It seems to me that there is room for a more defined, if still informal, set of rules governing the lines between public and private life. It is clear that this process has been started.

Unfortunately, however thoroughly this process is, it is unlikely to affect those who most need to be reigned in. Ultimately, there is a big difference between a paparazzi and a photojournalist. One hunts quarry for cash, the other captures news for history. In an age when politics has become a form of show biz, it may be difficult at times to tell the difference. But photojournalists can follow a professional goal and code of ethics. Paparazzi will always live by the rules of the jungle.

The bigger culprit here is the insatiable 'cult of celebrity' on the part of the public. If any fingers are to be pointed, those who consume the tabloids must look to themselves as well. I have seen little evidence of any such self examination. Indeed, this event seems to have fanned the fires of this phenomenon to new heights. As long as the public demands this type of stuff, there will be individuals and companies who supply it.

The development of the Internet, despite having many positive consequences, guarantees that this will be so. If the whole mainstream journalism industry - and even the tabloids - were to go through a remarkable transformation in their approach to such material, then it would simply migrate to opportunistic new digital publishers on the Internet. History and circumstances change. Human nature has yet to do so in any meaningful sense.

Of all the responses to this tragedy that are possible, the worst would be to try to legislate a change in human nature. One would hope by the end of the 20th century that most Western governments have learned the futility and destructiveness of this. The freedom of the press is the bedrock of individual freedom and the only guarantor of accountability of the government. This role is even more evident than ever as the power of information technology will give government and large corporations (i.e. the power structure) an unprecedented ability to monitor and track every citizens actions.

We are entering a world where in some senses all of our lives will become miniature versions of Diana's. Every purchase and characteristic of our economic life will be traced. Cameras and sensors will watch us constantly in virtually every public place - and often in the private ones. Fingerprints, retinal scans and even DNA will be used to identify and track us at work and play. [Side note - if the FBI were to get its way in its futile battle against encryption, then even our most private thoughts would be open to information processing technologies]. Like the atomic bomb, there is no putting this genie back in the bottle. The only possible response is ensure the capability of the public to "watch them watching us." The profession of journalism must play a critical role in this.

So, in this new world we must sacrifice to a great extent the conventional notion of privacy. What do we get in return? The democratization of information on an unprecedented scale in history. Information always has been and always will be a key element of power. The printing press (and later broadcast) brought with it yellow journalism and today's tabloids. Yet is also broke the hold of the elites on information and made possible truly democratic nations. This is why courageous journalists are murdered by dictators and drug lords around the world.

Yet economic and political power remains controlled and manipulated by a small minority. The Internet holds the promise - still distant - to break that lock. I'm not talking about equality here, which is chimerical, but true equality of opportunity. So, I remain an optimist. I believe that people can be trusted, given true choices. Yes, there will always be an appetite for luroid tabloid snapshots of future Diana's trials and tribulations, but there will also be so much more to choose from that is likely to ultimately more interesting to a particular individual.

The process of self-examination is a healthy one, and I applaud it. But freedom also has its price. In life we often must choose between paths that are unclear and lead to unknown destinations. There is no shame in erring on the side of freedom. You and your profession have served us all well.

Geoff Halstead Alpha Base Interactive The Interstation Group

-- Geoff Halstead (, September 12, 1997.

What Can I Do?


Your e-mail was so to the point and touching that I may pass it around a bit.

I have been sending this out and it has inturned reached many photographers who have signed it in hopes that we can make a singluar statement in the defense of this wonderful profession we have. May we put your name to it as well?

Photojournalists around the world are being slandered and assaulted after the death of Princess Diana.

As professionals we find this abuse unjustifiable and appalling.

This is a profession that often places the photographer at great personal risk. Photojournalists are often people who feel a powerful social responsibility to document the atrocities of humanity in order to provide evidence to the world. In turn they believe and hope that these documents will make our world a better place. Unfortunately, however, hundreds of photojournalists have been killed attempting to provide this service to society. There are thousands of photographs which stimulate our consciousness, move us to tears or anger; proving our efforts have not been in vain and this is indeed, an honorable profession.

We hope that those who read this will recall photographs which have given us a greater understanding of our world and who we are. Behind every one of those amazing images stood an intelligent and honorable man or woman. They have provided us with a light to see. As a human beings and as a photojournalists we are deeply indebted to them and to this profession as a whole.

Today the media, particularly television, is in the process of publicly executing this honorable and important profession. The accident that took place in the Alma tunnel last Saturday night is a tragedy for everyone. We feel the current all-out assault on photojournalism is completely unjustified. This attack is having highly negative consequences on a serious profession and is, in turn, damaging the fragile fabric of our society.

We implore the media (television particularly) to report the facts and stop publicly convicting an entire profession. In our eyes this is clearly unprofessional journalism of the tabloid nature and we strongly condemn it.

David Brauchli Associated Press

Anthony Suau TIME Magazine

Alain Pierre Hovasse Associated Press

Bill Swersey Gamma Liaison

Richard Ellis Sygma News Photo

Charlie Riedel Hays (Kan.) Daily News

Andrew Tolson Abbotsford News, Abbotsford, Canada

Georges De Keerle Freelance

Frank Gunn The Canadian Press

Wayne Scarberry Stock and Assignment Photography

Michael Zajakowski Director of Photography/The Times of Northwest Indiana

-- Anthony Suau (, September 12, 1997.

I read your note

Someone sent me a copy of your note: it was very powerful and I hope anyone who reads it realizes we all need to look in a mirror before we point fingers. I agree the fallout from this could be of epic preportions for all of us as photojournalists, an example: Our paper this morning, page one (THE NEWS & OBSERVER-RALEIGH/DURHAM,N.C.-- "PAPARAZZI ALREADY TRIED AND CONVICTED MR. DIXON." This was the defense attorney's opening statement as the trial of Dixon opened in Durham, N.C. Dixon was driving a tractor-trailer through a congested construction site on the interstate last year alledgedly 20 miles over the speed limit when he wrecked and killed eight people. As you can see it's now our fault somehow. To make matters worse the judge kicked all photographers out of the courtroom and then even banned them from that floor of the courthouse...put on your seatbelts folks it's gonna be a wild ride.

-- Charles Liddy (Photo - Durham) (, September 12, 1997.

The profession, indeed the calling of a PhotoJournalist is one tha allows almost unbridled access to many events of the 20th century that have been and those of the 21st century to come.

Comparing the Paparzzi who stalk and harrass the unsuspecting/unwilling or (they hope) annoyed celebritys to the legitimate PhotoJournalists who have recorded and allowed so much of history to be passed on in a form that is both meaningful, immediately intuitive and -->tells a story<-- in a single image is compare a professional soldier to a mercenary. One lives by a set of values and standards and the other seeks opportunistic moments to for purely personal gain...there is no dedication beyond self.

Those who would condemn every camera-carrying, press-pass wearing person at an event should remember that many PhotoJournalists have spent time in all venues from the beaches of South Pacific islands and Normandy during WWII to the jungles of Vietnam and other places to do what they loved; tell stories with pictures. PhotoJournalism. Some pictures were never seen for years, others told stories that still resonate today. Some were poigniant, some were fatal for the person who shot them. None were staged, none were taken with the idea of a mega-check deposited, and none were taken to deliberately hurt or cause pain or anguish to the subject.

Perhaps the line might be the drawn at the deliberate actions of the camera-wielding person to provoke a story rather than the recording of an event with no intervention in helping it to unfold.

I have to apologize for rambling or belaboring the obvious, but I remember in my short career as a photojournalist the fascination and joy of watching and recording an just seemed so unthinkable to precipitate any part of it.

I wish that the "experts" who make such a point of being hysterically adamant about punishment of anyone with a camera could have had that experience...even if only for a little while. Maybe they would shut up.

-- Shawn Soni (, September 18, 1997.

I think that english class is very dumb and no one should have to every take it in their life:)

-- Amy Jo James (, April 26, 2004.

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