Photo Ethics and the Necessity of Licking the Queen’s Neck

© Ricky Flores. African-American protesters take to the streets in Bensonhurst in Brooklyn after the acquittal of Keith Mondello on the charge of manslaughter in the death of Yusef Hawkins  on May 19, 1990 ( Ricky Flores )  Protesters were met by jeers and curses from a mostly Italian community during the demonstration.
African-American protesters take to the streets in Bensonhurst after the acquittal of Keith Mondello on the charge of manslaughter in the death of Yusef Hawkins on May 19, 1990. Protesters were met by jeers from a mostly Italian community during the demonstration. © Ricky Flores

Here we are, continuing to probe into the mind of other photographers so we may hear and learn about (or from!) their experiences. This post is by our dear friend Ricky Flores:

© Ricky Flores. Firefighters raise a flag at the site of the World Trade Center after two passenger jet airplanes slammed into the Twin Towers during a terriost attack on the United States causing a catastrophic collaspe of the buildings on September 11, 2001 (© Ricky Flores/The Journal News)
Firefighters raise a flag after the collaspe of the WTC buildings on 9/11. © Ricky Flores/The Journal News

When I was an intern at Magnum during the mid-1980s, I was able to attend a talk given by Magnum photographer Philip Jones Griffiths about his body of work documenting the war in Vietnam. I asked him how did he understand the difference between taking photos of war then doing corporate photos of executives from companies such as Northrop Grumman and other defense contractors, who made weapons of war that may have killed or injured the people he was photographing.

My fellow interns reacted badly to my question. He quieted them down and replied that it was a fair question and answered it this way:

In England we have a saying: In order to post a letter you have to lick the back of the Queen’s neck.”

He said that he approached those images as technical challenges for himself and didn’t want to think about who the people were. He went on to explain his conflicting emotions about making those portraits and pointed out that the income he generated was a means to an end that help pay for the salaries of the employees at Magnum, and allowed him the freedom to do personal work that he would not have been able to do on his own.

It was the best damn piece of advice I ever got.

© Ricky Flores. From left, Models Cami Shore and Mary Dannegger show off an Elenzon Lace, off the shoulder fitted dress with a chaple train, left, and a mikado silk off the shoulder, fitted and flared trumpet bubble bottom train from Fontana Bridal in Scarsdale at The Ritz-Carlton Something Blue bridal show in White Plains February 22, 2009 (Ricky Flores /The Journal News)
This is a good example for me: "Models Cami Shore and Mary Dannegger show off an Elenzon Lace, off the shoulder fitted dress with a chaple train, left, and a mikado silk off the shoulder, fitted and flared trumpet bubble bottom train from Fontana Bridal in Scarsdale at The Ritz-Carlton Something Blue bridal show in White Plains February 22, 2009." © Ricky Flores/The Journal News

Throughout my career as a photojournalist for a corporate newspaper, that advice continues to play in the back of my mind whenever I had to cover an assignment that I found to be personally distasteful or simply plain boring.

But it also applies to situations in which I want to push myself beyond my technical comfort zone to produce something beyond the editorial photographs that I do on a daily basis.

It is a constant challenge to stay motivated when you shoot for a living five days a week, and you try not to produce the same old image from the same old event.  Although the majority of the images that I do are not even near as so sharply conflicting as the ones Griffiths faced doing those annual reports, that advice still applies.

Ricky Flores, Photographer
New York, September 2009

**Ricky will be one of the reporters/journalists at an upcoming event for Puerto Rican Photographic Society’s NYC Collective on November 7, 2009.  The lineup includes New York Times‘ journalist David Gonzalez and photojournalist Angel Franco on a joint workshop on photography and storytelling, and a photo critique session with Franco and Flores.**

Happiness is a warm gun, Bang-Bang.  Julee Cerda on the set of "Looking For These?" A small horror film short produced by Edwin Pagan and Arnold Acevedo August 29, 2009.  © Ricky Flores
Julee Cerda on the set of "Looking For These?" A small horror film short produced by Edwin Pagan & Arnold Acevedo, August 2009. © Ricky Flores
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