The Ethical Window

Del Loewenthal is a psychologist who developed an approach to photography that categorises images into four distinct categories depending on who has the power in the relationship and who benefits from the production of the image.

As an individual task ahead of next week we were asked to construct our own Ethical Window with images that we think fit the categories and then explain the reasoning behind the selection.

I’ll now show you my version of the window with my selected photos and then explain in further detail below.

My selection of images for the Ethical Window.


As you can see from my selection in the bottom left sector is 1,1. This photograph of a protester was organised with a photographer to obtain an image to further the cause of the Black Lives Matter campaign. Both Photographer and Subject agreed on the content and where it would be used. The protester Ms Reid stood atop this plinth in Bristol, UK when the Edward Colston statue was removed by protesters as a symbol, a statue of her was created as another symbol, and now this photo of her is even more symbolic. She benefits from the image, her cause benefits and the photographer benefit all from the collaborative way they worked together to obtain the image. Reid and the photographer have equal power in this situation.


1,2 is a tragically upsetting photograph of a victim of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre, New York and was criticised heavily after it’s first publication as a cruel and inhumane image to have captured. Since then it has been heralded as an important image from the event and ensured the personal stories were present in the coverage of the attack. It’s not clear enough to identify the person so is considered by some in the US as the Unknown Victim in a similar manner to the Unknown Soldier in war memorials.

The person in the image is not aware that this image is being made, and is not going to benefit in any way from the capturing of the event. The photographer, Richard Drew, saw it amongst a number of other images he’d taken and whilst it seems sick to the general public, images like this can help to piece together events in an evidential form. One might imagine other photographers turning away from the scene to avoid capturing this type of image, but journalistic photographers are trained to capture the image first and ask ethical questions later. The photographer has all of the power in this instance and is not impacted by any other external opinion when taking the photograph.


2,2 in the top right of my Ethical Window shows an unnamed American soldier who would have known the photograph was being taken and may even have posed for it, the shellshock might make this doubtful but still possible. The photograph would then be fully controlled by the photographer who would use it in any way they deemed fit. Soldiers are aware that photo-journalists like Sir Don McCullin are on the battlefield and whilst some play up for the camera, it appears that this individual was too disturbed by previous events.

It’s a great example to show how the horrors of war and conflict affect even the strongest of individuals. I see it as a strong Anti-War photo and it’s an important document to show the outcome of war upon citizens brought in to fight.

In this image I would say that the subject and photographer have each some power, if anything the photographer has a greater amount of power but the photographed might still retain some agency in the decision.


In the top left corner is 2,1 and a picture of the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin. He was deemed by many as a dictator with questionable motives and very questionable methods. He would have had this portrait specifically captured in this manner and exercised full and final control. No question about it, Stalin has all of the power in this relationship with the photographer.

He would have designed the aesthetic and how and where it would be used to make him look like a heroic figure. Stalin knew how important photographs were and later, during the Great Purge, when he removed a huge number of political threats using execution and torture, would edit people out of images to make people disappear from history. I doubt the photographer would have been able to use this image anywhere else other than places specifically prescribed by the “Party” leadership at the time. The photographer may have benefitted from the creation of the image but he would have been there purely as a technical consultant to help achieve the designed output.


It is interesting to note that Stalin would have had ultimate control of how his image was produced and “The Falling man” had zero control whatsoever. Both images have been important in the history of the human race in the 20th and 21st centuries but for differing reasons. I would never have categorised images in this manner before but I see some benefit on the approach as it helps to understand the reasons behind the photograph and whether it is fair to all involved.

The photo of the BLM protestor is important too as a way of spreading the message for the campaign and it highlights the toppling of the statue of the slaver to be replaced by a strong, young, black, female who is fully empowered. The US Marine is not empowered at all and appears to be a hollow husk of a man ready to be captured on film because he cannot find the energy or reason to complain about having his likeness captured.

The benefits to the photographed and the photographer can generally be ascertained by looking at the context the image was made in and sometimes a little explanatory sentence can be very helpful. It’s a good way to spot if people are being exploited during the course of their practice, whether it be the subjects or the person behind the camera.

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