August 10: The Morality of The Boston Photographs

I first saw the series of three photographs, commonly referred to as the Boston photographs, during my English class last Spring. The photos were intriguing because it divided our classroom into (1) The photo's are immoral (2) There is nothing wrong with reporting the news. It's been a while since my initial analysis of the photographs, shot around 1970, but it's an interesting argument. From what I recall, the photographs were taken during a failed rescue attempt in which a young woman, last name Bryant, and a young boy fell from a high fire escape landing. The photographer had no intention to capture the last moment's of the woman's life and boy's fall, but he did. What's so remarkable is that the photographer took the three photos on a motor-driven Nikon F. set at 1/250, f 5.6-s, capturing only 4 frames per second. Today's average phone captures anywhere around 240 photos a second, so to capture these life-changing instances with limited resources took the news by storm.
The photo was found from, ironically, Perilous Aesthetics

The images were published in more than 400 newspapers in the United States: The New York Times ran them on the 1st page of its second section; a paper in South Georgia gave them nineteen columns; the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post; the Washington Star dedicated half their front page; the Star under a somewhat redundant title: Sensational Photos of a Rescue Attempt that Failed. This instantaneously sparked the question: is this right? Was it right for Bryant's last moments to be exploited for the world to see? It really is a yes and no answer. In one sense the pictures are more than phenomenal, their a once in a lifetime opportunity and it also raised the question about the safety of fire escapes during the 70's. At the same time, however, having the Boston photographs published opened it up to harsh and foul critique: "I shall hide my disappointment that Miss Bryant wasn't wearing a skirt when she fell to her death. You could have had some award-winning photographs of her underpants as her skirt billowed over her head, you voyeurs," a reader wrote the Chicago Sun-Times. The Boston photographs are also not the only photos to challenge what should and should not be published. In June 8, 1972,  a photo was taken of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, informally referred to as the Napalm girl, as a young girl walking away from what seemed to be a tragic result of the Vietnam War with no clothes. The photos were widely distributed to show the all-to-true gruesome consequences of war, at the expense of Phan Thi Kim Phuc's privacy.
As much as you might think this is not a real problem, these are still some unanswered questions that have subdivided its constituents.
The question is: should major publishers, newspapers, and news sources be allowed to publish graphic, and to some immoral, images in the media?

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