Lewis Bush is a photographer, writer, and educator. After studying history and working in international development he began working with photography in 2012. His work explores the workings of contemporary power, from the aggressive redevelopment of London, to the systemic inequalities of the art world. He has recently completed Shadows of the State, which has maps the covert radio stations used by intelligence agencies. Bush has written extensively on photography, and between 2011 and 2016 he ran the Disphotic blog. He has curated numerous exhibitions and is lecturer in documentary photography at London College of Communication.
" 'Good Photojournalism’: Educating Ethical Image Makers"
When it comes to teaching ethical practice, photojournalism and documentary photography education has tended to place heavy emphasis on traditional industry doctrines about what constitutes acceptable behaviour. These guidelines have, for example, included prohibitions on the certain types of image manipulation and direct interventions by photographers into the scenes they are depicting. Yet the limitations of these guidelines, many of them formulated almost a century ago, are becoming increasingly apparent in the 21st century. In the face of new imaging technologies and structural transformations to the photojournalism industry, it is increasingly clear that these guidelines are sometimes more about protecting the public perception of journalists than they are about enforcing ethical practice. Indeed, in many cases these guidelines hamper photographers in documenting important issues, and in some situations, can even lead them to act unethically.
In response to this challenge I have drawn inspiration from the legendary photojournalist W. Eugene Smith (1918-1978), who despite being widely considered a paragon of good photojournalism also routinely broke many of the aforementioned industry strictures, even going so far in one interview as to remark that since he didn’t write the rules he didn’t see why he should follow them. Inspired by this observation, I have been increasingly eschewing classroom proscriptions based on industry guidelines, experimenting instead with ways to enable students to develop their own ethical individual frameworks.
Recognising that ethics are a form of situated knowledge that emerge from the mileu of their specific context, my aim is not to equip students with a pre-formed set of rules about what constitutes ethical journalistic or documentary practice, but to equip them with the critical tools to develop and constantly update their own ethical frameworks. To do this I have been employing a variety of approaches, from encouraging a more expansive range of photographic techniques to be used (including allowing the use of traditionally forbidden techniques like manipulation and staging in certain well-defined circumstances), to frequent classroom discussions and analysis of case studies and hypothetical situations where traditional ethical guidelines fall short, and case studies where photographers have broken these guidelines but in doing so achieved a photographically and ethically positive result. My aim is to produce students who are not only to visually ‘good’ photographers who use the photographic tools appropriate to their chosen subjects, but who are also ethical agents in the making of their own work, and critical thinkers in terms of the industry they operate within.