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Photojournalism ethics: response from Ron Haviv

I got super excited yesterday when I read on twitter VII photo agency were going to be doing a Reddit AMA session. You may recall I had some questions for Ron Haviv from my post about the breakdown of ethics in photojournalism. Duckrabbit have in the past tried to ask Mr Haviv about the same issue which you can read here. In haste, I carefully crafted my question in 140 characters and posted it on twitter and then  – nothing!

To be fair, VII had advertised the AMA session on Reddit so I followed the link and grabbed my opportunity. I wasn’t sure if I’d get an answer but it was worth a shot.

My question to Ron Haviv:

How is it acceptable to work for one of the biggest arms manufacturers in the world and sell pics for an ad for a bomb and photograph victims of war & suffering? Is there not a conflict here? What are your ethics?

Ron’s reply:

“I don’t think there is. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have done it. The work wasn’t photographed for an ad and the commercial work wasn’t used editorially. The complaint is how do I reconcile being associated with a defense company.

In actuality and this might be hard to understand and I understand there are different viewpoints but throughout my work from Panama to the Balkans to Somalia etc-the goal has been to raise awareness and galvanize a response.

I think it’s pretty naive to assume that the response would not be of a military nature when needed. I support humanitarian intervention, detente and defense as I’ve seen what can happen when those things don’t exist.

I am comfortable with where I set the boundaries. I also appreciate and respect that there are many different views about where those boundaries lie.”

I’m still musing over Ron’s reply. He says he doesn’t see a conflict between working for the world’s largest defence contractor and photographing victims of war. To me there is a clear conflict, I’m struggling with this. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

He then goes on to clarify that the work wasn’t photographed for an ad and the commercial work wasn’t used editorially. I know the picture originally appeared in his book, Afghanistan: The Road To Kabul. It was sold to Lockheed Martin as a stock picture.

Picture of a book, Afghanistan: The road to kabul by Ron Haviv and a double page spread showing a dry mountainous landscape with tracks disappearing into the horizon.

Picture of a dry mountainous landscape in Afghanistan showing tracks leading flames and smoke in the horizon
Pic used to advertise a small diameter bomb by Lockheed Martin, the biggest defence contractor in the world.

I’m not quite sure what Ron means by:

and the commercial work wasn’t used editorially.’ 

Does that somehow make it less problematic and more acceptable? How so? Surely, being used to advertise bombs is about as bad as it can get. Help me out here Ron.

The rest of his response is a vague jumble of words which I’m still trying to understand. He failed to explain what his ethics are and has caused even more confusion.

I asked Ron to clarify the following:

Regardless of whether the work was photographed for an ad or not, the fact is you sold one of your stock images to advertise a small diameter bomb by Lockheed Martin which is used by aircraft to kill people and that includes innocent men, women and children.

I don’t understand what you mean by ‘the commercial work wasn’t used editorially?’ Would that make it any worse than being used to advertise bombs?

What precisely are you trying to raise awareness of?

It may be naive to assume a military response would not be needed but that doesn’t justify being part of the supply chain for weapons that will cause death and suffering unless of course, you have no objection to causing death and suffering.

Here’s a simple analogy, imagine a photographer covering the impact of smoking and highlighting the wrecked lives, the pain and suffering but at the same time working for the manufacturers of the cigarettes to advertise the very items causing the death, pain and suffering.

Can you see the difficulty I’m having reconciling your position, particularly as a leader in the industry and a role model for so many photographers. What hope do we have of creating a better world when we sell our ethics so cheaply for a fistful of dollars. I’m disappointed Ron and I think the industry deserves better.

I’d be interested to know what your boundaries are? I think it would be important to the discussion of ethics in the industry to share that.

To date, Mr Haviv has failed to respond any further. To save any confusion I think there is only really one question:

“What are your boundaries Ron?”

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Published in ethics photojournalism


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