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Perceiving Suffering: Ethical Implications of Photographic Transparency

Perceiving Suffering: Ethical Implications of Photographic Transparency

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Published by: api-3738298 on Nov 26, 2009
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Perceiving Suffering: Ethical Implications of Photographic Transparency
Maia R. Falconi-Sachs

A Thesis submitted to the Faculty
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the

Samuel G. Ruhmkorff, Thesis Advisor
Arthur Hillman, Second Reader
Tanya Marcuse, Third Reader
Mary B. Marcy, Provost and Vice President
Simon\u2019s Rock College of Bard
Great Barrington, Massachusetts

There has been a long standing debate in the fields of both philosophy and photography over the
ethics of photographing people who are suffering. Up until now the ethical debates about
documentary photography depicting human suffering have failed to consider the philosophical
debate on photographic transparency and the consequences it has for these ethical dilemmas,
which I believe to be an oversight of serious consequence.

This debate on photographic transparency focuses on the question of what it is that makes us
consider photographs to have a superior status as a medium of visual representation. and the
transparency theory states that photographs give us actual visual access to their depicta. I have
found that the transparency thesis has considerable implications for ethical disputes on the
representation and viewing of human suffering through photography.
In this thesis I draw the connection between photographic transparency and the ethics of
documentary photography and examine some of the fundamental ethical debates in photography
with the assumption of photographic transparency. Due largely to the fact that it often seems to
be the situations in which there is human suffering being photographed and displayed that spark
the most ethical debate, this thesis focuses primarily on the ethical dilemmas that come up in
relation to photographs which depict human suffering.

For my Grandmothers, Harriet Sachs and Amada Falconi, whom always believed in me and
lovingly pushed me to take many of the paths which have led me here.

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