Would you pay to take someone’s portrait? The ethics of paid portraiture


posted Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 2:45 PM EST


Feature Shoot has put together a very interesting feature about the ethics of paying for portraiture, profiling a number of photographers who both paid to take photos of certain people, and those who refused to—and it raises some very interesting issues about ethics, power, and the relationship between photographer and subject.

One interesting point that the article by Lewis Bush brings up is that many of the situations where photographers pay to take photos of people is if they're already marginalized—specifically sex workers. It's also something that occurs with photography surrounding indigent and homeless people, where photographers will sometimes pay the person to allow them to take a photograph. The fact that this seems to be fairly commonplace with these subjects specifically speaks volumes to the way we interact with these peoples.

The piece doesn't deal with the other point where photographers will sometimes pay their subjects, which is if they're shooting professional models (though sometimes that'll go in the opposite direction, with models paying photographers for portraits, or quid pro quo work)—and many street photographers would balk at the idea of paying their subjects.

The piece delves into discussions of how paying to photograph someone creates a different connection between photographer and subject than a more preferable an organic bond. And it also makes us think about if these relationships are inherently exploitative, if there's money involved or not. One of the big debates around photographing the homeless is if shooting them is using their own difficulties for your gain as a photographer.

It's not something there's an easy answer for, and the piece is an intriguing read—and one that raises some very difficult questions. We'd love to know your thoughts on the matter—would you pay someone to take their picture?

Image: Homeless woman in San Francisco by Franco Folini, used under a Creative Commons license.