Debate Over Fabienne Cherisma Photos Rekindled After Award Given

During the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, a number of images that became widely discussed were of 15-year-old Fabienne Cherisma, who was shot and killed by police after looting two plastic chairs and three framed pictures. One of these photographs (shown above), captured by photographer Paul Hansen, was recently chosen as the best International News Image at the Swedish Picture of the Year Awards. There was soon a good deal of discussion in the Swedish media over the ethics of such an image.

At the center of the controversy is an image made by photographer Nathan Weber, showing a group of photographers crowded around the body:

This behind-the-scenes look depicting photojournalists crowded around the scene of a tragic incident (continuing even after the family arrived and were grieving) shows what commonly needs to take place for the powerful images you see on the front page of newspapers and magazines.

What is your opinion on the ethics of this photograph? Should Hansen’s photograph have been selected for the award?

(via Prison Photography)

Image credits: Top photograph by Paul Hansen. Second photograph by Nathan Weber and used with permission

  • Luke Turner

    Sure at first look this looks disgusting. But things like this need to be documented, the world needs to know. If there was nothing that these men could do for her, I see no harm in photographing her for journalistic purposes.

  • nickgerber

    It is sad that we have the “If it bleeds it leads” mentality in news, however, I’d rather have it be something that gets exposed rather than photographers not taking the picture. As long as horrors such as this exist in our world they should be documented. The thing that makes me most sad is that for this one girl there were a dozen other equally horrific things happening where the photographers could be better served documenting those.

  • Brian Leadingham

    I agree these situations are brutal and difficult. But journalists often need to take the difficult pictures in order for the world to learn the true. It doesn’t mean they are callus or untouched by the events.

  • Brian Leadingham

    I agree these situations are brutal and difficult. But journalists often need to take the difficult pictures in order for the world to learn the true. It doesn’t mean they are callus or untouched by the events.

  • Scott Javoroski

    I see no problem with photographing what happened to her for historical purposes. What this flock of “photographers” is doing is nothing more than what the paparazzi do to celebrities in Hollywood. They swarm and shoot hundreds of pictures and then pore over them in a vain attempt to find the most sensational picture that they can then sell. This “award winning” picture was obviously shot with the intentional distortion and is retouched. It loses it’s humanity and the effect, you could create a photo like this in Photoshop just as easily.

  • Adamscotti

    Weber’s photo should have won, mixes both the story of the girl, and the evolution of photojournalism. Sure as hell is more representative of the evolution of photojournalism than the Hipstamatic photos of war.

  • Alistair Parker

    The first image sadly reflects the questionable ethics of much of modern journalism not least photo-journalism. The second photograph is the one which should be applauded and considered for an award for honest journalism.

  • Bárbara Herrnsdorf Photography

    I agree with most of the previous two comments but, where I draw my line, is if the family has arrived, and it is no longer just at ‘the heat of the moment,’ photographers need to back off. When we see the first image, yes, we are shocked and also think and feel myriad of things and it surely does need to be ‘seen’ by the rest of the world and true, the second photo does put a different ‘spin’ on it, the reality is exactly what the first commenter here states, “If there was nothing that these men could do for her, I see no harm in photographing her for journalistic purposes,” which then will have value and hopefully her death will not have been completely in vain, but, there also needs to be humanity in it as well. We have all been there when we know that ‘the shot has been lost’ for whatever reason…perhaps the subject has been lost from sight, perhaps something obscures the view, or maybe the subject moved out of where we hoped to shoot them etc. and well, sorry, but, the shot is lost. That needs to apply also at a certain point to allow for dignity and respect not only of the victim, but the family and loved ones.

  • jbird

    Another example of the exploitation of brown (dead) bodies by the white masculine gaze. Just look at all the photographers taking photos. We can argue about the need of photographing to document an event and the ‘truth’ of the photo, but this photo provides no context to the event at all and photos never provide a ‘true’ reflection. What ‘truth’ is this photo trying to portray and what is the point of it? The body in this photo is only an object or a prop to some sort of commentary or fabrication of ‘truth’ created by the photographer. I think the photo showing the photographers is more important and provides more context to what happened to the girl and the exploitation of disasters and the impoverished who suffer most often from these events.

  • bf

    is that guy actually smiling there or it is only my screen…?

  • Anonymous

    As technically interesting as the 1st image is, the 2nd one however is more emotionally compelling for me.

  • Cmiles456

    Nothings wrong with it winning, without photographers there to capture everything it can make it easier for the rest of the world to neglect situations like these.

  • Graysmith

    You could argue that a photo that was taken by a number of photographers shouldn’t win an award as there’s nothing unique about it when ten others have taken the exact same thing just from different angles and such, but I have no real issue with it winning an award, it’s certainly a powerful story. I will say though, I personally have a problem with the use of the (extreme) wide-angle lens, which makes it seem more like an art photo than a news photo. News photography should be about capturing reality, and in that way this photo in particular feels a bit too “composed”. But that’s just personal preference, I guess.

    As for the second photo, it looks just terrible, exploiting and cold with these “vultures” standing over the body, but let’s be honest here: they’re just doing their jobs. This is what they’re paid to do. I can’t speak of what might or might not have happened as relatives arrived, if they were intrusive or not since there are no photos of that.. But as bad as that photo looks, that’s just how it is and how it’s gotta be.

  • Happy Tinfoil Cat

    First that I’ve seen of these photos. If it were me, I’d certainly want the world to know about my murder and not silently go into that dark night, ignored, forgotten. This exposed the shooting of a child for a senseless reason. When the family arrives, keep taking photos so that we can see the pain, and empathize. The photojournalists’ job is to show what is happening and should capture everything relevant, let the editor make the decision on printing.

  • Happy Tinfoil Cat

    I really don’t understand your asking for dignity and respect for the kid. The girl is DEAD and there is no such thing as dignity or respect once you are dead. Her feelings will not be hurt. Photographers should not interfere with the family for several reasons, but asking not to photograph their reaction is too much. People need to see that so that they can understand the emotion and hopefully prevent things like this in the future. If you can’t reach the viewers heart, nothing will change. I doubt her loved ones would be embarrassed from the photography and likely just want their little girl back.

  • Calgary Photographer

    Fascinating. This image exposed a gray area in our ethical and moral code as human beings. The very fact that we question whether or not the actions of these photojournalists are right or wrong leads one to conclude there’s an inherent, instinctual and visceral reaction to death.

  • JT81

    Really? You have to throw the white vs black in there? I dont think that has anything to do with anything. I’m sure if there was a white girl laying there they’d do just the same thing. But, everyone knows the majority of the population (95%) in Haiti is “brown”. You can’t control the color of the subject, sorry. The chances that it were someone white was not very good.
    It’s not so much exploitation, it’s mimicry. One photographer sees another, and wants that shot too. Not so much about the “white” man exploiting a “brown” girl. Think about the impact of the photo, and how the cops shot her. The photographers did not. They are simply telling the story. Would we know about it otherwise? I do agree with other people though that as soon as the family showed up, it was time to stop and let them properly grieve.
    The only reason you see this photo is because it’s grabbed a lot of attention. There are plenty of other photos that show those who have suffered through this event.

  • unsilent majority

    It’s not about these scenes needing to be documented as much as it is about the person taking the image doing so to win an award or to get noticed. The mentality of the photographer is sometimes hard to digest, and so when we see such images in that mindset, we tend to shake our heads. Seeing the second photo, it tells me more about the worthlessness of liofe than it does about having to capture the moment to document it so that the world can see what goes on . . . as if we need help to realize all this . . as if we are too dumb to figure out by now that these types of things don’t happen in this world. We tend to create bullshit in our reasoning so that we can make a great scented flower we can all pretend to appeal to, when at the end of the day it is just the photographer and the corpse, and we just wait to see and gawk or cringe. There is nothing to document, only competiotions to enter and names to further. . . all bunched up and casually taking a bite from the corpse . . . a pound here and a pound there . . . it’s ok . . she is already dead and we can pretend to be vultures in disguise . . . nobody cover her up . . . we need to document the blood and brains and make sure that the sky is just right and composition spot on. Maybe if you are lucky, you might get the pulitzer prize. You can sernd a thank you note to the people that shot her in the head for stealing a bunch of frames, or whatever the hell it was.

    Fascinating??? you can’t expose something that is already out in the open. We have had enough wars and enough crime to realize such. . . I understand, it’s a moment to capture, for some, but I will not pretend it is to document what goes on for the greater good. I would rather read about it in a William Faulkner novel that drool over an image that tells me absolutely nothing. At least in a novel you are afforded more poetic justice . . more food for thought.

    . . . and if you want to document the grieving people, take a video so that people can hear the screams too. Document as much as we already know that goes oin in this world to make it a better place and to let people know what goes on. Photojournalism at its best, right here. . .

    a much better photo would be to stand behind the family after it arrived and started to grieve, and take a photo from the back obscuring the body on the floor . . . and not to bunch up around the corpse like you own it. . . just so that you can “document it for us.”

    If you want to document something like this, atleast try to add some thought to it and eran your pulitzer, or whatever the hell it is.

  • Brian

    I wonder if these photographers would ‘document’ such incidents the same in their own countries, to their own neighbors, to members of their own families. I highly doubt it.

    I don’t know… this image just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

  • Tristan

    I think the debate needs to go further with this image. I have seen the same subject with body in different positions. I have yet to hear a conclusive answer of whether she was moved around by other Haitians and photographed at different times by different photographers or if – as is looking like a possibility by the image above with the crowd of photographers – she was ‘posed’ by different photo journalists to try differentiate their images.

  • David Mason

    Notice that all the photojournalists are white. Motives?

  • Nathan Caulford

    Yes. It is a powerful reminder of the darker side of humanity. It raises questions for me – causing me to examine something that, before this picture, was completely outside my consciousness; something important to be conscious of. Knowledge that gives me choice to act and make a difference.

    The question that comes to me about human nature is what was the state of the police, such that they were willing to shoot a teen-aged girl over such a seemingly small infraction? Is a young human life worth less than a few objects? Even given that their perceived value must be infinitely higher in “that world” than it is in “my world”.

    What is the part of the human psyche that must be addressed, so that we might avoid such acts in the future, or can such acts be prevented at all?

    This creates awareness, raises very important questions, and gives us the choice to act.

  • Eric Lauri Kulo

    A long post doesn’t necessarily make it a thoughtful one. You begin by saying there’s no thought behind the photo. Now obviously you don’t know who Paul Hansen is by saying such. He’s one of the top photographers from Sweden and if anyone can take a photo of a dead girl and still have a thought behind it and with respect – it’s him. So don’t belittle his work.

  • Nathan Caulford

    (Without awareness, there is no choice)

  • Nathan Caulford

    I’m sure their motives are to do their job, regardless of their color. Or did you mean, what were their motives for being white?

  • Fay Vincent

    I find it strange that there are so many photojournalists in one place. Surely we associate them as lone documenters tirelessly looking for a great ‘story’. Almost looks staged. I can see seven photographers there – surely they produced 100s of images of the same thing between them. What was so different about the one image they chose?

  • Nathan Caulford

    I think of Hurricane Katrina. It was tragic. Lots of U.S.-based journalists covered it. Some horrific images came out of it. Maybe I’m naive, but I would at least like to believe that none of them were taken in bad taste. Shootings happen every day in every major city in the U.S. That’s the reality we face. That’s the reality that journalists cover. As a journalist these are the images that make it suck to be a journalist sometimes; the images that you just can’t get out of your head at night. But that’s the job of the journalist to tell the story, however bad it tastes, or however bitter the pill is to swallow. It’s up to the viewer to decide how to treat the images and what to think about them. And again, I hope it doesn’t come from naivete, but I think organizations give awards for treating and portraying a situation like this as delicately as possible, and treating and portraying the human subjects of these works with the highest degree of dignity such that it is, in some way, apparent in the work itself.

  • Heartbeat

    I read an article in a Swedish newspaper about this and if I recall correctly, the girl’s family wanted the photographers to take pictures so the world would know how their daughter died. Sure the paparazzi style gathering of photogs look awful but it’s nothing compared to a lost life.

  • Mark

    Personally, I don’t think the first photo qualifies as Photojournalism or a News Image. The first photo is not objective or give a fair and accurate representation of the events where the second photo does.

    The first photo is taken in such a way as to portray the photographers feelings of the situation… which puts it into the category of Art Photography.

    So the question is really: “Should we be using other peoples misery for our own art?”

  • Michael Zunenshine

    I think the second photo, by Nathan Weber, is even more deserving of attention.

  • Jen Nay

    The second photo is disturbing. But I agree that there is nothing those photographers could have done to help her. I feel more comfortable about this knowing the photographer had the permission of the girl’s family to take/publish/display this photo, hoping that someone will be inspired to take action and make a difference in the world.

  • John

    So if your child were shot on the street, you would be okay with a swarm of photographers sticking a lens in your grieving face?

    Frankly, it makes me sick to my stomach every time I hear a PJ justify a flagrant lack of respect with the obligatory “the people have a right to know”. Apparently, the “right” to satisfy people’s insatiable voyeurism supersedes basic human values.

  • unsilent majority

    I don’t appeal to popularity or history, and when I speak about someone’s work it’s best to not know who it is so that you focus on as much objectivity as possible plain honest and undisguised . . . . and belittling has nothing to do with it. So, whoever Paul Hanson is or represents in your eyes should have no bearing on what we see and opinionate on. I read what you say about, “if anyone can take a photo of a dead girl and still have a thought behind it and with respect – it’s him,” and I respond by saying that I can also take a photo of a dead person going wide and moving in for persepctive, making sure that exposure is right and I got the angle down stat, and thankful for a dramatic sky, etc . . . . but photojournalism is not about great photography as it is about capturing great moments or recording moments in time that apply to some editorial. . . THAT is why I say the second image speaks volume, rather than the first. The photographers maybe were not “lucky” enough to capture the moment when the shooting happened . . so um . . “thank god” they then had the corpse all to themselves so that they can take their time and . . . . . record history for us.

  • Bárbara

    I am sorry you don’t understand.

  • Spencer McCall

    I agree with Micheal’s comment. The Weber shot should have received the award. It’s a disturbing photo which comments not only on the Haitian police, but the media as well. Between the war in Libya and the Japan disaster, there just isn’t room for Haiti in the news anymore.

  • HuhWut?

    There is no photoshop involved in that picture. The distortion is a side effect of the wide angle, which is needed to bring context to the photo – as the situation around (smoke in the air, cracks in the ground, and other people walking by as if nothing happened) is just as important to the photo. The context has more humanity and effect than just having a close up of a dead girls face.

  • Aaron

    As a photographer I can guarantee that they would. Beyond any doubt.

  • Jose Batistuta

    Not true… Yes, horrific images came out of Katrina…but they were shot by French photographers ( viz well known shot bloated dead body floating in water in the street ). Just like Soviets used to, US is routinely censoring images from war photographers. Like from Iraq. The woman who shot the well-know shot of coffins of US soldiers covered by US flag as they are being flown home from Iraq – has been fired from her job for publishing them. If it happened, it should be published in unmodified form.

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  • srsly.not.trolling

    Is this tragedy any different than the death of a child in rural America? Some may say yes, but from a mother who lost a child unexpectedly to have parasites trying to profit off someone else’s tragic situation is beyond low. Especially, when the family doesn’t want them there.

    I found my 2 month old daughter in her crib, dead from SIDS. That was hard enough, but to have these vulture’s sticking their cameras through my windows and doors “trying to get a money shot” as the coroner was trying to take my baby out of my arms is beyond sickening.

    Sure, they didn’t have a story in the end. It still doesn’t change the fact that, they make the heartbreak for a family worse. A mother, father, and brother that couldn’t open a paper or turn on the TV for fear of seeing the child they all lost. Not in a picture of their life, smiling, but in death after rigor had set in and blood had pooled. We were haunted with those images. Seeing them displayed like that made things worse.

  • Tiffany

    I’m a photojournalist myself, and I can guarantee you, even if this was happening in my own country, to my own countrymen I would still have taken photographs to show the world what is happening.

    It’s not just a job for us, it’s a responsibility. Without people like us to take these photos, however tragic, and disgusting and difficult to bear, then most people wouldn’t feel the impact, wouldn’t see what they needed to see.

    If this photo leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, then just be glad you weren’t the one who had to be there, right in front of it. Whether we take pictures or not, these things are still happening.

    And to answer the most terrible part of this question. If this was a member of my family, no, I wouldn’t be photographing it, because I would be in too much grief, but I would expect that if the circumstances were the same that someone would photograph it, to show the world what’s going on.

    We have a responsibility. I’m sorry if that doesn’t sit well with you.

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  • Grodan

    I’m just curious as to what you think makes the first image dishonest. The point of photojournalistic images is to be seen, to inspire emotion, to tell a story. I think both photos do that. The second photo, however, makes the story about the journalists rather than the tragedy that had befallen the Haitian people. It’s a side point that’s worth discussing but journalists are there to tell other people’s stories, not their own.

  • Alexandra Pusateri

    Just to be clear: the woman who took that photograph of the coffins wasn’t a photojournalist. She was a cargo worker that worked with the military for years. That’s why she was fired: she violated company policy.

    [ ]

  • Ccltp2004

    Like a Dogs or Buitres

  • Kendyl Mounce

    You’re awesome!

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  • Happy Tinfoil Cat

     Yes, I would be okay with people photographing me in public. I don’t see how I could feel anything towards a photographer, or even give a second thought about them in a situation like that. My ONLY concern would be my child, and not whether I looked photogenic or not. I’d want the world to know what they did to my kid. I, too, get sick to my stomach at tragic senseless killings like these and additionally people’s absolute lack of respect for everyone’s inalienable rights (misconceived notions of ‘right to privacy’ in a public street). Very few news outlets use graphic or morbid images because there simply isn’t a very large market for that kind of thing, so this is not the issue. The people who are more concerned about their appearance than the life of their child make me sick. Photos and videos of grieving family members are extremely powerful images and as such, the images that have the greatest chance to change the status quo.  OR, we can ignore these incidents and pretend they didn’t happen or that anyone is in pain from them. Heck, it’s easier that way, right?

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  • Maffaxxx

    every photo presumes a photographer taking it. whats the point?