Photo of Woman Praying Causes Debate About Photojournalism and Privacy


NPR sparked a debate regarding photojournalism, ethics, and privacy this past Monday after publishing a story titled, “What It Feels Like To Be Photographed In A Moment Of Grief” on its photography blog.

The discussion revolved around the photograph above, which AFP photographer Emmanuel Dunand captured in the evening after the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

After publishing the photograph in a piece titled “Newtown Tragedy: Would A Good God Allow Such Evil?“, NPR received a message from the woman in the photo (whose identity wasn’t known at the time), Aline Marie.

Marie wasn’t pleased that her photograph had been snapped without her permission by a number of photojournalists, and subsequently shared around the world. NPR writes that Marie thinks permission should have been asked:

“I sat there in a moment of devastation with my hands in prayer pose asking for peace and healing in the hearts of men,” she recalls. “I was having such a strong moment and my heart was open, and I started to cry.”

Her mood changed abruptly, she says, when “all of a sudden I hear ‘clickclickclickclickclick’ all over the place. And there are people in the bushes, all around me, and they are photographing me, and now I’m pissed. I felt like a zoo animal.”

What particularly troubles her, she says, is “no one came up to me and said ‘Hi, I’m from this paper and I took your photograph.’ No one introduced themselves. I felt violated. And yes, it was a lovely photograph, but there is a sense of privacy in a moment like that, and they didn’t ask.”

NPR also got in touch with Dunand, who told them that he was simply doing his job of making photos to “help tell the story to the world.” He also notes that he didn’t ask for her name in order to not bother her and respect her private moment.

After the story came to light, hundreds of NPR readers left their thoughts on the matter. Many of the best comments were featured the next day in a followup article.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

Image credit: Photograph by Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

  • DeAnn

    She was in a public place. I would have taken the pix as well. She is surrounded by cameras, I have a hard time believing she didn’t notice that.

  • Digital Philosopher

    This is a very tricky situation. Technically, the photographers had the right to take photos. What drew my attention was the woman’s comment, that she felt like a zoo animal. I think basic human empathy should apply – walking to her and express sympathy should not be out of the question.

  • Carrie Sylvester

    I can see all the reporters & photographers in the background. If she wanted her moment to be private she should have done it privately. If he didn’t publish her name and you wouldn’t know who she was unless you knew her….then I think what he did was fine. Would I as a photographer take that photo, no I wouldn’t but I don’t think that he was wrong for taking it.

  • Jenro Toll

    If this was a mother in Syria, Leica would be handing out a prize

  • Jason Wright

    Photo Journalism is there to tell a story, she should be proud that her story is the one being told. I am very sorry for her loss, but there are worse things in the world than having your picture taken.
    There is no winner in such a sad situation, no doubt her grief is fuelling the anger. I hope nobody gets mad with her, she has a right to her feelings.

  • Jason Wright

    Somebody still might give a prize.
    You are right, there is no difference in the photo just in this case the person in it saw the image, the Syrian woman may never even know it was taken.
    They would both probably feel the same.

    I think its a wonderful photo and would have been proud to have taken it.

  • Jenro Toll

    But not Leica – check out the winners of the Oskar Barnack awards for the last 20 years – not a single winner of non-European descent, and almost exclusively photos of people of colour in devastating circumstances

  • Scott Mains

    No tricky situation about it. Public place, no expectation of privacy. Works for police as it does with celebrities, same applies to regular people. Many of the worlds most striking images have shown a horrendous side to humanity (Nick Ut, Vietnam Napalm Girl), grief, mourning, tragedy happens on a regular basis. For those that remember all the images in the wake of 9/11, it was image after image of focusing on the human tragedy that had occurred, and the only way for that to convey into a context that people will understand, or at least relate to is to picture a human face on the other side of it. As someone stated earlier, the woman must have passed a dozen or two photojournalists, news camera crews whatever.

    In terms of questionable ethics… this photograph doesn’t rank up there. Sure it was a moment of reflection for the woman, but for it to be raised amongst a serious discussion in NPR or in any other form of photographic contemporary issues… it becomes a waste of time and can have a negative impact on the image of professional photojournalists.

    It’s bad enough that there is pretty much a witch-hunt on amateur and professional photographers a like both in the US and in the UK taking photographs in a public place, if the public don’t understand their rights when in an open place, they shouldn’t have the decency to complain and kick off a shit-storm of psuedo-ethical practice philosophy of an industry they do not understand.

    Photography and ethical practice of working should be left to professional journalists, ethicist and philosophers…. not amateurs.

  • delastro

    getty images? how much money for the photographer? if money then only for the woman – this is street photography and in germany it is forbidden in this case – in germany public does not mean loss of the personal rights, may be in the us?

  • Björn Lubetzki

    Firstly I would have taken her image as well and I wouldn’t have asked for permission. Because of different reasons. First, I wouldn’t have to. Second, I don’t want to disturb her. She said “nobody came up to me and asked for permission”. If she was crying there and someone had come up to her, I don’t think she would have said “It’s such a nice image, you can use it”. The whole discussion started because she was angry, that she has been disturbed, during a prayer, if someone had gone to her, she probably would have vented all her anger on that person….

  • Ed Lau

    No different than war photographers taking pictures of grief stricken mothers that just lost their children to drone strikes. I don’t think it’s questionable at all. A photographer is telling a story and they’re doing it to inform the world.

    And I also don’t see why people complain so much about having their picture taken. What’s the big deal?

  • Christian Ramirez Ramos

    There is always something against photography!

  • K Bershader

    This photo captures something we all feel in our lifetime…something that we can all relate to. Beautiful photo! If privacy was so important to this woman, she probably shouldn’t have taken a “moment” right then, when she’s obviously surrounded by the media. Good photo journalists capture life as we see it and feel it! I lost the most wonderful grandparent anyone could ask for in 2011 – and I took a self-portrait to capture my moment…and I’m so glad I did – because this is what REAL life looks like!

  • Jason

    We must draw a distinction between what is legal and what is ethical.
    I am a lifelong professional photographer and I know that journalism is a profit making (and opinion pushing) endeavor whose goal is not merely to inform the public. The media today is no different than any other commercial entity and, as such, should require a release from its subjects.

  • Jake

    Okay, I get that this is a complex issue that has been going on for years concerning journalist rights and ethics and the need to report on things like this, and I still think it’s a very hard call to make.

    But what really f**king bugs me is all you people who are blaming the victim with this “no right to privacy in public spaces” hogwash! I mean come on, is she supposed to hold in her emotions and compose herself until she’s in her own bedroom so she doesn’t have to deal with photographers clicking away and using her despair as an opportunity?? I know, it’s shoot first and ask questions later, but nobody even asked! And saying that we have no right to privacy, while disturbingly true, is just entirely insensitive and NOT a justification! It’s the kind of argument that everyone makes from a distance until they find themselves in this woman’s shoes, and then I suspect they’d feel differently. Haven’t you ever picked your nose in public, just for a second? And how pissed would you be if someone snapped you doing it and posted it online for the world to see?

  • DamianM

    Then you have made public photography illegal.

  • Jill

    I think if someone asks to have their own photo taken down, they should be obliged.

  • Richard Ford

    It’s OK to look at photojournalism around the world. Children in Tsunamis and hunger in refugee camps. But if you shoot a photo of a white person in the west then it is invasion of privacy. Give me a break and next time go inside a church or do it privately if you care so much. Crikey – the self importance and arrogance is amazing.

  • Richard Ford

    How is North Korea going right now? Is your ROI all you had hoped for?

  • Richard Ford

    Germany is not one to lecture others about human rights.

  • Max

    No one is asking what God thinks on the matter:

    Matthew 6:5,6
    “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you

  • Max

    Idolatry is a serious sin. The Ten Commandments deals clearly with not making idols to worship and to pray to.

    Exodus 20:4-5a) “You shall not make unto you any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them…”

    So don’t pray to saints; this is unbiblical! Do not make and pray to little statues (graven images), that is wrong.

  • Gary C

    Get cameras with silent shutters so you don’t become part of the story.

  • Ken Jones

    I don’t think it’s so much that her picture was taken, but that her private moment was interrupted and by what. She lashed out. I think the anger was misdirected. It’s not that her picture was taken, but the manner in which it was taken. In this case, the taking of the photo becomes part of, or even creates, the story and is no longer simply recording the story.

  • Erik Lauri Kulo

    There are two issues in this story, and the main one I would say is the view on photographers and privacy in general. That people feel that their privacy is violated when they are photographed, but in other cultures in times of poverty and whatnot, being photographed or having a photographer is seen as helpful and the photographer is met with hospitality. So I’d like to see westerners more respectful towards photography.

    HOWEVER, this is a grave that news organizations themselves has dug with sending crew upon crews to these areas, having swarms of photographers hunting for the picture, leaning over each other, pushing etc. etc. It’s like the famous girl in Haiti picture. And if she is right, that there were more than one or two photographers around her, then perhaps it’s easier to understand why she felt exposed.

    And this whole thing with respect etc. and leaving her in silence, it’s a tricky question. In the end, I think the basic thing to do is be human first, so if she is grieving and praying, let her finish, but if possible, give her comfort in some way. Surely, there are professionals there as well, but a photographers kind word can weigh just as much.

  • delastro

    what do you mean?

  • Björn Lubetzki

    It wouldn’t be a half as powerful images, If she HAD finished and was standing there, after her prayer. The only thing, they could have done, is to left her finish and after that, walk up to her and ask her to sit down again and pose for the exact same image. But I doubt, she would have done that.

  • Mansgame

    If you’re out in a public event, and you see every news channel known to man there, expect to be photographed. This is quite different than being in a dark street by yourself and someone with a telephoto snapping a picture of you picking your nose and calling it “stree photography”.

  • nate parker

    Should have used Silent Shutter Mode 2. ‘nough said.

  • Andrew Beveridge

    she’s surrounded by photographers and is surprised when they take her photo. so don’t make yourself the center of attention .

  • Erik Lauri Kulo

    That’s not even remotely close to what I was suggesting.

  • WillyWanna

    As a photographer I feel like I wish I had the chance to take the shot. As a private citizen I feel like I’ve been violated somehow. IMO the photographer/s should have at least expressed some courtesy by mentioning to her that they had photographed her. A personal approach would have been nicer.

  • NykeTheRed

    Nevermind him. An other muppet whose mind is stuck in the mid 40…

  • Duke Shin

    He just took a few pictures, get over yourself.

  • 写真家

    It was at night, so it’s hard to silence a flash.

  • 写真家

    Except, federal law exempts the press from such a requirement. this has been a precedent for nearly five decades now.

  • bob cooley

    I didn’t realize there were religion-specific trolls. Clearly this person is Catholic, and if you have a problem with that, you should take it elsewhere – it adds nothing to the discussion of photography or journalism.

  • bob cooley

    Decades of case-law (and the constitution) have determined differently.

  • bob cooley

    Capturing moments like this is the essence of photojournalism.

    However, that doesn’t absolve photographers of all ethical or human courtesy.

    In 20+ years I’ve shot my fair share of grief and tragedy, but have done so with the most discretion and respect possible.

    The subject here is kneeling very still – once the shot is lined up, there is no reason to fire off a ton of frames – honestly one (or two) in quiet mode will do it. Any good journalist who is in a situation like this would be in stealth mode (both in the camera, and personally).

    The other fail for the photographer is that he/she didn’t talk to the subject afterwards. NOT to ask for their permission, but to tell them – “Hi’ I’m very sorry for your loss. I’m with (insert news organization here). I just took photo of this sad moment, and I think that this is an important moment that people need to see – we’ll be publishing it tomorrow – could I please have your name for the caption”. I’ve used this approach for years, and have only ever had a single person say they wouldn’t give me their name. We still published the photo, but being decent and respectful to those you’ve photographed is what separates the journalist from the paparazzi scumbags.

    I know the scales have tipped quite a bit in recent years, but when I first got into the business, my editors wouldn’t publish a photo without a caption and name – it forced us to courtesy and empathy with our subjects. That empathy helps to create more powerful images and coverage.

  • Trevor C

    If the woman was praying in a private place I feel that her privacy should then be expected, but this woman was praying in a public place where there is no expectation of privacy. Are we then to have a rule that it is okay to take a photo of someone in a public place unless they are praying? What other exemption could we expect after that?

  • Xeer

    and what’s so bad about making money? I think releases shouldn’t be required even for advertisements.