Responsiblity and Guilt


What is a photographer’s responsibility to the subject after the photography has finished? This has been stewing in my mind for sometime. I’m quite lazy about writing in my blog but I hope that I can get some feed back from others about this. Here are my thoughts.


I have done only a handful of stories, in each story there is a bond of trust between me and the person I’m photographing. We see each other everyday. They let me into their lives to document and then to show to other people. That is a lot of trust to give to someone with a camera and you don’t know.

It must be difficult for the subjects of photo stories after the photographer has finished the work. I wonder if they feel used or if they feel they are not important to the photographer anymore?

I mean really think about it. You make a new friend who cares about you and is interested in your life. This friend, with a camera, comes with you everywhere. They ask questions about everything your doing and why. This must make the subject feel pretty special.

Then, BAM!!!, after 2 weeks, this person with a camera says goodbye and you see them if your lucky one time a year.

This must be difficult for the subject. I wonder how they justify the photographer leaving them in their mind?

I do try to go see the people that have allowed me into their lives. When I do, they always say I don’t visit enough. I usually smile guiltily and say that I have been busy working but I have not forgotten them.

I wonder what some of the big photographers like James Nachtwey or Stephanie Sinclair think of this? Do they feel the same or do they just keep on moving and don’t look back?

As my life as a documentary photographer continues there will be more stories with more people. Then, there will be more people to visit to make sure they know I think they are important and that I appreciate them letting me into their lives. At some point it will become impossible to visit everyone. I hope they will understand.


So, should I feel guilty or not if i can’t find time to go visit the subject of a past project?

I’m trying to rationalize it. No conclusions as of yet.

3 thoughts on “Responsiblity and Guilt

  1. I have been dwelling on the same thought for quite some time now. I go back to meet them like you do.. whenever possible, with prints or to just say hello. But you are right. At some point, it is going to be impossible to keep up with every person or every story. In a recent conversation i had with some other photographers, they simply stated that one just needs to be 'professional'.. like how a doctor treats a patient and moves on. I guess that's the only possible solution. Do what you can and then move on. Yet, in my mind, the problem remains. Like you mentioned, does the subject feel exploited? Alone? Hope is a dangerous thing..

  2. Hmmm… look at it the other way around. If you were documenting a well off businessman, complete with a shop and an incredible business idea, would you feel guilty in "using" him for your story?

    You see i believe if we're talking about a universal guilt that crops up when leaving, it ought to be there regardless of the subject. On the other hand, if its there only for the weak/disabled/poor/cheated/exploited subjects, then i strongly suspect the guilt is a manifestation of your own moral clash of "helping the poor" versus "living the good life". It has nothing to do with the subject and the subsequent visiting/not visiting.

  3. @Jyothy, Thanks for the rationalizing. I know it is just they way it is and that you can only do your best. But like you i still think about it.

    @Sony, you may be right. Actually if it was a businessman that i did a story on i would probably go see him too and would feel some guilt if i didn't keep in touch.

    But, your somewhat right it is a moral clash between helping the poor and me living a good life.

    I guess, I just feel guilty when i don't visit my past subjects. Just need to go visit them soon.

    Thank you two for the comments.

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