The Ethics and Aesthetics of Photojournalism


The thesis is included in the end of her opening paragraph by saying, “While photojournalism may be exploitive, this exploitation is not always unethical and sometimes even necessary in creating an image that is both beautiful and impactful” (Smolen).

Put more simply, Smolen is setting up her main point of the article which focuses on the fine line between photojournalism and photographic art and to what extent photojournalism can be considered unethical.


This audience is any people of the public who are exposed to the news since photojournalism and elements of it are constantly circulating around modern news. 


Smolen provides several appeals to ethos. She sites information from the National Press Photographers Association and more specifically their code of ethics which is the foundation of rules for photojournalism as a whole. 

  • “the primary goal of visual journalism is to provide ’faithful and comprehensive depiction of the subject at hand,’ and to report on significant events and varied viewpoints (Code of Ethics)”

She also sites a New York Times article that discusses famous photojournalist Sebastio Salgado who has been known for pushing the envelope when it comes to photojournalism.

  • “Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times reveals, ‘Of course his photographs are exploitative. Most good photojournalism is.’”


Smolen also develops different appeals to logos throughout her piece. She develops the point that back in the day when people and events all over the world were not connected so easily, photojournalism did not have to be as harsh or gruesome in order to get its point across since these photos were from such far away places that people were never exposed to. 

  • “Kimmelman writes, ‘but it is another thing to try to do so now, when the number of images that flash across television and computer screens diminishes the value of any single image you may see.’ Therefore, since the number of media that we see every day has increased greatly over the years, photographers now struggle to make a picture have a lasting effect.”

She also discusses the ideas of Paolo Pellegrin who wanted to challenge the public’s way of viewing images by not providing captions and he simply wanted the photographs to tell their own story. Since he wanted the photos to tell a story, he took a revolutionary approach by making the photos artistic.

  • “His impression of vagueness is enforced by his decision to keep the captions separate from the images. This careful and directed execution of his work causes it to be considered more so art rather than documentary photojournalism, since documentary photographs are not meant to be edited or manipulated in any way so as to not detract from the “truth” of the image.”


Smolen captures appeals to pathos by almost targeting the readers. She discusses how in today’s world the public is so unaffected by images because they are constantly circulating around us and it makes readers actually think about that idea. 

  • “This is where photojournalism and photographic art overlap, and it is important that they do so, since, like Kimmelman said, images are starting to have less and less effect on people, and therefore, elements of beauty are essential to hold our attention.”

She also mentions how we view the suffering of others in photos with pathos, making us realize the way we feel when seeing these photos.“If we cannot help them, should we not at least acknowledge, and maybe even reflect and show compassion? Having their struggles recorded in photographs helps people to remember them and their experiences.”


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s