Fernanda H. Meier

583. What are the ethical implications of that news photo you just took?

Fernanda Meier has been taking photos, and loving it, since she was a child, when her mother enrolled her a photography class in the hopes of focusing her “rambunctious” kid.  Meier got back into photography after college and sold her first image in her early 30s, sending her mom a copy of the receipt and invoice to prove this passion of hers wasn’t going to leave her a starving artist. 

“To be clear, though, they wanted me to be a doctor,” she laughs. 

Immigrating to the United States from Ghana when she was a child, Meier has been traveling for a good portion of her life. This helped her to see how privileged she and others were when compared to those she met in other parts of the world.

“That sparked something in me. In a piece I wrote for Shondaland, I feel safer traveling abroad than I do in the United States,” Meiers says. :The reason that piece came to be was through a series of unfortunate events that didn’t have unhappy endings but had happier endings than they would have had I been in the United States.” 

Meier spoke with other travelers, people she met in hostels and national parks and other places she stayed in while abroad, all with her camera.

“I discovered the idea that consent is key, not just in physical relationships but in photographical ones as well,” she says. “That really kicked off a lot of what I write about and what I like to make photos of.”

When most people go on vacation, they think of it as an escape from their regular lives and responsibilities, but those cruise ships and hotels are where other people’s work begins.

“That made me rethink the concept of the human zoo, how in traveling and tourism, the roots of that comes from the British Empire touring their conquested land. That set off a light in my head and really made me rethink how I approach travel but also how I approach writing and photography. It made me reexamine the lens, pun intended, from which I view the world.” 

The concept of a human zoo isn’t new, but it was the basis of a talk Meier recently gave at the New Orleans Association of Black Journalists, titled “The Paradigm of the Human Zoo in (Photo) Journalism: Ethical implications of photojournalism and how to report authenticity, avoiding stereotypes and socially inappropriate imagery.” 

She points to the images photographers, along with war correspondents, freelancers and others, share with the world and how those only provide a particular image they choose to convey. They might not be telling the whole story as it really is. 

On a trip to Ghana for her grandmother’s 80th birthday, Meier took a photo of a young, beautiful man cutting coconuts.

“I was so taken by his musculature and skin tone,” she says. “The work he was doing was so physical, he had what looked to be a dull machete, and he was effortlessly chopping the tops off coconuts and pouring out the water, cutting the husk out. He made it look so effortless.” 

Meier went over and showed him the photo she took, saying how great everything looked, and he appeared unimpressed. He asked her what she did for work and she explained that she was a writer and photographer, nothing that requires the same kind of physical labor as his efforts.

“He asked, how would you feel if someone was standing over your shoulder, taking pictures of you at your computer? I said that would be weird. He said, that’s what you just did. I was embarrassed,” she says. “Such a simple observation really made me reconsider every image of every person I had ever taken up to that point.” 

Photographer Fernanda H. Meier discusses the ethical implications of photojournalism and how to report authenticity, while avoiding stereotypes and socially inappropriate imagery.

Allison Taylor-Levine

625. Community collaboration key to evolving local journalism

Allison Taylor Levine, CEO of Local Journalism Initiative, discusses how LJI’s Delaware Journalism Collaborative, which has brought more than 25 partners throughout the state together to report on polarization and possible solutions, strengthens local journalism in Delaware and our democracy.

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