Privacy and Ethics / by Art Zaratsyan

When should one put down the camera and leave those going through a hard time alone?

I came face-to-face with this question in Santo Domingo, the capital of Dominican Republic, while covering the work of Asociacíon para el Desarrollo de San José de Ocoa (ADESJO). The organization had just delivered a truckload of medicaments and supplies donated by HOPE International Development Agency to the Hospital Traumatologico Dr. Ney Arias Lora, a large national hospital specializing in trauma, and we were invited for a “tour”.

As we reached the ICU waiting area in the Emergency ward, as you can imagine, things got harder and harder to take. The emergency staff here handles over 250 trauma cases per day, most of them from traffic accidents (Dominican Republic is one of the countries with the most deaths caused by traffic accidents in the world). The waiting area was full with people with sadness and concern all over their faces, tears in their eyes. One of them, a young woman, just stood there with an absent expression on her face, with her bloodshot eyes fixed at an empty stretcher. Instinctively, I took a picture, and as I did so, a man next to her turned around and glared at me. His anger at my act of invasion of the privacy of their sorrow was righteous. I felt ashamed. I mustered a weak smile and moved on.

The experience still feels raw, burnt into my mind. Yet, as a documentary photographer, covering things as they are is a big part of my work. Reconciling that with the realization that I was a rude intruder in this scenario, is something I still have to do.

What would you do? Feel free to leave a comment below if you’d like to share your thoughts.