Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ethics of Visual Anthropology in Japan - Part Two

I have unleashed a monster, but with your help we can tame it...

Today we need to look at the various codes, standards and guidelines that visual anthropologists of Japan need to consider when photographing in public for academic reasons. These codes/standards/guidelines pertain to the behavior of photographing in public in Japan and what is to be done with the photographs taken in the process.

We will begin with the Code of Ethics of the American Anthropological Association. The AAA is the world's largest association of anthropologists and I personally know many who have worked hard through the years to help establish research guidelines. I will quote and comment upon the statements that are most relevant to our cause, that is dealing with visual images. The entire Code of Ethics can be downloaded here as a PDF file.

The Code is not necessarily meant to be be a rigid law. The AAA realizes that real life situations cannot always be regulated. From Part II, Introduction:

The purpose of this Code is to provide AAA members and other interested persons with guidelines for making ethical choices in the conduct of their anthropological work. Because anthropologists can find themselves in complex situations and subject to more than one code of ethics, the AAA Code of Ethics provides a framework, not an ironclad formula, for making decisions.

Let's begin with Part III. Research. This section outlines the various groups and peoples that anthropologists must shoulder responsibility to. Part A deals with "Responsibility to people and animals with whom anthropological researchers work and whose lives and cultures they study."

2. Anthropological researchers must do everything in their power to ensure that their research does not harm the safety, dignity, or privacy of the people with whom they work, conduct research, or perform other professional activities.

3. Anthropological researchers must determine in advance whether their hosts/providers of information wish to remain anonymous or receive recognition, and make every effort to comply with those wishes. Researchers must present to their research participants the possible impacts of the choices, and make clear that despite their best efforts, anonymity may be compromised or recognition fail to materialize.

4. Anthropological researchers should obtain in advance the informed consent of persons being studied, providing information, owning or controlling access to material being studied, or otherwise identified as having interests which might be impacted by the research. It is understood that the degree and breadth of informed consent required will depend on the nature of the project and may be affected by requirements of other codes, laws, and ethics of the country or community in which the research is pursued. Further, it is understood that the informed consent process is dynamic and continuous; the process should be initiated in the project design and continue through implementation by way of dialogue and negotiation
with those studied. Researchers are responsible for identifying and complying with the various informed consent codes, laws and regulations affecting their projects. Informed consent, for the purposes of this code, does not necessarily imply or require a particular written or signed form. It is the quality of the consent, not the format, that is relevant.

6. While anthropologists may gain personally from their work, they must not exploit individuals, groups, animals, or cultural or biological materials. They should recognize their debt to the societies in which they work and their obligation to reciprocate with people studied in appropriate ways.

Part B. deals with "Responsibility to scholarship and science."

1. Anthropological researchers must expect to encounter ethical dilemmas at every stage of their work, and must make good-faith efforts to identify potential ethical claims and conflicts in advance when preparing proposals and as projects proceed.

Part C. deals with "Responsibility to the public."

1. Anthropological researchers should make the results of their research appropriately available to sponsors, students, decision makers, and other nonanthropologists. In so doing, they must be truthful; they are not only responsible for the factual content of their statements but also must consider carefully the social and political implications of the information they disseminate. They must do everything in their power to insure that such information is well understood, properly contextualized, and responsibly utilized. They should make clear the empirical bases upon which their reports stand, be candid about their qualifications and philosophical or political biases, and recognize and make clear the limits of anthropological expertise. At the same time, they must be alert to possible harm their information may cause people with whom they work or colleagues.

The AAA acknowledges that anthropologists have various responsibilities to those they research, academia ("science") and the public that reads the final written works of anthropologists. The most important and the aspect that anthropologists must deal with the most while in the field is the responsibility to those we study. For visual anthropologists this includes who, why and how we photograph/film/video.

As Karl G. Heider, in his book Ethnographic Film (2006 [1976], University of Texas Press; see especially pages 110-112) discusses, the AAA Code of Ethics does not directly deal with visual images. Nor has the Society for Visual Anthropology (a section of the AAA) ever developed a code of ethics specifically for visual anthropologists. Thus visual anthropologists have had to draw from the general in planning and carrying out their specific projects in specific real life settings.

Heider also discusses the requirements for gaining informed consent from those people we research. ...[W]e have a responsibility to do nothing that will harm the people we study and film. The greta problem, of course, is to anticipate the potential damage a film might do to people's physical, social, and psychological welfare, as well as to the "safety, dignity, or privacy of the people" with whom we work. The ethnographic filmmaker, as well as the ethnographer, must be aware of the considerable responsibility that accompanies the license to study and film.

The conscientious ethnographic filmmaker will avoid the more obviously unethical practices. But it really is not possible for people to give fully informed permission for their images to be used in a film...

The problem is that at the moment of shooting no one can really know how the footage will turn out or how he or she will appear. And the subject certainly cannot anticipate what will be preserved, omitted, or juxtaposed during the editing. And it also turns out that even when people see themselves in a finished film, they cannot anticipate how that film will affect others.

In their introduction to the book Image Ethics (1988, Oxford University Press; see especially pages 3-33), Gross, Katz and Ruby ponder the morality as well as the rights and responsibilities of "image makers."

Although journalists, artists, and scholars may all use photographic technologies for different purposes and in different ways, these are moral imperatives which might appropriately be seen as common to all "professional" production and use of images:

1. The image maker's commitment to him/herself to produce images which reflect his/her intention, to the best of his/her ability;

2. the image maker's responsibility to adhere to the stnadards of his/her profession, and to fulfill his/her commitments to the institutions or individual who have made the production economically possible;

3. the image maker's obligations to his/her subjects; and

4. the image maker's responsibility to the audience.

The authors go on to discuss the changing times and repercussions of the representation of "others." Gone are the times when image makers could treat their subjects as strangers or be confident that their subjects will never see their work. Now we must expect our subjects to see our work and be critical of it. Some subjects might want the opportunity to represent themselves. Some subjects are even Native Anthropologists - see Kuwayama 2004: Native Anthropology: The Japanese Challenge to Western Academic Hegemony, Trans Pacific Press.

The Right to Privacy is another aspect that Gross, Katz and Ruby deal with. They list and describe four breaches of privacy:

1. ...intrusion into one's private space, or even into one's privacy while one is in a public space if one has not consented to being filmed or photographed.

2. ...the disclosure of true but embarrassing facts about individuals, when these facts are not deemed to be of legitimate concern to the public.

3. ...false light by images which distort the truth and create false impressions of one's intentions, character, or actions.

4. Appropriation. The interest protected is not so much mental as a proprietary one, in the exclusive use of the plaintiff's name and likeness as an aspect of his identity (quoting Prosser 1960: 406).

Related to this idea of appropriation is a report of a recent symposium, Japan Image Use Conference.

On June 23, 2008, the North American Coordinating Council on Japanese Library Resources held a symposium in Tokyo (International House of Japan) entitled “Japanese Images: Using Them to Support Japan Studies Internationally.” Bringing together librarians, publishers, museum staff, editors, Japanese studies professors, and other interested parties, it was a landmark event in developing good practices for image use relating to Japan.


These anecdotes evoke the intimate, complex world of image use and permissions processing, a specialized appendage of our writing, publishing, and international research and understanding activities. Visual images of Japanese artworks and reproductions of manuscripts, documents, artifacts, and other materials are being used with increasing frequency in books and periodicals, and even in cases where the images are for educational or scholarly publications, express permission in writing may be required.

This conference wasn't focusing on the individual's privacy and portrait rights but still give interesting insights into the idea that images are something that can be bought, sold and owned.

Let's switch gears away from academia and examine how the Japanese press deals with visual images. The Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association (日本新聞協会) has a Canon of Journalism which might be useful to explore.

The public's right to know is a universal principle that sustains a democratic society. That right cannot be ensured without the existence of media, operating with the guarantee of freedom of speech and expression, while being totally committed to a high moral standard and fully independent of all powers. Member newspapers resolve to retain their role as the fittest standard-bearers in this regard.

In a modern society flooded with a vast range of information, the public is constantly required to make correct and swift decisions on what is true and which information to select. It is the responsibility of member newspapers to respond to such requirements and fulfill their public and cultural mission through accurate and fair reporting, and through responsible commentaries.


Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, and newspapers have that absolute freedom in both their news coverage and editorial comment. In exercising that freedom, however, member newspapers must be duly aware of their heavy responsibility and be constantly mindful not to impair public interests.


Newspapers are the first chroniclers of history, and the mission of reporters lies in the constant pursuit of truth. Reporting must be accurate and fair, and should never be swayed by the reporter's personal conviction or bias. Editorial comment should be an honest expression of the writer's belief, not to court popularity.


Member newspapers should pay utmost respect to the dignity of human beings, put a high value on individuals' honor and give serious consideration to their right to privacy. They should also acknowledge errors and correct them promptly, and in cases when an individual or a group has been unjustly maligned, adequate steps should be taken to rectify the situation, including the provision of an opportunity to reply.


In the performance of their public and cultural mission, member newspapers must be available for anyone to read anytime, anywhere. They should maintain decency both editorially and in the area of advertising, and in their circulation practices they should at all times exercise moderation and good sense.

As for specific guidelines about taking photographs in public and publishing them, I have been told that the Association has published a pamphlet on these issues, 取材と報道. I have contacted the Association and have requested a copy; hopefully I will have access to it soon.

It might be useful as well to see the policies of a specific Japanese newspaper. Japan Today, launched in September 2000, is a Tokyo-based online newspaper, featuring all the latest news on Japan and the world, including national, political, entertainment, business, technology and sports news. I enjoy Japan Today not only because it is convenient to read on the internet and has most of the important new stories, but because it allows readers to comment and add to the stories. Granted many of the comments are not so enlightening, but once in a while somebody really adds something important to the story. This is a good example of collaboration.

Japan Today discusses the use of photographs on-line in its Terms section:


Japan Today makes every effort not to infringe on citizens’ rights when it publishes photos. However, there are times when it will not be possible to obtain the permission of persons appearing in photos. These cases will include events which Japan Today staff or freelance photographers attend for the purpose of news gathering, such as press conferences, outdoor performances such as cultural, entertainment and sporting events, political rallies, crime scenes, business establishments and other events deemed newsworthy by the editors.

From time to time, Japan Today publishes photos of everyday scenes around Japan. In such cases, we will endeavor not to prominently show the subjects’ faces unless the photographer obtains permission.

If a person objects to being in a photo that appears on Japan Today, he or she may contact the editor in writing and ask for it to be removed from the site. A final decision will be made depending on the news value of the photo and the circumstances in which the subject appears in the photo.

Japan Today also has a section for people wishing to post photos along with their comments in its Moderation Policy:



The maximum pixel width is 800. The maximum pixel length is 1,100.
Any images over that size must be made into a link. No more than 3 images per post, to include any images a member places in quote boxes. Three images per post only. Any more than that will become links and if a member continues to post more than 3 images per post, a member will be placed on post moderation.
The following rules apply to photos, illustrations, avatars, anime and manequins:


* Pornographic images and links - not allowed.
* Underage images of a sexual or suggestive nature - not allowed.
* Nipples visible on women - not allowed, not even a little bit of nipple showing
* Nipples through see-through clothing - not allowed
* Pubic Hair/genitals showing - not allowed
* Underage photos - not allowed


* National Geographic Pics of naked women - acceptable
* Nipples standing up under non-see through clothing - acceptable
* Shirtless men - acceptable
* Nude painting - acceptable

So now we know...

Today we have reviewed academic and media ethical codes, guidelines and standards. Please ponder these things, digest and comment. Yes, I know what you are asking at this point: But what are the actual laws and how to photographers and visual anthropologists go about their work in Japan? I have been working towards these ends. I have contacted many photographers and photojournalists and have received a lot of interesting and important information. I would like to wait a little bit for those who haven't responded yet to voice in. So look forward to hearing from professionals in the field next time, along with some discussion of regulations dealing specifically with posting photos on the internet (Creative Commons licenses; Blogger, Photobucket and YouTube regulations, etc.). I am hoping to have a draft of "The Standards for Students of Visual Anthropology in Japan" around the beginning of February (and the beginning of the new semester). Stay tuned to VAOJ...


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Anonymous said...

If a person objects to being in a photo that appears on Japan Today, he or she may contact the editor in writing and ask for it to be removed from the site.

Almost anyone would be willing to remove a photo if the subject requested it. But what if the damage is already done? What if the subject is a homeless person with no internet access? They won't be able to complain so you'd be able to publish pretty much any kind of photo of them, no matter how demeaning. The real question is, I feel, whether it's always required to ask a permission before taking the photo.

Joe said...

If someone had printed this off and handed it to me to read, I'd have asked them which textbook they got it out of. May all who say blogging is not writing eat their words in a sour sauce.

That said, I am going to print this off and read it in chunks so as to digest it better. Actual commentary to follow!