Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Picture of the Day: Homeless "Napster"

Image borrowed from Japan Today, 3/25/13. Image quality altered on purpose.

The caption for Japan Today's Picture of the Day (3/25/13) reads "A homeless man takes a nap near JR Omiya Station in Saitama Prefecture." But the purpose of the photo remains a mystery, especially in the context of it being displayed in a news resource. This is a photo I would advise my students not to take and certainly not to post on the internet with such a cutesy title... Unless the photographer actually interacted with the subject, confirmed he was indeed homeless and was indeed taking a nap and received informed permission for the photo to be used (with the subject being aware of his portrait rights and privacy). There is no indication of any such interaction. The problematic representation of the photo plays out in the discussion made up of Japan Today reader comments. I first saw the photo and comments the morning of the 25th. At that time there were 39 comments and some mentioning of others being deleted by the moderator. When I checked later in the evening the Picture of the Day had been changed and the comments had been reduced to 28. There was discussion and bickering about the nature of homelessness and what is appropriate action to help the homeless (and I suspect these type of comments were the ones deleted). Here is a sample of the comments I was most interested in dealing with the methods and ethics of shooting photos in public in Japan. (I reproduce these comments in case they might be deleted in the near or distant future.)

I don't understand why this picture, its title or this sight is trying to making a humorous comment about a homeless man sleeping on the street. Did the person snapping the picture think to ask him why he was there or how they could help?

I saw this many many times when working in Omiya. Never thought of taking his photo and uploading it to Japan Today.

I wouldn't take this photo. But if there is any good that comes of it then so be it.

How could any good possibly come of this? It's callous and tasteless and nothing else.

This seems very unprofessional and callous of a news organization to attach a humorous headline to a picture depicting the obvious plight of a fellow human being. I would expect this sort of content from 2 channel, not from JT.

A homeless person 'takes a nap' is rather making light of the real situation - and more accurately should read 'A homeless person is LIVING...'. Using the photo as part of a piece on homelessness would've been better. Simply using it as 'Picture of the Day' with a pun of a title and a quirky throw away comment is tasteless and quite unnecessary.

He looks pretty happy. not all homeless people are miserable, you know. also the photo is a clever juxtaposition of the relative poverty of this poor guy with the relative wealth of the society in which he lives (as shown by the bicycles behind him and the high qulity security fence). also, Omiya in Saitama is a brilliant place where I am suere this guy gets lots of sympathy and handouts and so on. So stop ripping on JT - plenty else to read into this picture.


It is not only Japan Today that runs these kinds of questionable photos - I have seen similar pictures in various photo blogs about Japan: those taken without consent and based upon assumptions and stereotypes rather than interaction and research. The common sense rule of thumb would be for the photographer to put herself in the place of the subject - would she want to be represented in such a way?

Read more about these issues in Japan:

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