This guest post was written by Christopher LaMarca author of Forest Defenders: The Confrontational American Landscape
Within the world of professional photography, ones ability to work on personal projects must be balanced with the jobs that bring in the capital required to do so. In finding this balance, occasionally we are asked to compromise our personal principals for the paycheck which sustains us in this highly competitive field. With the current state of the world, perhaps its high time to take a difficult but necessary look at our industries relationship with perpetuating an extraction based economy responsible for the widespread environmental and social degradation we see all around us today.
A couple of months ago I was approached by the advertising agency representing Chevron to place a bid for shooting a campaign aimed at increasing the effectiveness of their global corporate recruitment. Before submitting an offer, I was faced with an ethical and intensely personal moral dilemma that stemmed from the possibility of using my craft to advance a corporate agenda I do not support. Most recently Chevron has admitted during the long-running trial in both US and Ecuadorian courts that it created a system of oil extraction that led to the deliberate discharge of billions of gallons of chemical-laden “water of formation” into the Amazonian River basin of Ecuador, affecting thousands of people with cancer and other illness. These facts represented a counter weight to the realization that the type of financial benefit this job opportunity offered was enough to finish and fully fund a documentary film that I have been working on for the past two years. This film represents the most intimate and visceral body of work in my professional career.
Having worked on energy issues for the past five years I’ve been fortunate enough to be invited into the homes of countless families and company employees who’s lives have been affected by the extraction of natural gas, coal, and oil. Ironically, it was the natural dignity and heroism I captured in the images of these individuals that the client hoped I would bring to their campaign of workforce recruitment. How could I justify my professional contribution of working with a company that has proven countless times over that the desire for increased profits is far more important than the human and environmental disasters they leave in their wake. Through this process I had an opportunity to re-examine the direction of my own ethical compass. I’d like to say there was never any question about my decision, but in this case, that was not true. I have no doubt that I made the right choice for me, which clearly isn’t the right choice for everybody.
I believe the questions posed while I was flirting with Chevron’s money are questions that often get lost in our industry. Can we justify the prostitution of the work we love to corporate interests so that we may continue to chase down our individual dreams of self expression? Do the ends justify the means? When we convince ourselves that that they do, what gets lost or destroyed along the way? Whether we’re using our craft to create corporate “cool”, or ‘greenwashing’ the public with an eco-friendly image that hides the true nature of that which is being peddled, we are covering up the truth which hides right in front of our eyes. And in doing so we act in direct opposition to the truth of our own work we desire to share with the rest of the world.