Week 8 – Responses and Responsibilities

This week I am struck by the question posed by Steph : ‘which is better at provoking environmental concern’, the work of Sebastian Salgado or Nick Brandt?

A choice between the aesthetic approach of Salgado risking to anaesthetise or the brutal imagery of Brandt to shock. The question deserves a fuller answer than choosing one or the other. That answer must consider both the psychological nature of human responses and then the responsibility of photographers when presenting a concern.


The human brain is biased. It is designed to jump to conclusions quickly. Khaneman refers to the two systems of thinking. The system 1 is fight or flight response which is immediate and uses the best guess to respond to a threat. It is instinctive and emotional. System 2 is slower, more deliberative and logical. Informing these two systems are a set of biases hard wired in to us.

Korte (2003) summarises key biases human beings use in making decisions. My bold type to highlight consequence of biases.

  1. Prior hypotheses and focusing on limited targets: Decision makers bring prior beliefs, or orientations, to the analysis process and focus on selected interests and outcomes—often ignoring conflicting information.
  2. Exposure to limited alternatives: Decision makers reduce problems to
    simpler constructs, seek fewer alternatives, and rely on intuition over rational analysis.
  3. Insensitivity to outcome probabilities: Decision makers rely on subjective judgments rather than rational probabilities of outcomes and tend to see problems as unique—thereby not relevant to the outcomes of past experiences.
  4. Illusion of manageability: Decision makers tend to be overly optimistic—overestimating their level of control—believing they can manage and correct the consequences of their decisions along the way.

Applying these to Salgado or Brandt will depend on prior hypotheses, ignore alternatives, be subjective and assume it is the answer. Aesthetically I would choose Salgado and if I were a revolutionary I would choose Brandt. It is highly likely neither choice is a good one if the photographer wants to have a positive impact on the world.


I propose that photographers have a responsibility to consider the consequences of their proposed intervention. It is not enough to say there are not enough lions and tigers roaming the wild now. What needs to be shown are the trade offs that need to be made if we want to provoke environmental concern.

A choice between Salgado and Brandt suggests taking action on the environment will make the world a better place. Maybe it will for lions and tigers but will it for human beings? Again all the biases are at play. To make it more interesting it is necessary to bring in more information on choices.

One consequence of the squeeze on space on the planet is the successful growth of human population to nearly 8 billion people.


Other data suggests there have never been fewer children dying before their 5th birthday.

There have never been fewer undernourished people on the planet.

Poverty is lower than it has ever been in the history of human beings.

If photographers are going to be responsible then the question has to be if you choose Salgado or Brandt and wish to have more protected species on the planet can you also guarantee that in doing so you can protect population growth, child mortality rates, hunger and poverty levels on the planet for human beings?

I have a concern that there are too many one issue photographers and protestors that believe that by pointing at their issue they are providing a solution to a better world. For photography to grow in to an adult discipline my proposal would be that if seeking to get a response to an issue…eg provoke action on the environment….that photographers do so with an honest appraisal of what has to be done and the trade off’s that need to take place to take the world to a better place.


Khaneman, D. (2013). Thinking Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Korte, R. F. (2003). Biases in decision making and implications for human resource development. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 5(4), 440-457.https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Russell_Korte/publication/249631364_Biases_in_Decision_Making_and_Implications_for_Human_Resource_Development/links/54385e7c0cf204cab1d6d416/Biases-in-Decision-Making-and-Implications-for-Human-Resource-Development.pdf accessed March 17th 2020.

Categories: Coursework IC, Informing ContextsTags:


I am a Photographer. As well as taking many photographs I am currently studying for an MA in Photography at Falmouth University. I will direct my attention through the lens of my camera for the next couple of years and see what shows up. I see a photograph as a little bit of magic capturing a moment in time. If successful it surprises and engages your emotions. It tells a story about the wonders of being alive or tells us what we need to change to make it a better world to live in. That is enough for me to get going and then like walking a 1000 miles, which I did across the UK in 2010, or walking 200 miles across Cyprus, which I did in November last year, it is one step at a time.

I was a writer. The title of my unpublished book was ‘You Would Have Done The Same.' It is about a successful guy in love with his wife who lets her die when he discovers her in the process of committing suicide. The title gives a clue as to what I think you would have done. The book is 200 pages long. I found it cathartic to write it but after two years of work and reviewing with agents decided it probably needed another 2000 hours to get the whole book up to the standard of some of the pages. Writing is great but it is a lot of sitting down so I decided to get out and walk, play tennis, play bridge, go birding, watch football at Nottingham Forest, Arsenal and Valencia and anywhere else if I can, meditate, cook and eat. I was a writer who has so far failed to become an author.
I was a young man who loved Mathematics and thoroughly enjoyed getting a BSc at Liverpool University. While there I went often to Anfield and the Philharmonic Hall. I was all set on doing a PhD until I went for interview practice at BP and got seduced by the excitement of an International business career. BP was a great adventure building trading teams and businesses in London, Antwerp, Cleveland Ohio and Singapore. Fabulous people and some great challenges and also very hard work, constant jet lag and lots of fun along the way. I married Karen, my stunning wife, and had the most amazing time with her and our three boys Alex, Tom and Dan. She has multiple sclerosis and we have taken on many challenges together but somehow keep creating a new normal against the horrors thrown our way. She is the love of my life.

After BP I decided to coach senior executives and quickly realized I had a lot to learn
about what makes people tick. I had a fantastic 18 months on the International Programme of the Cleveland Gestalt Institute. A great faculty and a
wonderful group of people on the programme. We studied and worked in Dingle, Singapore, Holland, Cape Town and
Lisbon. This also got me interested in the way we think and make decisions so I studied for an MSc in Psychology atUniversity College London in 2010. The
Masters was in Cognitive and Decision Sciences and I found it fascinating what
we do know but also how much we don’t know about how we think and make

I loved coaching and making a difference. I got a number of people to hear themselves, remove some of their own chains and free up the way they thought about the world. I remain fascinated by how people react to and engage with the world. My Masters thesis was why do two people given the same information make different decisions? Put simply, it is because each of us are unique in the way we are constructed.

Since returning from Singapore I found English winters tough so moved to Spain where I now live. The people are lovely, the scenery amazing, food delicious and the sun shines all the time. Almost.

All of these experiences will feed in to my time now as a Photographer. Three motivations I am lucky to have are enthusiasm, curiosity and a continuous interest in learning. All the time I look forward to meeting old friends and making new friends and experiencing this wonderful life together.