The controversy began the moment the photo was taken, as Sandford reported in his Ashevegas blog that the EMTs threatened him with arrest.
"I came across a medical emergency about 8 p.m. Saturday night at the corner of Lexington and Walnut," Sandford writes. "A woman was down on the sidewalk and EMTs had just jumped out of an ambulance to attend to her. I stopped and started snapping a few photos. I moved closer to get this shot when one of the EMTs told me to leave immediately. I said I was on a public sidewalk in the middle of a public festival. The EMT then threatened to call the police and have me arrested on the spot. 'Do it,' I responded. I moved along."
Sandford defended the photo as a necessary part of covering the news.
"I wasn't interfering with the emergency work at hand. I understand the privacy concerns of a person. But it's news when people start dropping at a big city festival, and in the course of gathering the news, I'm allowed to shoot a photo. Don't threaten to arrest me for something I have the right to do."
Indeed, the law gives photographers few limits on publicly photographing people or incidents, as long as they're not directly interfering with law enforcement or rescue operations. Sandford's picture is clearly legal, but that hasn't stopped the controversy over whether or not it was ethical.
When Sandford released the photo on Sunday, the debate continued over (where else?) Twitter. Weaverville meteorologist Bryant Korzeniewski saw a violation of privacy. While he didn't dispute Sandford's legal right to take the picture, he said he believed "a right to privacy of person in the pic who wasn't in a condition to give consent" trumped the news value, adding that the picture should have blurred the person's face or been shot from a different angle so as not to disclose it.
"Pic was very poor taste and judgment; passed out due to the heat, not due to crime," Korzeniewski continued. "Showing it w/o blur didn't advance the story further."
Others weighed in, some defending Sandford, other asserting that he should have blurred the overheated victim's face or otherwise obscured their identity.
It certainly hits a number of interesting faultlines. My father was an EMT, so I grew up with an appreciation of how desperately hard that job can be, especially during a heap of chaos like Bele Chere. While the threat to arrest Sandford was clearly out of line, tensions can run extremely high, and I'm glad the medics decided on a wiser course and didn't follow up with the initial threat.
Generally, I think if people choose to go out in public, they accept that they may be recorded or photographed, especially at a massive event like Bele Chere. But I say that as a journalist whose job is far easier the more information I can get ahold of. At the same time, some measure of privacy is essential for a free society, and I generally cringe at the more extreme paparazzi-style tactics that give all media a bad name for little discernable value.
That's not what happened here, and Sandford has given a news justification for taking the picture, which makes the case a more interesting (and less clear-cut) one.
So what do you think, readers? Necessary photojournalism or tasteless intrusion? Leave your comments below.
Photo by Jason Sandford, all rights reserved. Used with permission