What is a fair picture?

by Noah Arnold, June 2022

What is a fair picture? It sounds like a simple question but it is actually quite complex and multifaceted. What we know for sure: as clients, agencies, visual creators, people depicted and the public looking at visual material, we are all part of the visual communication process. Often, we contribute to a problematic status quo: the distribution of visuals that are not fair. We add to problematic imagery both actively and passively. Realising this is a first step: if we change and act towards fair imagery, we can all be part of the solution. 


The next time you see a photograph or a video, ask yourself a simple question: «If I were the subject of this picture, would I want to see it published?» I am convinced that if everyone who takes and uses pictures  started with this question, the pictures that go around the world every day would look a lot different. This question is useful for a first change in perspective. The issue, however, is much more complex than that.

Are you more into videos? Check out this input on what a fair picture is. It is part of the FairTalk#2, an open exchange with Fairpicture’s clients that took place on 22 June.

"If I were the subject of this picture, would I want to see it published?"

Pictures that do justice to everyone

Aligned with Fairpicture’s Theory of Change, a fair picture relates to four different stakeholders:

  • Visual creators have the right to fair working conditions. This refers not only to fair and timely payment, but also to adequate time and infrastructural resources.
  • People depicted are rights holders with legitimate claims such as the right to dignity, the right to privacy, or the right not to be put at risk.
  • Clients have the right to receive visual material that is compliant with their basic principles such as non-discrimination, transparency or non-harming. The visual material they produce, receive and use should also be compliant with national and international data protection laws and human rights principles.
  • The public has the right not to be deceived by the visual material and to have the widest possible access to contextual information.

Click to download: This illustration shows the complexity of the question at hand. The red arrows at the bottom stand for the different stages in the life cycle of a picture: its production, storage and use. The figure contains the rights and obligations all stakeholders have at every stage of the process.

Two ways to look at a fair picture

At Fairpicture, we approach the issue of fair pictures from two perspectives: the ethical and the legal perspective. Often, these two are interrelated, especially from the point of view of a human rights-based approach to visual communication on which we rely. It is important to mention: rights always include obligations. Think of adequate data protection, for example. Obligations are not obstacles but catalysts for human rights.


©Alice Kayibanda/Swiss TPH/Fairpicture

The ethical and the legal perspective

From an ethical perspective, a fair picture upholds the dignity of those depicted. It strives for fair representation, avoids stereotypes, is non-discriminatory, respectful and contextual. A fair picture is produced under fair working conditions. Finally, since we are all already feeling the consequences of climate change: the production of a fair picture should result in the lowest possible CO2 emissions.


From a legal perspective, a fair picture is compliant with the GDPR and respective national data protection laws. This includes a procedure of informed consent and the possibility to withdraw consent. Other relevant rights are the right to information, the right to rectification, the right to erasure as well as the right to restrict data processing. A fair picture does not compromise the safety and integrity of those depicted and respects their right not to be put at risk. A fair picture is transmitted and stored safely and used no longer than four years after its creation. 

Fairpicture's role in the production of fair visuals

Fairpicture is a platform with the mission to organise direct collaboration between clients and visual creators in a way that is fair, efficient, simple and safe for all parties. Fairpicture is also a marketing agency for fair pictures. We acquire commissions for local visual creators in our network and sell their photos and videos through our stock library. As a company driven by impact goals, we want to increase the market share of fair visual material. We want the fair picture to become the industry standard. How do we do that?


Managing the different expectations in terms of producing visual material is one of our challenges.

Noah Arnold, Fairpicture

Through our infrastructure

The production of fair pictures requires access to an appropriate infrastructure for smooth and feasible processes. Fairpicture provides an efficient platform, facilitates the informed consent process through the Fairpicture Consent App (to be released soon!), offers the Fairpicture Risk Assessment Tool and other products that simplify collaborative visual production.


©Ranita Roy/Fairtrade Germany/Fairpicture

Through the people we work with

We are lucky to work with impressive local visual creators and connect all of them in our diverse network. Their role in meeting the requirements for fair pictures is immense: as locals, they know the context, the culture, the people and the languages. They are familiar with the components needed to create fair pictures. A Code of Conduct, which is binding for all stakeholders, ensures a clear and fair brief, a risk assessment, informed consent and fair interaction between all stakeholders. 


Fairpicture enables communication, moderates the process of a project and supports it with tools such as an app for obtaining consent declarations in a privacy-compliant, simple way. We continuously develop and evaluate the standards of fair imagery together with our visual creators and clients. 



Through our expertise

Our expertise covers all of the mentioned areas. The consulting services as well as the peer2peer reviewing procedures we offer through our network of visual creators help sensitise clients, especially in the area of fair imagery use. We see ourselves as advocates and enablers of fair imagery.

The next steps

Let me be clear on this: as a learning organisation operating in a complex field, we are absolutely aware that everything we think and do must be critically reviewed again and again. In this sense, answers to questions such as «what is a fair picture» are part of an ongoing process in which we are involved. Therefore, we are always grateful to be challenged. Let’s challenge each other, discuss with each other and create new ways of thinking and acting together. 


We hope to have you on our side in our mission to change the visual industry so that the creation and use of fair pictures becomes the new normal. Our aim is fair pictures that do justice to everyone: the people depicted, the visual creators, the clients and the public.

If you and your organisation or team would like to dig deeper into the issue of fair visual communication, you may be interested in Fairpicture's customised workshops and inputs. We offer online and offline workshops and inputs that can be booked from now on. Don’t hesitate to contact us!


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