Surveying the remains on twitter it appears that there was a tiny little tempest yesterday, lensculture (some twitter account representing something or other) posted a picture of a (possibly) underage probably-trafficked prostitute with a fellow on top of her in, well, an extremely suggestive arrangement. The assumption is that an act of prostitution was taking place. You might argue this has no place on twitter, but given the gruesome things people say on twitter, it's not clear that there is a line.
Lensculture has take then thing down and apologized, which is generally a sure sign that a bunch of idiots piled on and howled about how awful it was. That said, I don't know for sure and cannot be buggered to go find out.
I only noticed one member of the (presumed) pile-on team, Lewis Bush, who said this: Re this: Tendency in doc of taking/using photos that seem more about showing photogs skill for access than anything. This is a particularly upsetting example, but you see it all the time. Incongruous 'intimate' images that often have little to do with story and which in the process put subjects on public display to an (I think) uncomfortable, unnecessary degree.
Lewis seems to be complaining that documentary photographers are getting too close, too intimate. That they are exploiting their subjects. And specifically saying, bizarrely, that a photograph of sexual exploitation has little to do with a story on sexual exploitation.
I can imagine how Lewis and his crew of sterile junior league academics would handle this story: photos of receipts, facades of buildings, some "appropriated" surveillance footage, and a bunch of bollocks about dialecticss comma playing with. Which they would hang in a "pop-up gallery" (i.e. someone's spare room) and then they would write about at length how bold they all are.
In a piece about sexual exploitation of minors you have to take that picture. This is the point of photography, to deliver the basically emotional this is really real punch. It sucks, it is itself more exploitation, but there's no point in having pictures for this piece if you haven't got that picture. You can't do a photo essay on soup without having a picture of some soup. If you cannot stomach a picture of a child being raped, well, good for you. It's a terrible thing to see. I got no problem with that. But now it's not a photo essay, it's a piece that doesn't include pictures, and that is OK too.
You can write an essay about soup without any pictures. David Foster Wallace famously wrote a long essay about lobsters and I am pretty sure there are no pictures of lobsters in it. But that's an essay.
So your documentary photographer is engaged in this act of exploitation. So what? It's all exploitation. Consider the reaction of people around the world to being photographed. Go out on the street and photograph some people. Do they act like you are handing them dollar bills and candy? Generally, no. Generally, they act like you are taking something. Given that these are emotional things, their emotional reaction is the reality. You really are taking. You are exploiting.
Sontag was talking about this in the 70s, it's not new. And she didn't invent the idea.
The ethical photographer knows that it's all exploitation. They follow the implicit contract which is: I will take from you, but I will try my best to do something good with it.
I am pretty sure this is one reason that Lewis and his crew prefer "appropriated" pictures, and a generally more distant approach. Satellite images, very long lenses, thermal cameras, computational photography, LIDAR, and on and on. There's a theme in low-end Photographic Art to try for as much distance as possible. Instinctively these blokes feel the debt incurred, and want as little to do with it as possible. The idea of getting a short lens and taking an honest picture of a human is terrifying to them -- as it should be. It is terrifying. It's also what photography is. The reality of the photograph, that essential character, is inextricably tangled with that terror.
As with so much in photography, in Art, there is a price to be paid at every step. By photographing someone on the street, you incur a debt, you pay a price. If you're ethical, you will do your best to repay that debt by doing something worthy with that picture. You might not be Gene Smith at Minamata exposing the deformities of victims, you might not be Robert Capa taking someone's actual death, but you can at any rate be respectful of what you have. You can at any rate be careful, and be aware of your responsibility.
A guy who takes a picture of a child prostitute being raped has incurred a hell of a debt, no doubt about it. Best they try very hard to use that picture to make a difference, to do something important.