There is an interesting discussion going on here on HCSP …
Some good points in the discussion, especially about intent and personal boundaries (Marc Todd and other posters).
I too think the photographers’ ethic is mostly defined by her/his own intent, and furthermore by how she/he decides to present the work, because working out a serie for a personal website, or a book, or an exhibition is definitely just another story than dumping pics on Flickr or photo forums. And most of the time the ethical problem lies here, how you present the work.
I myself do many street shots with disabled people, just because they are numerous in the street of Boston and I simply consider they are part of the life scenes that unfold in front of me. I believe the unfairness would on the contrary consist on excluding them as subject matter.
Usually I prefer to have ‘banal’ people (like me) in photographs. I am not very interested in photographing people that shows something special, because it tends to distract from the shot, though this is not a rule. Also I take very few photographs with homeless people, just because I consider that street is their home, and the argument of street = public place simply does not apply the same for them.
That being said I believe anything and anybody can be photographed and there should be no taboo subject matter. The problem – if there is one – lies more in the photograph itself : is it “good” or not. And a part of the answer lies in the intent. It also has to do with how/where it is exhibited ? with what other body of work ? for which purpose ?
That is the reason I don’t post those pictures of disabled people that I have – except the portrait of this couple above that once was on my website, because I believe this one, as a standalone picture, tells otherwise than just the disease. It is not that I regret the shots (I never regret a shot, and if it is bad or raises a question I did not think of before I may learn from it) but I feel a more appropriate context is required which I can’t work out for the moment, not only for them (the people photographed), but also for me, from a self-acknowledgment perspective. Furthermore some of them (the photos) are bad, whilst others may be good.
And finally what is valid for the disabled and “different” people should also be true for more conventional subject matter.