Holding the belief that it is a good photograph which tells a story, but it is a great photograph that encourages a story to be told – my view is that the image should engage the viewer; the viewer should question what they see as much as the viewer should question themselves.
This may seem a little arrogant, but let me put it this way: when images are captured of natural disasters, war, health and social issues – with the images being published, exhibited, bought and sold (as many endeavour to work as professional photographers), can an image of anguish be considered an art?
I actually wonder if the question should be: Can such images exist without it being an art? There is a spectrum of images that can be captured from the clinical and the forensic to the dramatic and the emotional; but if you were covering an event would you, as with many photographers, wish to trigger an emotional response to your images? And at that, a response that only art can provide (The same could also be said about fundraising campaigns often used by NGO's)
One answer that I will offer, should you wish to document the peoples you encounter then you should ask yourself why. What is the purpose of the photography? Why are the images being taken? After all, if you do not know then how can you explain to the people you are photographing; let alone anyone else?
Certainly one thing which I believe should be considered when covering a natural disaster – such as a famine, an earthquake or a flood; is that you will be in a situation where villages, communities and individuals have been devastated. Food and water would be scarce, medical facilities stretched and sanitation interrupted, yet there is someone turning-up and taking photos when they do not need to be there – using the resources available… Only you can answer, I will not answer for you.
At the beginning of this entry, I mentioned that the viewer should question what they see as much as the viewer should question themselves. The explanation for this is thus – if the photographer wishes to communicate a message in his/her images it is their responsibility to decide how and why.
But what does a viewer need to see in order to have the intended response? Why is it that a member of the public walks into a gallery, or opens a magazine or goes online to view such images? With computer games, film and TV portraying images of death and destruction – could a series of "Humanitarian Photographs" be "just another set of pictures"? A question which appears to be more of a paradox.