Martor No. 26 / Year 2021

Methodological Notes on Visual Ethics: “Choosing Not to Reveal”

(Download PDF)




Hungarian Academy of Sciences, MTA-SZTE “Convivence” Religious Pluralism Research Group, Hungary 

Pages: 164-172


Secret police photography; ethical concerns; the “unwelcome researcher;” trust; lingering distrust; ethical concerns. 


In this paper, I present my ethical dilemma concerning a secret police case rich in surveillance images that I encountered during the course of my research in the Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security (ÁBTL). After reading the operative file of a religious community under surveillance during the 1980s, I decided to approach the group, discuss the images and texts I had found about them, and involve them in the research process. However, the group expressed their explicit intention not to engage in the research process. Even though the guidelines and legal framework regarding the publishing of secret police archival materials would allow me to publish the images and the content of the ÁBTL dossier, I decided to respect the religious community’s intention and their refusal to collaborate. I therefore discuss issues of different ethical standards and accountability in the light of my “failed” ethnographic attempt and reflect on the ethical responsibility of the researcher. I present how the visual images of this particular case file were eventually included in an exhibition in what I see as an ethically appropriate solution to articulate issues of distrust in researchers as a legacy of surveillance and past secret police atrocities. 

How to cite this article:

Povedák, Kinga. 2021. “Methodological Notes on Visual Ethics: ‘Choosing Not to Reveal’.” Martor 26: 164-172. 

MARTOR applies to all published materials the Creative Commons LicenceAttribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives CC BY-NC-ND,” allowing others to download the published works and share them with others as long as they credit the author, but they can’t change them in any way, or use them commercially.