My Dec. 15 posting here – “Fearmongers are Giving Photographers a Bad Name” — invited some interesting comments. Although many readers sympathize with the perils of street photography, there are a number who consider it rude and offensive to photograph a subject when they are unaware and without permission.
I get the impression that some readers think photographers are a crass lot, incapable of any feelings toward their subjects. A few suggest that they would never stoop so low as to photograph strangers. I even get the impression that they would like laws passed to enforce this notion.
Pictures Without People
What kind of world would it be if there were laws preventing people from photographing strangers without their permission? We wouldn’t have the magnificent work of Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Robert Frank, and countless others. Their work would be illegal.
The photographic record of the 20th century would be very different. It would consist of pictures of empty streets, devoid of people. The only pictures of people would be of them standing still, posing for a camera. Cameras would be forbidden at sporting events, public places, store openings, movie premiers, crime scenes, dog shows, wars — anywhere crowds are present.
Snapshots would be allowed, of course. But you would have to take special care when taking snapshots of children and family friends to make sure there are no strangers in the background. When taking pictures at your kid’s birthday party, you would need a signed release from all the parents. Weddings would be difficult, of course. Some guests would sign releases, but others would invoke their legal right not to be photographed.
News reporting would be entirely different – no photographs of people in the news, spectators, crowds or passersby. All newspapers could publish in the way of photographs would be formal portraits of newsmakers. It would be the same for television news.
Where Does It End?
It wouldn’t stop with people. Before long those who wish to protect their privacy would attempt to pass laws prohibiting photography of homes, offices and monuments. That’s the kind of society that can evolve when we allow ourselves to by driven by fear, political correctness, and ignorance.
Photographs harm no one. We all have the right to refuse to have our pictures taken — all we have to do is politely say no. But to presume we are protecting the general public by restricting these activities in others is fundamentally wrong.
There are two ways to go through life. One way is to be timid, constantly worry about offending others, never taking chances, and always siding with the majority. People like that seldom are very creative. The other way is to be out there, curious, hungry for discovery, and following your own path. That is the road I choose to take.