Street photography has been around ever since the birth of the camera. It is now very popular, as mobile phone cameras have made street photography so much more accessible and easy. However, over recent years social media platforms such as instagram, snapchat and facebook have raised important issues that question notions of privacy and consent in regards to street photography.
According to the Arts Law street photographer rights information sheet, “there are no publicity or personality rights in Australia, and there is no right to privacy that protects a person image”, this essentially means that people can take photo’s as they please. “However, a person’s image can constitute as ‘personal information’ under the Privacy Act 1988” and this is where privacy and consent come in to play. Legal actions can be taken in the form of private property law, commercial law, public property laws, harassment laws and obstruction laws. It is not the photo itself that is the problem; it is more the purpose of the photo and what the photographer intends to use it for. Here is Bruce Gilden talking about his opinion of street photography.
People have many different opinions on street photography. Some really care about it and others not so much, but the main point here is the purpose of the photo. The purpose and intent of the picture that may be taken with or without consent causes more problems than solutions. It is a massive grey area that is generally hit or miss with people in regards to privacy and consent.
Social media has revolutionised photography. Now, practically everyone can take a photograph and do what they will with it. This photograph gets circulated and viewed by people online. Things such as tagging and mentioning names in the comments can also cause issues. Tagging unfortunately cannot really be controlled. Facebook now actually has an automatic tag function, which immediately tags people in photos they might not necessarily want to be tagged in. Again, raising the issues of consent and privacy and how these issues are being managed.
Furthermore, people are constantly on their phones whether they are walking down the street, catching the bus or train, or even sitting on a bench in a park. It is uncommon these days to see a single head that is looking up rather than down at a pixelated screen. Pokémon Go could have something to do with this. Speaking of this phenomenon, Pokémon Go has come across some ethical issues regarding location services, aggregated data and augmented reality. Pokémon Go presents, “issues that are unique to games that blend the real and virtual” (Michael Geist, 2016), exploring the idea that everything is no longer private.
The other day I was walking back from Uni and decided to do a little street photography on my own. I ran into some guy on the bus and he said he was heading in the same direction as me. We made some small talk as he rapidly texted/tweeted away on his phone. I asked if I could take a picture of him for a school project explaining what I had just learnt about street photography in class. At first he seemed taken aback and a little weirded out. I continued to explain how and why this photo would help me with my project, touching on the importance and relevance of the photo. I also highlighted exactly what I was going to do with the photo and what I was going to use it for.
I was expecting him to say no, but surprisingly he seemed interested and said yes. He allowed me to take a photo of him (above image). After I took the photo, I sent it to him asking if it was okay to use or if he wanted me to retake it. I then proceeded to send him the photo and a link to my blog in case he wanted to check out how it related to my research.
I suppose, if handled in the correct manner, street photography is okay. It is all about respect. Respecting someone’s space and personal views. They might not appreciate the same things you appreciate. As Joerg Colberg describes, street photography is an opportunity, an “Opportunity to talk about what photographs – street and otherwise – do and how they do it”. Photographs are powerful and can do a lot of good but also do equally as much damage if misused. It is an important conversation to have. If people learn to respect each other’s values then this grey area of street photography will become less and less grey and more clear-cut.
I leave you with a question, if someone took a photo of you without your permission and you found out, how would you react?