Photography Is Not A Crime

This will be a bit of a departure from my usual style of post, but I feel the need to rant a bit. I have many photographer friends in other countries that complain about the harassment and abuse they receive for merely carrying a camera in public, mostly in the US and UK. There’s a British blog, Not A Crime, that documents this rather well and it’s spawned many others from other countries. Post 9/11 there seems to be an ever increasing animosity towards photographers, especially in the more draconian police states that believe fear is the best way to control the populace all the while preaching about truth, justice and freedom.

Here in Canada I’ve been happily free from this kind of abuse, most of the time. Today I was walking around and was confronted by two different people in the span on 10 minutes. I wasn’t even taking a picture at the time, just walking down the street with a camera around my neck. The first person, a older woman, got right up in my face asking if I’d taken her picture… what was I doing with the pictures I took… and so on. On a side note, I never take a close up portrait of someone without asking, but this is purely a courtesy, not because it’s against the law. The second was a man about my age who started getting really loud and angry yelling “did you take pictures of my kids! I’m gunna call the cops you freak”… his kids were nowhere to be seen, and I hadn’t taken a picture in a while, so I don’t know where he was coming from. Needless to say this put me in a bit of a bad mood, so I decided to write about it to get it out of my system.

I’m not sure where this connection between photographers and criminal behavior came from. Most people have the same two problems with it. Photographers are either terrorists or pedophiles… which makes absolutely zero sense. Lets look at terrorism first… if I were a terrorist, wouldn’t I use a cell phone, or some discrete little digital to take pictures…. not a huge SLR you can see from a block away. And why go take pictures of a target yourself, between google image search, flickr and google earth you can probably get pictures of anywhere on earth better than you could take yourself. Do a google image search of the MI6 building and see for yourself.

The pedophilia complaint is the one that really gets me. I did a bit of research and in the US, of all the reported cases, the odds of a child be abducted or sexually assaulted by a complete stranger is 1 in 347,000. The vast majority of abductions and sexual assaults on minors are committed by a close friend of relative of the child. Ironically these are the same people parents have absolutely no worries about taking pictures of their kids. Further, I wasn’t able to find a single case of a pedophile stalking or abducting a child because of a photo they took or found on the internet, it’s completely a fabrication of thriller movie plots and shows like CSI. And again, if I really wanted to take pictures of your kids, wouldn’t I use a little cell phone that no one seems to blink an eye at, not a large professional camera in plain view.

Street photography is about recording everyday life as an art form and as an archive of the time we live in. Without street photography, a hundred years from now all we’ll have to judge what life was like in our times is posed portraits, celebrity paparazzi pics and a billion drunken facebook party pictures. The work of people like Capa and Bresson is famous world wide and among some of the most influential photography of all time. We’re getting dangerously close to all but outlawing this type of art and it’s a scary thing.

And what really baffles me is that people are either ignorant or knowingly ignore the laws regarding photography in public. In Canada, any subject in public, building or person, is fair game to take a picture of. You can take a picture of ANYONE in public as long as there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy. So for instance you can’t take someones picture through a fence, or into a building because there’s a reasonable expectation of privacy, but on the street… anything goes. The only time you need permission or a release form is if you intend to use the photo for commercial use… but that’s it. Now, as I stated, I rarely if ever take a close up picture of someones face without asking, either before or after I take the picture… and I’ve had many people ask me to send them a copy which I’m more than happy to do. You may not like the fact that that’s how the laws of this country work, but that’s not an excuse for making up your own laws. I don’t like that there’s often dog poop on the sidewalk, but I’m not going to harass every dog walker because of one dog owner failed to scoop. There are definitely times when photography is inappropriate or illegal, but please don’t treat every photographer as a criminal by default.

Anyways… sorry about the rant, but I needed to put this into writing to get it out of my system. I’ll leave you with a quote from a great man from a country that purports to be the center of freedom and justice in the world… though current events might make it seem otherwise:

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
– Benjamin Franklin