Do people have the right to control their image and its use? What are their personal rights? What about their personal privacy? What harm might befall them from having their photograph made? These questions among others are spinning around the world of photography right this moment. These issues have intensified since September 11, 2001. The efforts of George Bush, Dick Cheney, and John Ashcroft to frighten people and pull out the stops on most privacy issues have left us in the current state of confusion. How many still have their plastic wrap and duct tape? And, what does this have to do with street photography?
In March 2015 a bill introduced in the Arkansas General Assembly dealing with personal privacy would likely have killed street photography if not vetoed by Governor Asa Hutchinson. The proposed law would have required that photographers obtain written consent from strangers they might photograph if it was possible that the subjects might be identified; if they didn’t, they were liable and could be sued.
Governor Hutchinson explained his veto, “I have done so because in its current form it is overbroad, vague and will have the effect of restricting free speech,” he says. “I believe the absence of a clear exemption for […] expressive works will result in unnecessary litigation in Arkansas courts and will suppress Arkansans who engage in artistic expression from photography to art work.” The legislature was unable or unwilling to override the veto in the face of all the letters from photographers-both professional and amateur. All street photographers should thank the Governor. They should also realize that this is an early volley in what will be a long battle.
There have been two major events in my lifetime where photographs had an instrumental role in turning the tide of events and changing history. One was the civil rights movement and the other was the Vietnam War. Many government and military agencies learned from these events.
Stop and think about the civil rights movement. Imagine if laws like Bill 79 had existed then. Many of the civil rights photos were in fact “street photos.”
Birmingham Protestors – Bill Hudson
The photo by Bill Hudson of a dog attacking demonstrators in Birmingham would not have been widely circulated. The photo by Bob Adelmann of demonstrators being sprayed with high pressure water from fire hoses would have been swept aside. Many of the photos of Charles Moore, one of the most productive of the civil rights photographers in Alabama would not have been seen. Moore was quoted as saying, “I fight with my camera.” He would have been defeated had Bill 79 existed then.
Some of the most seminal photographs of the 20th century would have never been published. People would have remained ignorant and prejudiced, believing that segregation was the best way for our society to organize itself.
Freedom March, James Karales. (c) Estate of James Karales
In the photo above no one can be identified readily. Today’s methods however are far more powerful than those in the 1960s, so beware. Similarly look at this photo below and think how many consents one would need to get.
What are your rights?
Things clearly in public, including people, can be photographed without their permission.
People in a location where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, for instance, in their home, can’t be photographed with out permission.
If they are in a location that is a public place or the public is invited, they can be photographed.
A lot of the laws relate to how the photo is used. If the image is used in a commercial fashion you must get consent and state what the use will be.
If the photo is placed on a website and used in an offensive or defamatory manner, the subject has the right to demand it be taken down and may have rights to seek legal recourse against the site and the photographer.
So, be careful, have fun, and be nice to people you photograph. Remember no one can confiscate your camera or your film. Not even the police. Probably better to not get into much of a scuffle with them though. Agree to accompany them or ask them to call a more senior person. We all gain from that.
photo credit: PROTESTABLE via photopin (license)
photo credit: HK on J, 2010 via photopin (license)