You’re walking down the main street in the city, looking around for a nice cafe to have lunch at. You see a man wandering around and taking photos. Feeling quite uncomfortable, you try and stay of the shot. He turns around in front of you and takes a picture of the street crowds, this time you know you’re in the shot
Many people believe street photography is an art form and a way to document society but with this there are lurking concerns of privacy, consent and ethics. As a street photographer, people may confront you about photos that you have taken and even ask for them to be deleted, so should you? Technically, to photograph people in a public space is legal and many photographers may go ahead and use the photograph anyway. Is this ethical practice?
It is a topic that is highly debated. David Sutton provides a very coversation on the topic in his blog ‘Is Street Photography A Violation Of Privacy, Or Ethics?
“Ironically, today everything we do is becoming increasingly captured on digital surveillance- whether is be at the ATM, in a shop, or even at a set of traffic lights – and due to this public awareness is increasing as opinions and debates form around the topic of street photography.”
User UtahN8 on Street Photography in a Paranoid time also comments on this idea. Arguing this it is not that artistry of street photography that society should be worried about, but surveillence that should concern us.
By walking out of our homes we essentially consent to be filmed and watched and photographed by any number of entities; at least a street photographer is making photos out of some interest in art or their fellow human being.
I thought I would test it out for myself and see how I felt about taking photos of people in a public space without asking them before.
I walked around the university campus and took photos of people engaging with a media screen (being either the uni’s televisions or their phones, iPads or laptops). I felt like I had to give myself a defence, like pretending I wasn’t actually taking photos of them for fear of looking like a complete weirdo. In saying this, I definitely felt uncomfortable taking a photo of someone without asking for their permission first.
Joel Colberg in his blog, The Ethics of Street Photography, has created advice for street photographers in their ethics.
It’s the photographic community’s task to educate the public about what they’re doing. In other words, instead of posturing about what they can do, street photographers better tell the public how what they’re doing is not only mindful of the public’s concerns, but also constitutes an important and valuable artistic practice that enriches not just the practitioners’ but everybody else’s lives.