Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Right to Bear Cameras

From Not A Crime Flickr Pool

I spent a little time looking for more information about people's experiences with the police while trying to shoot photos in public places. There seem to be many more incidents in The United States and United Kingdom. There is a lot of useful information that explains the laws and your rights as a photographer. People have published this information in convenient formats so that you can easily tuck it into your camera bag. In the UK the bust card has been widely distributed to help photographers and in The States Bert Krages has published the Photographer's Right. In Canada the most useful resource I found was a collection of laws by Ambient Light. One of the more controversial policies I discovered was Duncan's decision to impose a royalty fee for photographers taking pictures of totem poles in the city. This policy contravenes the copyright act that states: Copyright Act, 32.2. (1): It is not an infringement of copyright (b) for any person to reproduce, in a painting, drawing, engraving, photograph or cinematographic work (i) an architectural work, provided the copy is not in the nature of an architectural drawing or plan, or (ii) a sculpture or work of artistic craftsmanship or a cast or model of a sculpture or work of artistic craftsmanship, that is permanently situated in a public place or building.

People's perceptions of public, private and 'high security' spaces reflect a broad spectrum of understanding. Personally, I am very conscious of determining what is acceptable in any space before taking out my camera. Given Canada's poor reputation for supporting its citizens when they are travelling overseas I am especially cognisant of my behaviour and interactions when I am in foreign countries. For me this means my camera stays in the bag even when I think I have the chance to take an amazing shot. I always ask permission to take photos although I wouldn't think of it in a field of tulips (see V's comment in last post). When I was in Bangkok there was an incident in which police swarmed a metro station platform where I was standing. It was quite an amazing sight. The police surrrounded a man standing close to me. I instinctively stepped into the next train that stopped even though it wasn't the train I was waiting for because I just knew I didn't want to get swept up in the furor that quickly ignited around me. I guess I could have quickly snapped a shot but is my personal safety and freedom to explore a place I may never see again worth a picture?

I am also not convinced that it is my exclusive right to take photos in public spaces. My understanding of the word, 'public' includes my responsibility to respect other people's perceptions of acceptable interactions which may exclude the use of a camera or any other recording device. I'm still thinking through this issue. What do you think about photography, filming or any other recording in public spaces? Is it an inherent part of our freedom of expression?


V Yonkers said...

Actually, I think this is very similar to the debate about photography and filming and what can be posted on the internet.

Some people think that anything on the internet is dangerous. On the other hand, I always tell my kids not to put something on the internet that they wouldn't want announced or shown in the middle of their school assembly. I think the problem is when people want to take a position on one extreme or the other, rather than being content in the middle ground. Yes, my kids have the right to swear on the internet, but then they must take responsibility for the impact that has.

Likewise, I think celebrities have the right to walk down a street with their children without a photographer being in their space. I have a right to NOT have my picture that someone took which I was not aware of put on the internet (i.e. on sunday morning as I come out of my house in my Pajamas to pick up the paper). Yes, I did make the choice to go out in public dressed like a slob, but others who are not around don't necessarily have the right to see like that.

I think there needs to be a balance between safety, individual rights, and good manners, group rights, and practicality.

Kathreen said...

I agree that is about balancing the needs and rights of everyone. Also, I feel we will need to defend the rights of those who believe that not everything/everyone is an object for public consumption.

Benjamin Madison said...

Interesting topic! I asked a Victoria policeman (a supervisor) once about the legalities of photographing people in public. He said there are no laws restricting people from taking photos of other people in public. (He was also an avid photographer.) Remember, big brother is watching (photographing/videotaping) us all the time - all those security cameras would have to be shut off if it was illegal to photograph people in public. Nevertheless I suspect there are a lot of gray areas.