Photographer’s Rights

by Andy Polaine on March 25, 2008

Photography Prohibited

I’ve long been uncomfortable and unclear about the law when it comes to taking photos in public places and have read of several situations when ‘security’ or police have prevented or questioned photographers or downright threatened them or made them delete images (the old film cliché of opening the camera back and spooling out the film is no more).

Fortunately, Photojojo have published a guide to photographer’s rights and a link to a handy PDF version. Also links to similar PDFs for the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

During the six and a half years I lived in Sydney I noticed a considerable shift from the happy-go-lucky mythology of Australia to an increasingly controlled environment due to ‘security concerns’. Like many governments, fear was used as a control mechanism and one of the casualties of this was photography.

Sydney councils tried to ban photography on the beaches after a couple of incidents of people photography topless women with cameraphones. It all fed into the moral panic about phones with cameras (most of it completely illogical) and started to clash with the right to take photographs. (In the topless women-on-the-beach incident, the counter argument was that if you went topless on the beach, you could expect to be stared at, but in the case of the guy who took the photos, they were basically voyeuristic close-ups). Sydney beaches – and the people on them – are very photogenic and it’s a classic place to take photos, banning them is absurd and probably illegal.

But there are other odd cases too. Iain wrote about being banned from snapping a sandwich, Southgate just outside Melbourne (every bit as dull as Southgate in the UK) tried to ban tourists taking snaps on the grounds of ‘terrorist threats’. There’s also a blog called Strictly No Photography with photos of places where you’re not allowed to take photos.

For photographers like my friend Ray Lewis, whose particular eye on everyday life I wouldn’t want to see banned, it can be a problem. As it can also be for interactive installations in public places that use cameras.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that photographer’s rights are surprisingly wide-ranging – no wonder paparazzi rarely get arrested. Not that it would happen not being a celeb, but although I wouldn’t want people sticking a lens in my face all the time, I’d put up with it to preserve my right for a security goon not to be able to stick a fist in my face.

(The photo is one I took at Mumbai airport – I wasn’t really sure what I wasn’t allowed to photograph – outside, inside, the gardens, the sign?)

[tags]photography, rights, law, security[/tags]

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