Street Photography: A Comment To Tony About Passing Laws To Protect People's Privacy In Public Space

By Craig Boehman.

Screenshot by Craig Boehman

I left a hastily-written comment to Tony regarding his comment about passing laws to protect the public from street photographers.

Tony, I watch you guys all the time but I completely disagree with your opening statement that we need additional laws to protect the public from street photographers. This is actually the most anti-photographer and anti-photography statement I've heard in a while, although you're not by far the only one to make such a statement. But let's just say sentiment isn't usually expressed by photographers and journalists, as you so rightly mentioned.

Let me propose that "A reasonable right to privacy" and "consent" are two different things. Just as upskirting and street photography (the former is actually illegal in more jurisdictions globally than street photography). Now, prepare for some rambling!

Consent and the notion that everyone is paranoid about their privacy being violated: One of the most open places that I've shot street photography is in India. Generally speaking, and I think there are thousands of photographers out there who can attest to this, people are usually very happy or at least neutral about having their pictures taken in public spaces in India. In fact, if you're spotted as a foreigner walking around with a camera, 9 times out of 10 you'll actually be encouraged to photograph someone if you're out shooting long enough. I could confirm this via Zoom any day of the week.

Granted, not every citizen of any given country or jurisdiction is going to be as open or accepting about his or her picture being taken, either with permission (consent) or knowledge. In the West largely, this is the case: people are more guarded generally. This is all well and good! I'll also note here, for those who are interested and have read this far, that even asking for permission and having consent to do with as one likes with an image afterward is also two different things:) - just try submitting your picture of a recognizable person on the street (who gave you permission or "consent") to a stock photo agency without a model release. Or just go back and confirm your subject's consent once you inform them you intend to make a few hundred bucks off the image because it is to become the cover of a magazine. My point here is when you talk about consent, you may as well take up Law and retire your camera.

But here's my take on consent as someone who shoots street photography frequently around the world: If you're worried about consent, then you shouldn't be doing street photography. In my view, consent is for street portraiture. It's a sub-genre. When you need your subject's consent that should mean that you need their cooperation in order to get the image you desire.

On the other side, if you're shooting candid street photography - which one could consider a sub-genre of street photography - then you do not require consent by definition. If you think this is going too far, consider that just because you photograph someone in public without their consent doesn't mean you've deprived them of their "reasonable right to privacy" nor have you necessarily exploited them. Like anything else, most people do not have intentions to do harm when they're out photographing people, just as most people out in public spaces don't have intentions of committing crimes.

My main point is this: banning street photography or passing laws to curb public photography (same thing) is never the answer when it comes to discouraging a few bad apples. If anything, you should be having a discussion on how to ethically shoot street photography, if one actually cares about the genre or photography in general.

In closing, this isn't an anti-Tony rant, fans of the channel. I'm a fan of the channel! But street photography and those who love it and pursue and write about it are often inclined to speak up to defend their favorite genre, as I'm doing now.

Tony & Chelsea: if you guys ever find yourselves in India for some reason, I extend an open invitation to you to show you around the streets of Mumbai / Kolkata or even Varanasi. I'd love to show you the positive side of street photography.

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