Photography and privacy

Watching_a_penguin_at_the_zooShould there be a blanket ban on taking photos without permission? Or is everyone “fair game” as soon as they walk out of their front door? I have mixed feelings. Whilst I value my privacy and that of my family, I do enjoy taking candid photos of people going about their lives.

London Zoo is one of my favourite places for people watching and photography – I took this picture there a few years ago. I didn’t ask permission before taking the photo. If I’d asked I would have missed “the decisive moment” as Henri Cartier-Bresson put it. And the very idea of privacy seems odd in a public place like a zoo. Personally I draw the line afterwards, at the editing stage, asking myself whether the subjects would be embarrassed to share the picture. This image captured a positive moment of curiosity and affection, so it made the cut.

Can a balance be struck between the right to privacy and the interests of photographers? Unless publication can be shown to be in the public interest, it’s tempting to conclude that the right to privacy wins every time. But I’m not so sure. The world would be a much duller place without the photographs (for example) of Elliott Erwitt and Vivian Maier.

Finally, who should be making these decisions? The law can be very heavy handed – like using a hammer to crack a nut. I’d like to think that photographers can be trusted to strike the right balance, without the intervention of the law. Am I being unrealistic? I look forward to hearing your views.

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2 Responses to “Photography and privacy”
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