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Re: filmscanners: OT: photographing on the street

on 5/21/01 10:06 AM, John Matturri at jmatturr@earthlink.net wrote:

> I wonder if asking for a release could create additional problems; once
> someone has refused to sign you have an explicit lack of consent for the
> photograph to be used. Once you ask, might not you be more committed to
> ceding to the subject's wishes.

Yes indeed. As soon as you get into discussing use you are in a much more
complicated situation. I think you are also in a more complex situation when
you offer to give someone a print or five bucks, unless you have a very
carefully written release, because the relationship is now contractual.

I have never as a photographer published or exhibited a photograph someone
asked me not to (mainly because they're usually no good) but as a filmmaker
I have shot many times against people's wishes in the streets and used the
footage. Usually the 'guilty man' kind of shot. All my films have been
heavily lawyered and they never asked us to take footage of that kind out,
including stuff clearly shot on private property. However once they ask you
to leave you'd better leave.
> In any event, unless someone does relatively static 'street portraits' I
> have a hard time imagining a way of even approaching most subjects of a
> streetphoto: do you run after a passerby or interupt their conversation?
> There are times when such photographs include a number of unrelated
> people moving off in all directions; do you hire crews to run after then
> with explanations? It would seem that having to get releases would just
> make classic street photography impossible, so if you are committed to
> do this type of work you have to take your chances.

I agree. 
> Does anyone know a case where there has been a successful suit against a
> published or exhibited streetphotograher on privacy grounds?

Yes indeed. A student in Quebec was photographed without her knowledge
sitting on some steps (in a public place). The photo was later published in
a student magazine. She sued and won though on what ground and what the
details of the judgement are I'm not sure.

The point was this was in Quebec, which has a French-derived law. I think
there may have been similar cases in France. I think the situation is
different under British-derived law.

Following the links that were recently posted you can make a reasonably good
judgement about what kinds of pictures are going to be okay.

If you sell a billion pictures of a couple on the street like Doisneau did
then you are going to get sued come what may.

> For what
> it's worth even Rudolph Giuliani of NY, nor famous for his love of free
> expressions but a himself a shutterbug, once was quoted that there is a
> right to photograph anyone one wants in public places.

Yes, there is often a confusion between photographing and publication. You
can generally photograph to your heart's content anywhere - including
private property - unless it is either explicitly forbidden in the terms of
your entry, like it often is in a theater or military establishment, or
someone asks you to stop.

In a public place, no-one except the cops can make you stop photographing
(which they may properly do if it looks likely that your photographing is
going to cause a riot!). However publishing the photographs is what may get
you into trouble.

As a general rule of thumb, and I don't think this applies to Quebec or
France, and I stress that I am not a lawyer so don't rely on this,
photographs taken FROM public places which accurately represent people IN
public places are unlikely to get you into much trouble... unless they
suddenly sell a billion copies, in which case you can bet your patootie that
the publisher will lend you a team of lawyers.

Very few people have the right to ask for your film. The cops may take it
away from you if they arrest you but unless they want to be charged with
tampering with evidence they better hand it back. If you are photographing
military stuff all bets are off. But your average security guard in your
average mall, for instance, or your average disgruntled passer-by, has
absolutely no right to get your film and in those rare situations I usually
suggest we call the cops and let them decide. The angriest I have ever seen
anyone was a guy who designed wedding dresses in Beverley Hills. There was a
great shot into his window, with cars and buildings reflected, and a
mannequin in the centre of the room. So I stood there on the sidewalk
shooting and he comes hurtling out, convinced I am going to rip off his
designs. He was determined to call the cops and I really wanted to hang
around to see what they'd say, because by this point it was almost funny,
but I had a meeting so I just had to wave goodbye.

Generally a soft word turneth away anger. Even with very angry people if you
stay calm and pleasant and non-confrontational they almost always calm down
and very often (in my experience) even end up apologising to you, which I
personally don't think they need to, since whatever the legal situation
there is definitely something cheeky in snapping on the streets.

John Brownlow



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