Menu

Permanent Tourist

A personal website by Mark Howells-Mead

It’s only a picture

As a photographer who travels a little and who likes to take photographs on the street of scenes and people interacting, I am fascinated by the huge amount of fuss which is being caused by the introduction of “Street View” – a photographic representation within the Google Earth interface – in the U.K. The new photographs from major British cities, which follow much less problematic introductions in other countries, is causing a huge amount of press due to the fact that so many people are complaining about security issues and about privacy rights.

I was stopped in a Dundee shopping centre last year and told that my photograph of the interior was a threat ot the security of the building. This, despite the fact that anyone who wanted to find out the layout of the interior for illegal or terrorist purposes could simply and easily visit the centre at any time, or even (incredibly) get detailed layout maps of the centre through the shopping centre website!

Street View has been criticized for showing photographs of members of the public going about their daily business, from a drunk man vomiting onto the pavement to people flashing their breasts or exiting an adults-only establishment. (The latter subject was probably annoyed at being caught.) All of these events took place in full view of the public, so I am curious as to why the _photograph_ of the event is the aspect under question. Surely these events and situations are either questionable or they’re not: the fact that there is a photograph of the event has nothing to do with anything. If a tree falls in a wood and kills a small animal, the fact that there’s no photo of it doesn’t mean that the animal isn’t dead.

The main point which interests me is why people feel so threatened by a simple photograph. Visits to Britain in the last couple of years have shown me that any person taking a photo is immediately accosted by the public or by security guards, who insist that any photograph of anything is a threat to national security. One is – officially or unofficially – not allowed to photographs inside shopping centres, on shopping streets, near council offices, in public parks, or (in some cases) at tourist locations. If a camera is vaguely pointed towards anyone in the open, whether they are near the photographer or not, the photographer is immediately accosted and demands are made. “Why are you taking my photo?” “What’s that photo for?” “What are you doing?” This, despite the fact that the law states that one is perfectly well allowed to take photographs in public places, provided that the taking does not infringe on trespassing or public decency laws, or doesn’t lead to a disturbance of the peace.

I am interested to know your opinion on this subject and hope to be able to share your feedback with other photographers in my group of friends and acquaintances. If you see someone taking a photo in which you will be visible, what would your reasoning be, if you were to object? Inappropriate photos are excluded, of course: protection of children against offenders is a necessity and it’s hardly reasonable to use a long lens to take obscene or intimate photographs of people without their permission.

Please leave your comments at the end of this blog post.