The Politics of Public Photography

It’s a weird world. It really is. The politics of public photography moves with the times of course, but right now it’s in a radical right wing phase. Over the course of the 30 years I’ve been putting a camera to my eye, the way people generally have responded to the act of photography has changed remarkably. In my teenage years, shooting random stuff on the streets in Sydney, people hardly blinked at me. I used to sit on a bench on a bus street and photograph whatever caught my interest. On private property I occasionally got asked to leave or stop shooting (climbing the Opera House on a Sunday afternoon does come to mind ;)), but generally I could do whatever I wanted and no one seemed to mind. They instinctively realised I was just exercising my hobby.

Fast track 30 years, to the politics of public photography in this the age of Instagram. I was planning to take my kids to the local amusement park (Aussie World) to an evening charity event, to support the local rescue helicopters, and as there were going to be performers and night rides, I thought it’d be a good event to shoot. Not wanting to take a lot of gear only to be told I wasn’t allowed to shoot, I thought it might be  a good idea to ring and ask about their photography policy. That’s where the weirdness started.

I suppose I expected them to say no cameras except point and shoots. Of course everyone has a camera with them these days in the form of their phone, and people are going to take photos no matter what, so I assumed they wouldn’t try to ban ALL photography. I can’t understand why they’d want to ban ANY photography. But for some bizarre reason, it is often the case that someone taking photos with a digital slr (or a 35 mm film camera for that matter) is seen as something completely different than someone taking photos with a camera or a point and shoot. In any case,  my expectations were bamboozled when she said, “Yeah sure no problem, just don’t take photos with anyone else’s child in the shot.” WTF?? In a packed amusement park, I can’t get anyone’s child in a photo? What am I going to take photos of – the sky??

politics of public photographyWhen I mentioned a tripod, she went suddenly very quiet, as if such things like long lenses and tripods signified I was actually up to no good and that she should have said no. She went away for a while and came back and told me that because the charity organisation had booked the entire venue for the night, I had to speak to them about their photography policy instead. ‘Wash your hands of him girl’ she was probably thinking… He’s trouble. As it turned out, I’d already asked the charity about photographing the venue and guess what they said.. Yep, ring the amusement park, it’s their venue…

But let’s return to the children. What is the problem with the world when we are terrified of our children ending up in a photo? Let’s imagine I was a newspaper photographer and I said “I want to take a picture of your child on this ride and put it on the front page.” Most people would be thrilled. 1 in 100 would say no. But when I just want to take a photo because I like photography, I’m suddenly suspect, as if I want that photo for some bizarre unfathomable reasons, some of which might even be sexual. Again, WTF? Even if you had inclinations like that, you’d probably just sit at home on the internet, not go out and take photos of kids having fun at an amusement park. Why has being in a photo become such a dangerous thing?

In the end, there were many photographers there. I left my camera at home and decided just to enjoy the night. And the togs there were not hassled, and I didn’t see anyone blocking the photographer from taking photos of their children. But clearly we are in weird territory when it comes to official policies on photography.  I think we need more debate on the role of photography in society and clearer guidelines. There’s just such confusion and hypocrisy around though. There are surveillance cameras everywhere but if you hold up a camera, you’re suddenly a suspect. As a photographer, I find that offensive and unacceptable. What are we going to do about it though?

By | 2016-10-22T09:42:29+00:00 January 20th, 2013|Categories: Photography|Tags: , , |0 Comments

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