Saturday, 26 December 2009INDEX

Photography in public

There was a time when celebrities started to claim that they owned their own image, that their visible persona was something they had created and then became a sort of property.

This is a perfectly reasonable viewpoint, even if it can make life difficult for people who are taking photographs or making videos. In practice such celebrities are rarely encountered and it isn't much of a problem.

What has happened more recently is that many more people have jumped on the band wagon, believing that they have a right to privacy even in a public place. Whilst I am fully in support of privacy legislation that prevents paparazzi style photographers from repeatedly sticking lenses in people's faces, there is no law against taking a photo of a street that happens to contain a few adults, who will probably be unidentifiable in the final image. At least I don't think there is.

Some might argue that the Data Protection Act prevents electronic files, of the kind modern cameras produce, from being collected. But I'm registered under the Data Protection Act, so there is no issue here.

The really difficult issue is religion. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all have injunctions against "graven images", apparently because in ancient times there were religions that worshipped icons and this was regarded as a practice that had to be stamped out. Judaism and Christianity seem to have got over this problem. Islam, it appears, has not.

Despite the fact that Islamic prelates and potentates have images which are instantly recognisable and some have had their photographs published millions of times, many ordinary Islamic people seem to be extremely reluctant to have their photos taken.

This strikes me as very weird. I can understand personal morality: a religion that says my behaviour must be such and such in order to serve some religious need. But a religion that says you mustn't allow someone else to do something is strange.

It is also completely barmy. It is quite impossible to wander around the streets of any major city without getting your photo taken by CCTV systems. That means any Islamic person who wants to avoid conflict with their religious beliefs has to stay home or in some private space.

The difference between public and private space is that you can do things in one that you can not do in the other. It would be wholly wrong to point a camera through a window and take photos (in my view). It is not wrong to photograph a street where people happen to be standing, even though under some circumstances it may be a good idea to ask permission first.

I think this is a libertarian position (though as ever, one person's liberty is another's restriction-- since if I have freedom to photograph, people who genuinely do not want to be photographed may have to be more cautious about how they behave in public). But it seems that whilst there are many prepared to go on witch hunts against vanishingly rare pedophiles or stoke up fear about street crime, there are very few campaigning for liberty.

Saturday, 26 December 2009INDEX