Photo Essay

The spying glass


You know, there's laws pertaining to what we do. In Germany, chapter 22 of the "Kunsturhebergesetz" ("Law on originators of art") prohibits to publicly display the shots of people which have been made without their knowing or consent. Granted, there are some exceptions, which are dealt with in chapter 23 of the same law. (Please be aware I'm not a lawyer and my remarks on legal issues are a layman's interpretations). People of public interest like politicians, actors, etc. can be photographed almost at will, the "almost" indicating that there's bounds of reason to this, of course. If the people seen on a shot aren't its main element, or if they aren't recognizable at all, chapter 22 doesn't apply. Covering a public rally you have every right to make photos of the attendants (doesn't matter if you're a pro or not). And then there is exception #4. In case your picture of a fellow human can claim artistic intentions, its public display is legal, even if there was no consent. So, my candid shots are legally covered, because yes, they are works of art.

And still I can't help feeling naughty when I go candid. Of course I don't invade people's privacy at their places by stupid long lense shots and the like. Papparazzi behaviour I find despicable. But would I want others to display photos of me sitting at a cafe, walking in a park, riding my bike? That rather depends, I'd say. Nobody wants to see themselves ridiculed by out of context displays of their portraits, by acrid captions or derisory comments.

On the other hand, you don't get anything authentic after having asked for permission. In my experience, very few people are relaxed enough to behave natrurally after they've been asked whether their picture can be taken. It simply doesn't work.

So sometimes I shoot candidly. And if I conclude the ensuing pictures can't possibly harm their subjects, they end up on JPGmag. It is a guilty pleasure, but it's a necessary pleasure as well. You might not know it, but the moment you put your money down on a dealer's counter or send that PayPal mail away, you're signing up on a contract. If you don't use your camera to show others the world the way you see it, you're missing out on your main obligation as a camera owner. You're wasting money and hardware, which is a shame, because they represent your sweat and pretty sophisticated tech made possible by the sweat of others. If you do this, why buy a camera at all? And what could be more interesting to possible viewers than the way you see other *people* through your lens? Photos don't lie, they say, but people do, because they can't help it. So sometimes I've got to make my lens catch 'em, before the lies of body language kick in.

Or so my justification goes.

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6 responses

  • Debbie Smartt

    Debbie Smartt said (16 Feb 2010):

    I agree with you. I think every photographer is a voyeur! Good story!

  • Charlie Harbin

    Charlie Harbin said (17 Feb 2010):

    Nice pictures and story. Very insightful. I look forward to you putting more together.

  • charlie mclenahan

    charlie mclenahan said (1 Mar 2010):

    I agree with you, after people know you are photographing they are different, so I end up hanging around for hours until they forget why I am there.

  • dp *

    dp * gave props (1 Apr 2010):

    Heck yeah !!! This is RAD for sure. dp

  • Chris Jennings

    Chris Jennings said (23 Jan 2011):

    This is a thought provoking essay, and one that is becoming more pertinent all the time.

  • Roxana Brivent-Barnes

    Roxana Brivent-Barnes said (9 Aug 2011):

    Well said, voted!

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