Friday, August 19, 2005

'Just Looking'

This is what I say if someone says 'Can I help You? when I am in a shop
It means, 'I am not doing any harm. I might buy, but I know I am allowed to look, but I won't touch, nor harm anything.'

I also am allowed in public, to wonder, look at people. I know though, it is rude to stare and I guess I learned that when I was knee-high to a grasshopper.

Taking a photograph could be construed as 'just Looking' But really in taking a permanent image, you are allowing yourself to look closer later, to scrutinise and inspect. And the subject of your gaze will be examined out of context. They will not know when you look, how you look, or what you think.

I was having a little chat today about ethics and taking photos.

Obviously when later in the day my daughter brought this site to my attention I was shocked. Some people clearly think it is funny to put STUFF ON CATS and then take photos. (Actually I think this is very funny; that is the point of the site. It is absurd humour - whatever that means.)

When I took this photo in Vienna, no one was harmed and I was careful to check it was permitted to take photos.


Moreover, this pigeon definitely knew I was taking his photo and posed for a while turning his head this way and that for me.


This lady dressed in blue was flirting with the bee outrageously ... really putting out for him I thought - but we all knew they were doing it for the camera:


Here I opted for the 'still life' as a preliminary


before asking the artist for permission to photograph her working:


And she gave her consent.

(Here is another piece of art from the same location by the canal in Vienna:)


I confess that I have taken more and more photos without asking permission. And these are often the photos that I might use on my blog or put on Flickr. Funnily enough though, I would not use photos for my research wthout absolute consent, and I also draw the line at photographing kids without asking parents first or making it so that they cannot be recognised... I feel should not breach that taboo.

However I have begun to take more and more photos that I thought in the past I would not. This discussion on Flickr is really interesting. Although of course, in this debate we see the folks who are thinking about ethics. Many will not ever have thought about the issues, I imagine. Across the expanse of Flickr we see pictures of the public absolutely everywhere and it is possible that some photographers have never thought about ethics, while others of them might always ask permission of their subjects. Maybe, like me, they are operating a shifting code of conduct that is changing in seeming pace with digital times.

Because the boundaries of Internet and meatspace are blurring, is it becoming that as one discussant on Flickr says ' If you dare to go out in public, then you should recognise that the public space might mean you are being photographed.'

What do you folks all think? Are we now living in a world where it is so easy for anyone to take a photograph, the common-placeness of it means it is less potent? Less dangerous? Has it ever been dangerous?

Come on people ,

Let's have a heated debate.


Seth Anderson said...

Interesting question. There are so many security cameras everywhere, that one cannot really be shy about having ones photo taken in a public place. For my own reasons, I prefer to steal photos from unwilling subjects without asking: I think the results are much more interesting. Even friends tend to 'pose' a bit when a lens is focused.

However, I try to avoid taking photos of painful situations, or of marginalized folk (homeless people, etc.). If a street musician/performer is interesting, I might slip them a dollar bill before taking their photo.

I read somewhere else on Flikr ( a similar discussion.

Joolz said...

Hey Seth, thanks for this.
Yes I agree with that 'painful situation'notion. I would not take photos of beggars etc either and do give money to performers I have taken photos of.

In a way, as there are so many photos of people every where, and as you say, there are security cameras on us all the time, the sheer ubiquity of images makes them less potent somehow.
I find it interesting that so many Flickrites put up images of themselves; a few years ago we were all being warned by the media that this was very dangerous - as digital manipulation is so easy. But I think that, as you say, seeing as you can be captured on camera on so many places these days, such warnings are ridiculous. I am very sceptical about the so-called dangers of digital imagery. I will look up the discussion you cite; thanks.

Mary Plain said...

I meant to coment earlier as I think this is a very interesting topic. If you look back to the early photographers like Doisneau they never seemed to ask permission, hence the story about that picture of the couple dancing on 14 July where years later they were traced. That actually seems wrong to me as he was clearly looking to sell his photos andusing them to make a commercial gain. But I was shocked last week in a museum when I was taking pictures of the exhibits (allowed) and an adult supervising a group of children visiting was stressing about making sure none of her group were in shot. They weren't in that picture but when I looked at the set later two of the other pics- which I want to blog- do have stray children in the edges, so I feel I will have to Photoshop them out first, such a pain. It feels like we have gone too far down the 'permission' route and if people are in a public space where the rest of the public are allowed to take pictures I think they maybe have to take the risk of being captured. As you both say, we are all on camera everywhere all the time anyway. I don't use a real picture of myself on my blog not to be private but because I never like my pictures and the bear makes the connection to my blogger name. I think you are right that we have way overestimated the dangers of digital imagery.

Joolz said...

When I first had a blog I did not put a picture on of me - mainly as Trois tetes thought it ddgy to do so. But once you get involved in this sort of thing, you quickly change your mind when you see how many pictures there are of so many peole, that you realise images of people are as frgettable as faces in a moving crowd, and just as anodyne, (if that's the right word?)
I thnk though, there is this thing about respecting parents' fears even if we do not share them ...

pupski said...

Yes - it's a difficult issue. I happily look at photos that other people put on flickr, but I started thinking about it again when I suspected that some people on a train were taking photos of the other passengers, sending them to their friends and having a laigh about it. This made me feel annoyed and uncomfortable, like they had taken our power away somehow, and I was too wimpy to go and say anything. Also someone told me recently of a friiend of a friend who has a collection of photos of fat women, he takes them whenever he is out - she had caught him doing this when they were on a day out at the zoo. Not sure why whether for sexual reasons or to show his friends but this seems unacceptable to me. It's difficult in this media driven society to know where we should draw the line.

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Sheffield, South Yorks, United Kingdom
I am an academic interested in New Literacies, Digital Lifestyles, Informal Online Learning.