BCM 241

To Photograph, or Not to Photograph

The subject of public photography is something that I have thought about for many years. Ever since I was little, I’ve understood the public need to know everything possible about celebrities: what they’re doing, where they’re going, and what their latest style is. To get this information however, there is often an invasion of privacy that celebrities, which is not something that I agree with. Despite my ethical standing that celebrities shouldn’t have their privacy invaded for media usage, I have been known to snap the occasional sneaky picture of someone in passing for the group chat.

In Australia, there are “no publicity or personality rights in Australia, and there is no right to privacy that protects a person’s image” (Arts Law Centre of Australia n.d.). This means that street photography is not against the law, however it can be ethically questionable.

This idea is corroborated by Colberg (2013), whose philosophy on street photography is that “it would be impractical to ask every person in the frame whether they’re OK with a picture. That said, if someone clearly does not want to be photographed or if they are for their photo to be deleted after the fact, then I do think those wishes have to be respected.”

In an attempt at street photography, I did take a photo of the people sat around me on the train this week to send to my friend on Facebook Messenger to show where I was. However, because I didn’t ask any of them for permission to post it on my blog, I will instead describe the picture because I feel as though I have intruded on their lives.

There are 4 people visible in the photo, 3 women and 1 man, all of whom are using a mobile phone. None of them knew each other as they all arrived at different times, and so 3 of them have headphones in despite being sat next to each other. These people would appear to be listening to music, while the lady without headphones looks to be playing a game, typing a message, or reading a book.

The way I took the photo shows that I was trying to take a picture without anyone knowing what I was doing, as I tried to cover my actions to avoid people approaching me or noticing that I was taking a picture. The people in the picture probably would not appreciate their picture being taken without their consent, or shared with my friend, but I don’t believe this action is likely to cause any harm to those involved. Neither myself or my friend would have any reason to share this picture with anyone else, and as I have not posted it here I don’t think that it will be seen by other people. Therefore, ethically, I believe sharing this description will not cause any harm.

Had I asked for permission to use this photograph, I would’ve taken the picture first and then approached each person to explain what I had done and why. If there had been any objections I would’ve asked if I could blur their face out or deleted the photo and hoped for another opportunity.

In regard to public spaces ethnography, I think that I would’ve made a better contribution if I had asked for permission to post the photo. The photo is a prime example of private media usage in a public space, but my ethical considerations meant that I couldn’t contribute properly.

Public space ethnography can be useful for those outside the media industry, as it can be used as a way of designing public spaces for better use. Johnston (2013) notes, “understanding the ways in which we interact with space, or how the process of production space affects design and therefore the use of it, can allow for a better process as well as product for future development” (p.3). If we were to take this idea on board, we could create public spaces that were private media friendly and that could encourage people to interact with the space more frequently.



Arts Law Centre of Australia n.d., Street photographer’s rights, Arts Law Centre of Australia, accessed 2 September 2017, <https://www.artslaw.com.au/info-sheets/info-sheet/street-photographers-rights/#headingh218&gt;.

Colberg, J. 2013, The ethics of street photography, Conscientious Extended, weblog post, April 3, accessed 2 September 2017, <http://jmcolberg.com/weblog/extended/archives/the_ethics_of_street_photography/&gt;.

Johnston, K. L. 2013, ‘Public space and urban life: a spatial ethnography of a Portland plaza’, Masters thesis, Urban Studies, Portland State University.

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