Photographer Finds Himself the Subject of a Social Media Witch Hunt After Taking Photos at a Fair, Accused of Pedophilia

Photographer Finds Himself the Subject of a Social Media Witch Hunt After Taking Photos at a Fair, Accused of Pedophilia

A Californian street photographer awoke to find himself the subject of a vicious, viral Facebook post filled with accusations that contained photos of his face. The post referred to him as a “P.O.S.” and insinuated he was a pedophile after he spent the afternoon documenting strangers, including families, at a county fair the day previous.

Joshua Rosenthal had been at the Ventura County Fair in Ventura, California, with the intention of snapping candid moments of strangers.

Writing on his Facebook page, he added: 

 I photograph people, often with no prior approval, because the photos speak more to the moment. One can’t capture life when it’s being posed.

The post in question has racked up thousands of comments and shares. The majority of the comments are rather scathing, with one even alluding to Rosenthal being a human trafficker, while another wished for his death.

Following complaints from locals, the local Ventura police department posted this now-deleted message on their Facebook page, advising on how to keep kids safe in public. It also made reference to Rosenthal’s presence at the fair and claims that he was spoken to on the day.

Rosenthal added:

People are just making accusations with no facts. Let’s not forget that a moral compass does not constitute the law. What one sees as being ‘wrong’ is not illegal. In today’s day and age, if you see something you don’t like, ask about it. I’d be willing to bet there is another story.

Sorry I scared you (parents of some random girl). I understand that one wants to protect their kids. But protect them from what? Check out my photography, guys. You be the judge.

This is more about the First Amendment and doxing than it is about me. I’m not trying to get hurt, but I’m more concerned with the rights and safety of other photographers as well as the fear I have instilled in these parents.

It could have all been solved with a conversation, in my eyes.

Rosenthal tells PetaPixel that he’ll be contacting the ACLU next week.

Was he within his rights to take these photos? Do you agree that street and documentary photography only qualify if the subject is unaware of the photographer’s presence?

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Matthew Teetshorn's picture

He's absolutely within his rights to take the photos, but I don't agree with the way he was doing it, if the original post is to be believed. I love street photography and almost never shoot children for this reason. If and when I feel the need, I always make an attempt to ask for permission and explain what I'm doing. People definitely jump to wildly different conclusions when you're shooting younger people than when you're shooting adults.

A decent compromise to capture the "authentic" moment might be to take the photo and then immediately ask the parents if it was okay, offer to delete. Best of both worlds. Having the right and being right are not always the same.

Logan Cressler's picture

Why on earth would you believe the original post? It is clearly insanity.

Matthew Teetshorn's picture

They do have photographs of him taking the shot and the family themselves said he didn't say anything to them at the time, and we have his response after the fact. If he didn't talk to the family, who saw him and was upset by his actions, then I disagree with the way he handled himself.

We all agree that he didn't do anything illegal, but I'm frankly a bit disappointed to see so many people acting like being open, honest and thoughtful of how other people might view our actions a street photographers is the wrong course of action.

I'll just quietly continue to comport myself in a way where I never have to defend myself from severe allegations by trying to say "at least what I was doing isn't technically illegal".

Logan Cressler's picture

So you have a video still of a photgrapher, taking a photo, wow thats pretty damning evidence.

Where does it say they spoke with him about it? It doesnt, because they didnt. Why was this lady taking video of random people in the fair as well then? She says herself that she didnt even notice it until she got home and was looking through her video.

Why the fuck are the offended by people taking pictures in public to begin with?

You assumed they were upset, but they were not until hours later when they got home and looked at their own videos they took of random people at the fair.

Matthew Teetshorn's picture

It doesn't say they spoke with him about it, it says "The mother of the girl looked at her and said 'he didn't even ask' as others stood there in shock. Then another man came up and spoke with the cops too." So, according to this account, you have the family clearly upset, the people around the family upset and at least 2 people talking to the cops, such that the police department released a statement about the incident.

I can proudly say I have never behaved in public in a way that had a large group of people upset and any number of them seeking out the cops to report me. Maybe he did nothing wrong, but a LOT of people thought he was behaving suspiciously. Can we stop arguing over how crazy these people are (i get it, they are) and just agree that "maybe" he could have handled the situation with a little more maturity and professionalism?

Jaleel King's picture

Matthew, you are literally blaming the photographer for someone else's assumptions. So what if someone else talked to the cops? They would not have done so but for the assumption that the photographer was up to no good NOT because they saw him or even approached him but because of someone else making it an issue.

You and I see something clearly different in the frames from the accuser. I see someone trying to get his setting right or making sure his gear is working or even checking an image. How hard is it to ask a few questions before destroying someone on kneejerk, I mean, social media?

The heart of Street is in capturing the moments that often go unseen. Not chasing down everyone you shoot because maybe they get upset. Our images are captured every time we leave the house.

Matthew Teetshorn's picture

Again, and I can't stress this enough. I'm NOT saying I think this guy was doing ANYTHING wrong or that he "looked suspicious" TO ME. But, I understand that what we do as photographers CAN seem suspicious to other people. I've tried to photograph people who practically dive out of the way when they see the camera come up. You have to understand that not everyone sees the world the way that you do and there are ways to act that help everyone feel good about what you are doing.

alberto cabrera's picture

First off, street photography is about capturing the moment. Once you pose or setup the moment it stops being street photography. Second, a woman lied and tried to destroy a person's name with no real evidence. So here's me third point. As street, journalistic or lifestyle photographers, if we have done our job correctly, we have talked to the law before, at least once. If someone truly talked to officers at the fair, he would have been approached by them. A lot of the details make no sense to me. This seems more like a hateful woman than a concerned mother.

Alex Herbert's picture

People do this sort of thing all the time for attention and Facebook likes. Outrage culture is the new normal.

Jacques Cornell's picture

There's the law, and then there's manners. The latter are not legally enforceable.

Mr. T's picture

Being a father myself, I find this a very difficult subject as I apparently do not agree with most people.

I cannot see how having pictures taken in public places poses a risk to my children any more than pictures of me would pose a risk to myself. They do not!

I would very much like to know how this is different from people publishing photos of their own children? My youngest daughter was a nappy model for the local council promoting reusable cloth nappies when she was about one year old.

Should I be concerned that she has appeared in thousands of leaflets wearing only a cloth nappy?

Well, I am not.

Our local schools publish pictures of the pupils/students. The newspapers publish pictures of children for a variety of reasons. The scouts do. The local sports clubs do. Even the supermarkets do, for advertising ...

I am obviously not condoning stalking children or abusing children in any way or photographing children in any suggestive way — but that is not what we are talking about, is it? So please try to think about this rationally and stop the scaremongering.

That said, a bit of understanding and communication goes a long way when taking pictures — that actually goes for pictures of adults as well as children.

But let us try to keep this sane, OK?

Deleted Account's picture

Finally, someone who didn't become a parent and find their brains turning to mush and running out of their ears.

Well said.

There is no danger to children in photographs taken in public places (any more than there is danger in all those CCTV cameras keeping an eye on them).

Nobody should harass or upset a kid (or indeed, an adult) in pursuit of an image but taking photos at a carnival? Could it be more harmless?

Matthew Teetshorn's picture

While I agree that some of the people on the scene might have overreacted and that whoever posted this on social media DEFINITELY did, I also understand that while the act of photographing someone may be harmless, there ARE people in the world who might be photographing people as a precursor to doing them harm. And if you saw someone doing anything involving a child that was later kidnapped or harmed in some way, you might wish you had reported them too.

I can't tell a parent how to feel about someone behaving in any way that they think is "suspicious" but I can definitely tell someone that talking to the family about it and explaining oneself would have solved this on the spot.

Deleted Account's picture

There is no danger. You have watched too many dramas and mistaken them for real life.

The popcorn seller might be a murderer. The person operating the Ferris wheel might be a kiddy-fiddler. But the balance of probabilities is that a.) they are not and b.) even if they were - they've got more sense than to abduct a child in today's surveillance age.

Kids do not get abducted on a regular basis. It's as rare as rare can be and usually when it happens? It's a parent doing the snatching.

In living memory, I cannot think of a child murderer who was caught, who turned out to be a street photographer.

This "won't somebody think of the children" stuff has to stop. We are creating a world of deep mistrust, ironically, at the period in time when children are safer than they have ever been.

Matthew Teetshorn's picture

I'm not the one "watching too many dramas". I wouldn't assume a photographer was a kidnapper, given that I myself am a street photographer. But, I understand that I live in a world with people who don't know what I know and don't agree with me about everything and might overreact. Understanding that, I know that there are ways to be open and honest and not piss people off and still get shots.

It might be statistically unlikely that I'm going to get mugged at an ATM, but I still look around if I'm using one alone in the middle of the night. The problem is, we ALREADY live in a world of deep mistrust. I'm not adding to that, I'm doing the exact opposite. I'm trying to understand where other people are coming from and help educate them about their unnecessary mistrust by actually engaging with them like a mature and reasonable human being.

Do you honestly believe that the people at that fair are now more or less mistrustful based on the way he handled that situation?

Jacques Cornell's picture

And this has nothing to do with photography in public.

Kirk Darling's picture

Matthew Teetshorn: " there ARE people in the world who might be photographing people as a precursor to doing them harm."

Are there? I've never heard of such a real case.

Deleted Account's picture

You clearly have the IQ of a squirrel. That every 40 seconds? It involves mainly kids who run away.

Those that are abducted? Number 1 cause - by your source - family members.

Now run along and stop trying to scare people. If you're too stupid to interpret data, you ought not to quote it.

Deleted Account's picture

Myth: Most missing children have been abducted by strangers.

Stranger abductions, such as the case of the three young women in Cleveland, are fearsome because they appear random and so often involve rape or homicide. But children taken by strangers or slight acquaintances represent only one-hundredth of 1 percent of all missing children. The last comprehensive study estimated that the number was 115 in a year.

Now, shut the fuck up and stop spreading lies.

Kirk Darling's picture

Devils Advocate - And yet, you provide no cases.

Steve White's picture

"I also understand that while the act of photographing someone may be harmless"

It *may* be harmless? Are you sure it *may* be harmless?

My first impulse was to call that the stupidest thing ever said in this forum. That would probably be seriously underestimating the level of stupidity on the internet, but even if you don't get first place you're not far behind. As Nicholas says, there all sorts of bad things that *might* be possible, but you're dealing in delusions instead of realistic probability.

Matthew Teetshorn's picture

Hey, thanks for contributing to the conversation in such a positive way! Please allow me to apologize for having offended you so:

"Hear ye, Hear ye! community, nay, Entire Internet: Let it be said and recorded here and for all time that Steve of Clan White, whose coat of arms is the slightly off-center stick man on a white field, has truly bested me. Consider me sufficiently bested.

I doth proclaim to bow to his superior knowledge of all things Grammar, Photography, and the Internet at large! I have truly seen the error of my Devilish Delusion Dealing ways and will henceforth only confine my speech, and any and all single words contained therein, to only the most truly realistic of probabilities!

Hear doth end my groveling, I submit myself to your judgement for my egregious crimes!"

Alex Herbert's picture

Reminds me of when Google cars were driving around taking photos for streetview, and people were attacking them and saying they didn't want their house photographed. As if their house doesn't live outside and isn't able to been seen by anyone at any time. Odd!

Rob G's picture

And what is the purpose of your "investigation"? "Hey, stop doing this thing I have no right to stop you doing"?

Jacques Cornell's picture

To be fair, there's nothing wrong with investigating. I have no problem with police or anyone else asking me what I'm doing. However, investigation becomes harassment or assault when the other violates my First Amendment rights by not simply covering their face or leaving, but actively trying to stop me from making images, or by publicly slandering me. The law draws a very clear line between the MAKING of images and what is DONE with those images afterward. There are legal controls in place for the latter.
This is not rocket science. The words "public" and "private" are opposites. You are not legally entitled to an expectation of PRIVACY in a PUBLIC space. Duh.

Alex Herbert's picture

I was in this situation recently. I was flying my drone up and down the main road I live in, just capturing straight down views of the traffic beneath. After about 10 mins I notice this guy walking up from FAR down the road. He gets to me and says "are you filming?" to which I answered yes. He explained that his daughter was playing in his garden and he doesn't want me filming anymore. I explained what I was doing, and that without a pretty substantial zoom lens his daughter would look like nothing more than a dot on my screen. He told me to stop anyway, which I politely declined. And after a moment standing there looking frustrated (I was MUCH bigger than him, so he was out of options) he walked back to his house.

Jon Winkleman's picture

you have a right to and should investigate so long as it is asking questions or gathering information. What the mobs were doing online including making false accusations, was illegal

Paul Lindqvist's picture

It's not actually there are a lot of parents posting images of their children like they are the only one who got children.. ugh..

But comparing that to your kid being a nappy model isn't exactly comparable, or would you not have cared if they used an image of your kid for a campaign without you knowing of you giving your consent?

Schools, sports, etc all of them need consent from guardians to publish images of minors (here in Sweden)

The mob on Facebook is a given, is the perfect medium for it.

BUT if the photographer insists on taking candid images of stranges without engaging and especially of someone's child, he should be prepared for the reactions. Sure he is within his rights, but he is not immune to peoples reactions nor should he be.

Personally, I admire street photographers who actually engage with their subjects, it takes more work and it creates a connection.

Jacques Cornell's picture

"Schools, sports, etc all of them need consent"
In the U.S., the First Amendment doesn't not protect the right to make images in PRIVATE spaces. We are talking here about PUBLIC spaces where there is no expectation of privacy because...EVERYONE CAN SEE YOU.

Paul Lindqvist's picture

Yes, I understand that, as I stated several times he is within his rights.

But the School cant publish images of the student without consent even if they are in a public space, that's because they are viewed as a function rather than a private citizen at least here in Sweden.

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