There’s been some intense discussion in recent weeks as to whether freedom of expression gives photographers the right to be intrusive and disrespectful towards their subjects when photographing in public. Do the laws governing street photography need to be addressed, or does any change pose a threat to the First Amendment?
Tony and Chelsea Northrup dig deep into the topic in this video, exploring the practicalities of changing the law and the inadequacy of legal measures when it comes to governing ethics.
In 2016, the Georgia Court of Appeals decided that it was legal to take upskirt images in public spaces, prompting lengthy discussion of what constitutes the “reasonable expectation of privacy” described in the laws surrounding voyeurism. While upskirt photography clearly isn’t street photography, any rulings that address this definition could have implications for future decisions.
Personally, I believe that the legal issues should be secondary to a discussion about ethics and photography’s tendency to ennoble and celebrate intrusive photography on the grounds that it is justified as art or documentary. What happens in a public space must always have the potential to be documented, but this should not be an excuse for photographers to exploit vulnerable subjects simply because they can.
For me the question shouldn’t be “Do I have the right to take this photograph?” Instead, photographers should be asking “Do I respect the people that I’m photographing?” And if not, why not?
I look forward to your comments.