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No, New Laws Preventing Photographs of Breastfeeding Are Not an Assault on Photography

The U.K. government has announced that it will soon be a crime to photograph mothers breastfeeding their children in public. Limiting the right to photograph in public places could be seen as an attack on freedom of expression, so is this law justified?

A campaign led by mother Julia Cooper has prompted a proposal for legislation as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that is currently being discussed by the U.K. Parliament. As noted by Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, the new laws would help to prevent women from being “pestered, whether it’s for self-gratification or for harassment purposes.”

MP Stella Creasy celebrated the announcement, tweeting:

While women who have experienced harassment will welcome the move, some will question whether this is another small step towards prohibiting freedom of expression and shifting the widely-accepted expectation that if you are in a public place, you can be seen and documented, regardless of what you are doing. Government attempts to place restrictions on what can and cannot be documented in public are regularly met with opposition, often seen as creeping criminalization that can gather pace unless they are fought at every step.

Understandably, photographers can instinctively become defensive when their freedom to create images is under threat. Some use the right to photograph in public as an excuse for intrusive, inappropriate behavior, justifying the harassment through claims of artistic expression, or simply because they are entitled to do it. For them, the legal entitlement outweighs any ethical concerns, and the art world has a habit of celebrating these artists for being brave and edgy. If there are laws against photographing women as they breastfeed, is there a risk that intrusive photography targeting women more generally might be next on the list?

Holding a camera does not change someone’s justification for behaving inappropriately. If someone were in the bushes with a pair of binoculars and clearly picking out women in a park that were breastfeeding, most citizens would expect the law to intervene. Swapping those binoculars for a camera doesn’t mean that the behavior is suddenly justified. Furthermore, cameras — whether it’s a huge DSLR with a telephoto lens or a smartphone held in someone’s face — can be used as tools for harassment and abuse. Simply because these tools can produce art or journalism does not by default override a person’s use of those tools to deliberately harass someone.

Headlines such as “photographing breastfeeding to be made illegal” and Creasy’s tweet aren’t helpful as the details of this legislation reveal that this is not a blanket ban. For example, if a mother is breastfeeding at a protest or a rally and is included in a photograph of a broader scene, the photographer is not suddenly going to be charged with an offense. The law is written to be quite specific: for a photographer to be deemed guilty, they “must be acting for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification or of humiliating, alarming, or distressing the victim.” The camera and the photograph do not determine whether a crime is committed; instead, it is the behavior and the intent.

Whether intent can be proven will be down to a court to decide. Photographer and law student Martin McNeil offered me his thoughts. As part of a conversation on whether this legislation can exempt certain situations, McNeil pointed out that it’s “worth keeping in mind that laws are written by lawyers with the express intention of being interpreted by other lawyers and the judiciary. Anything not expressly stated is thus open to extremely wide debate and could be problematic for someone down the line.”

Legal restrictions on the freedom to document through any medium should be fought, but in this instance, it’s worth looking beyond the headlines and tweets and examining what this legislation means and the protection that it affords women and those breastfeeding in public. It remains to be seen how this legislation is interpreted, but it's worth noting: documenting is not the crime, harassment is.

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118 Comments
Deleted Account's picture

I'm going to be a bit pedantic here.

"The camera and the photograph do not determine whether a crime is committed; instead, it is the behavior and the intent."

[Noting your use of the word "determine"] Not quite: a crime can be committed; however, in order to obtain a conviction in a criminal matter, you have to prove each element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt.

To wit, someone can intend to kill someone, but if you cannot prove intent, you will not obtain a conviction for murder. Likewise for rape. However, the crime has still be committed.

I imagine the fault element would be somewhat easier with this law than rape; you can draw strong inferences from someone's hard drives, social media, and mobile phone.

There is a broader social norm problem (chilling effect). Take photography of children; it would be a brave man (women can) who would photograph children in a public space. It's just a little sad really.

user 65983's picture

.

Deleted Account's picture

And women should wear long sleeves and never show their ankles.

Edit: I realised my comment doesn't go far enough, clearly all women should be required to wear burqa, or similar.

Deleted Account's picture

I don't have a problem with women breastfeeding in public, but I do have a problem with a person doing something in public and then proceeding to complain about them being recorded in the act. If you don't want someone taking a picture of you dressing up like My Little Pony, don't go out into public dressed up like My Little Pony. If you don't want someone taking a picture of you breastfeeding, don't breastfeed in public. If you're doing something where it's plainly visible for everyone to see and you know that events are liable to be recorded, then don't complain about it. Seems pretty simple to me... Breastfeeding is natural, but so is pissing and if someone is pissing in the middle of a park, they don't get to complain if they end up on a photo or video.

Jeremy Lusk's picture

As the father of a newborn, let me tell you that my wife is constantly breastfeeding. Schedules be damned, the kid eats when she wants. You can't time it or plan your day around it, you just do it when the kid starts crying. Implying that women have a choice to feed in public akin to cosplaying My Little Pony is, frankly, absurd. If a woman wants to be in public with her kid (and she does, because otherwise every day feels like Groundhog Day) then at some point she'll need to feed in public. So the choice you're actually offering the women who birth us, raise us, nurture us, feed us, is to go out and live their lives but don't complain if anyone harasses them, or stay home if society decides it's not interested in protecting them. And if those options aren't suitable, well tough, because Salty Cremepuff (I assume that's your real name) doesn't like a complainer.

Deleted Account's picture

People don't exactly have a choice when they need to pee either. So when you need to go, are you going to wait a little bit and look for a bathroom or are you going to just whip it out and relieve yourself against a tree in the middle of a park? I have 2 kids and believe me when I say that they're not going to starve in the minute or two you find a private place to feed them. Also, if you know you're going outside, just pump some milk and carry it with you like a bunch of other people do? You're acting like sticking a nipple in the kid's mouth is the only possible way to feed them. It's 2021, not the 1300's. Technology is your friend. Getting a photograph of yourself in a public place where there is zero expectation of privacy hardly constitutes harassment.

As for making fun of my handle, welcome to the internet. In an age where people are doxxing and SWATTING people for every perceivable disagreement under the sun, you're frankly the weird one if you're using your real name while also giving our personal information like the fact that you're married with a newborn to a bunch of strangers. Granted, given enough time people can build a profile on your and likely find you anyway, but no need to hand the information to them on a silver platter.

Jeremy Lusk's picture

Then as a parent I'm sure we can find some common ground here. You know that when the crying starts it doesn't stop until the kid is fed, and sometimes that happens after the first bottle is empty.

Look, we have more control over our own bladders than we do over when our babies decide they need to be fed. I also don't think the act of feeding a baby is as unseemly as relieving yourself in public. But yeah, if you're in a park and you absolutely have to do your business out of the way behind a tree, someone shouldn't be allowed to photograph you doing it for their own sexual gratification later on.

And while all you say about bottles and whatnot is true, why should the burden be placed on women to do all that stuff? Clearly they don't expect absolute privacy in a public place, but shouldn't they be able to do it knowing that some creep with a phone who doesn't believe they should be there at all can't harass them (a case I think is probably more common than the pervert with a telephoto lens)? I think society can offer some legal protection in that case without it being a slippery slope or sacrificing anyone's legitimate artistic expression.

Deleted Account's picture

If you don't want to get raped, don't wear a short skirt.

I can draw the equivience all day.

Deleted Account's picture

That's not nearly the same at all. It's more like "If you don't want to be seen and potentially photographed in public wearing a short skirt, then don't wear a short skirt in public." To compare being photographed in public to being physically violated is pretty disingenuous.

If you want another one, we can say "If you don't want to be photographed marching in a White Supremacy rally, then don't march in a White Supremacy rally." or "If you don't want to be photographed torching cars in a riot, then don't torch cars in a riot.". I don't get what's so difficult about the notion of your actions in a public space not being private.

Deleted Account's picture

Ah, so not all victim blaming is the same.

This law is in the same class as upskirting.

I undersrand now, if you don't want men to take photos up your skirt, don't wear a short skirt.

You just did my work for me.

Thanks for playing.

Deleted Account's picture

No, it isn't because we put on clothes with a reasonable expectation of what perspectives they will be viewed from. When you alter that, it can very much be argued that you're invading someone's privacy because they clearly didn't intend for anyone to see them from that perspective. If you're breastfeeding a kid in full public view, then unless you're mentally challenged, you'd know that other people can see what you're doing. Now if you were breast feeding with a blanket covering the breast and the child, and someone got all up in your business to photograph your nipple through a slight opening in the blanket, that'd be a different story.

This isn't rocket science and I don't understand why this needs to be so complicated. If you're outside, then just assume that you're being photographed or filmed and act accordingly. You're attempting to be clever, but really sounding like an idiot by being deliberately obtuse and making ridiculous comparisons.

Deleted Account's picture

You don't understand the purpose of the law.

There appears to be some degree of irony in your statements.

Deleted Account's picture

The purpose of the law is to stop perverts. The problem is that unless you're either a psychic or the offender in question is a complete moron who will readily admit it, there's zero way to know what the intent of a person photographing someone is-even when it comes to photographs that are questionable on the surface. People naturally assume the worst and will accuse photographers of all manner of bullshit. Just about any photographer who has photographed candid moments in public long enough knows this. Rather than play psychic and go on witch hunts, maybe just keep your private stuff private and assume that anything being done in a public space is subject to being recorded.

Deleted Account's picture

The moment you started calling me an idiot, I was done with you.

Go waste someone else's time.

Deleted Account's picture

"The moment you started calling me an idiot, I was done with you."
Good.

"Go waste someone else's time."
Bye.

Deleted Account's picture

Does your pathetic little ego feel better having had the last word?

Deleted Account's picture

I don't know. Does yours? After all, I thought you were done with me.

Deleted Account's picture

Now you've degenerated to "I know i am, but what are you". Precisely as a first grader would.

You really should quit while you're behind.

Deleted Account's picture

Wow... You're really bothered by this, aren't you? LOL

Deleted Account's picture

Yes, terribly bothered by a faceless troll.

You got me.

Man, you are pathetic.

Deleted Account's picture

Honestly, this is just funny at this point. Feel free to keep going, though.

Deleted Account's picture

Sure thing.

You create a pseudonymous account, for the sole purpose of making inflammatory and negative comments.

Your account, comment history, and our exchange speaks volumes about you.

Isn't it funny how you don't have the stones to use your real name or show your work.

Deleted Account's picture

First of all, I don't know why you think that the sole purpose of this account is making inflammatory and negative comments. I just say what I happen to think.

As for why I use a pseudonymous account, it's because this is the internet, people like you are complete strangers, and I've actually been the victim of doxxing, SWATTING, and identity theft in the past. I've since learned how absolutely fucking dumb it is to use your real name on public websites where you can make it trivially simple for some random 10-year-old to look up your home address and conduct OSINT through any number of readily available resources. Obviously, it's never impossible for someone to profile or track you down if they have enough knowledge and patience, but there's zero need to make it easy for them by handing them all your information in a neat little package.

Isn't it funny how I can probably look up your home address without you knowing with a bit of effort, but you'd likely have a much harder time looking up where I live? Sure you may have some information about my age or kids or whatever, but do you have any way to verify if any of it is the truth or whether I'm just making up story details for the purpose of conversation? But yeah, I'm the stupid one here.

Frankly, I think half of you people are insane not only putting your info all out there, but doing it while also picking internet fights with faceless strangers that may be unhinged serial killers for all you know. Serious question, does shit like this actually cross whatever you have for a brain for a moment before you start going at complete strangers online? Y'all must feel real comfortable if it doesn't and I'm not afraid to say that you're right-I don't have the stones to use my real name because I'm absolutely terrified of the faceless psychos out there in this world and you ought to be, too.

As for my work, I don't give a shit what you think about my work because that has absolutely zero relevance to anything I'm saying. If I want my work critiqued, I'll ask any number of people whose opinions I actually trust, not randos on the web.

But by all means, keep talking.

Deleted Account's picture

Wait, I thought this was funny? You seem upset.

"LOL"

Deleted Account's picture

I'll admit that you hit a nerve with the anonymity thing if only because I remember the terror of having my door busted down at the crack of dawn and having assault rifles pointed at me. I remember getting random pizza deliveries and having my parents call me asking why they were receiving phone calls and flowers. I remember my cellphone suddenly no longer working because somebody convinced the phone company that they were me.

Before you start giving "faceless trolls" shit for not giving out their information, perhaps take a moment to ask yourself why the fuck you're so comfortable to volunteer yours to the faceless trolls. One day you're going to cross the wrong troll and I promise you that you won't think it's funny at all. Obviously this is a photography website and not some random Discord server or 4chan board, but don't get too comfortable just because you think you're in a safe space. Everyone in those other spaces has their own hobbies, too, and some of them happen to be photographers, too.

Deleted Account's picture

"LOL"

Stuart C's picture

This ended well for yet another troll on this website.

Deleted Account's picture

They are so easy to trigger.

Stuart C's picture

And sadly so difficult to get rid of

Jeremy Lusk's picture

I think the pervert in the bush with a telephoto lens case is a lot less common than just some jerk pointing his phone at a woman and asking her "hey sweetheart, can I have some of that next?" And I think empowering women to report someone for doing that is fine and probably doesn't sacrifice much in the way of artistic expression. (Of course, people actually need to know that the law exists for it to really work.)

Taro Liu's picture

Maybe this argument was about how the society defines public appearance. Using your analogy, say that I took a "normal" shot of a girl in her miniskirt standing in the streets - that's how she chose to appear in public and I have full rights to do so. We all agree that underwear is not a part of public appearance one would wish to expose, hence the upskirting law.

In regard of breastfeeding - the real question is should the social norm view it as a form of (volunteered) public appearance? Sure the clothes are lifted willingly but there is a nuance here. First, we understand that the act itself is due to necessity (unlike flashing one’s body in, say, a rally); and secondly breastfeeding in public does not cause inconvenience of the others like peeing afaik in the western world, so the mothers are not in the wrong here. Hence if the law decides to protect breastfeeding as a special case where the boundary between privacy and public appearance seems to blur, I don't see a big problem here as long as the laws are stated clearly and enforced consistently.

Just to extend this logic a bit more for fun - if there is a region where public toilets are hard to find and adults relieving oneself outside seems to be out of necessity, and there are perverts messing up with those poor people - I do think a law against photographing peeing in public is reasonable.

Jeremy Lusk's picture

But Salty, these equivalences you're making... feeding a baby in a restaurant is not the same as marching against racial equality or destroying private property.

Deleted Account's picture

Of course not. I'm just pointing out any number of things that people get photographed doing that can be damaging on different levels. You don't get to say "Don't photograph me" in other context simply because it's personally damaging. Photographs captured in public spaces can literally destroy lives and to all of those people do you know what we tell them? "Tough luck" because if you're in public, it's fair game. That can be the unfortunate Google Street View photo of the mistress walking out of some dude's home. It can be a kid in a crappy cosplay outfit that the internet makes fun of for the rest of his life. It can be the dude pissing in the park who thinks he's out of sight. All of this stuff gets immortalized every single day, often at the expense of those being photographed. So if we're telling all of these people "tough luck", what makes the woman who deliberately chooses to feed her baby in plain sight some special class of human that needs to be protected? If you want to go with the "pervert" angle, there are people in this world who will fap to a photo of you eating a banana because that happens to be their kink. Are we going to go after public banana pictures as well?

Don't get me wrong. These people are weirdos, but you can't legislate weirdos away.

Michelle Maani's picture

There is no equivalency between peeing in public and feeding a child. Only a creep would think those are equivalent.

S Browne's picture

Taking photos of people doing anything should be prohibited because it will steal your soul. Not sure if that applies to selfies.

Chris Rogers's picture

Cameras are how the devil harvests souls to power their satanic extra dimensional societies. They capture souls through the lens then refine them into a potent raw energy.

Deleted Account's picture

I'm a bit slow sometimes. What's your point/position?

Roger Cozine's picture

I'm probably in the minority here, but I think that this law is a good thing. It stops weirdos and perverts from indirectly exploiting mothers. Truthfully, this probably doesn't need to be a law, but there's always those people who feel the need to invade the privacy of others. With that being said, I've always found it a bit unsettling to see mothers breastfeeding in public with absolutely not a care in the world. We live in a very dangerous time, so I'd take precautions to keep my privacy... private.

winzehnt gates's picture

Quote: "the widely-accepted expectation that if you are in a public place, you can be seen and documented, regardless of what you are doing."
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This is only "an widely-accepted expectation" in the USA and UK. In a lot of European countries, photographers aren't allowed to take images of people in public places "regardless of what they're doing". The basic rule is often: The less persons are in the frame and the more unflattering a person is depicted the higher are the chances that you are not allowed to publish the image without consent.
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Basic rights compete almost always against each other and it it is good to discuss how certain freedoms and rights should be balanced. Only when people claim that a certain right can't be limited in any way or "freedom is lost", it gets hard to find common ground.
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I know of only one basic human right that is an exception and shouldn't be diminished in any way and that is the right to human dignity.

user 65983's picture

So you can't take photos of me committing a crime because it will make me look bad.

winzehnt gates's picture

You know that your claim is a falsehood.
Go and google a bit about the balancing of freedoms and rights. If you had, before your "funny" post, you wouldn't have embarrassed yourself by posting this stupidiy.

user 65983's picture

I wasn't claiming anything buddy.

Stephen Scully's picture

What exactly is being protected? By definition, when breast feeding, the nipple is in the baby's mouth? There are bikinis that show more. I am on the "if in public, then..." side of things.

winzehnt gates's picture

There might be "bikinis that show more", but women can decide if they want to wear such a bikini. A mother can't decide not to feed her baby, so you're comparing apples with oranges.
The right of one individual ends, where the right of the next individual begins. The need to get the consent of a person you want to photograph and especially the need to get consent for publishing, sounds reasonable to me. Would you want to find a portrait of your face in an advertising campaign for a product you don't want to be associated with?
There has to be a balance between freedom of the arts and the freedom from being photographed in public. Most European countries have as rule of thumb: The less persons are in the frame and the more unflattering a person is depicted the higher are the chances that you are not allowed to publish the image without consent.

As to your question "What exactly is being protected?"
In the EU the protection of personal data is an important right. How a person looks, especially the face is counted as personal data. So, if you photograph a person, you digitally process their personal data. There have to be laws to protect the legitimate interest of the depicted person that they aren't harmed in any way by being photographed, even in public. There're a lot of court decisions that weigh up the freedom of the arts against the right to have control over your private data. The rule of thumb as I have understood the decisions, I have described above.

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PS: In a free society the "freedoms from" (e.g. the "freedom from bodily harm") are as important as the "freedoms to". The society where you you have all "freedoms to" and no "freedoms from" is called anarchy.
You need a good balance between these two kinds of freedoms to have a healthy and free society.

Stephen Scully's picture

Ah, you see, I am not and never have been a citizen of a member of the authoritarian EU. Have a look at almost every Pulitzer prize winning news photo over the last 50 years and ask yourself whether the subject would be happy to be taken like that. There are people dying, there are children starving, there are people being assassinated, there are people in pain, there are dead people. None of these wonderful photos would be published under your rules. Photography is warts and all. You are killing documentary photography.

winzehnt gates's picture

That you call the EU "authoritarian" shows that you have neither any understanding of the EU nor of the laws under which photographers work in the EU.
You obviously prefer to jump to conclusions based on your lack of knowledge, otherwise you'd know that all these "Pulitzer prize winning news photo" you mention are legal in the EU.

Stephen Scully's picture

As far as I know, it is only the countries of Europe where "There have to be laws to protect the legitimate interest of the depicted person that they aren't harmed in any way by being photographed, even in public."
In most countries in the world, there are not restrictions in a public space. Private property is another matter. Widen your world view.
By the way, Britain did not leave because the EU is a wonderful organisation...

winzehnt gates's picture

It might well be that "In most countries in the world, there are not restrictions in a public space", but how does this matter? Most countries also have no democracy. If we follow your "logic" that would mean that democracy is wrong, because most countries don't have it.
You can't bring up a single argument to explain why a society should accept that there's no privacy in public places. You just rehash "I want it, in the US it's legal, in some other countries it's legal, so it must be right."
I know who should widen his world view and it isn't me. Travel, e.g. to Japan or Singapur and you'll find the same restrictions as in the EU.

By the way, Britain left the EU, because the xenophobe nationalists of the Leave campaign lied to the public that the UK could have all the benefits of membership without the obligations. Right now the UK has staff shortages, partly empty supermarket shelves and the current UK government still can't decide if it wants to break the Norther Ireland Good Friday Agreement, or accept checks in the Irish Sea.
Britain left because the leading figures were and still are in denial of reality.

Stephen Scully's picture

You do not have democracy, the EU is run by unelected beaurocrats. Totalitarian laws introduced by unelected socialists.... gimme some of that. Your condescending Eurocentric views are getting tiresome

winzehnt gates's picture

Ah, now I see where you come from. You listen to liars, because they tell you what you want to hear.
The members of the Europen Council are the elected heads of government of the member states.
The European Parliament is elected by all EU citizens.
The European Commission is elected by the European Parliament.
If that isn't democracy than the US president isn't democratically elected too.

If calling a liar a liar makes me a "socialist" and "Eurocentric" for you, I can live with these labels. Way better than showing your astonishing level of gullibility and lack of education.

Stop rehashing lies and start informing yourself instead.

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