Legal Aspects Of Street Photography

No consideration of street photography would be complete without a look at the current societal challenges facing street photographers. In the UK there was a law enacted, and thankfully recently retracted, that compared street photography and shooting in public to terrorism. (The Wired story about the law also includes a great gallery of images from the book, Street Photography Now.) It’s understandable that law enforcement wants to be sure crimes aren’t being perpetrated by people with cameras, but in most cases I have to believe that if it looks like a duck and acts like a duck, it’s a duck. So if it looks like a photographer taking pictures of a photogenic subject, chances are good it’s just a photographer. Let’s not forget that photography is not a crime.

Some overzealous folks do sometimes forget this, though, and they try to prevent legitimate photographers from doing their jobs. It’s one thing to inquire about a photographer’s intentions, yet completely another to prevent legitimate and legal photography. That’s what happened to notable journalist Manny Garcia when he was shooting a newsworthy event on the public sidewalk in front of the White House. Garcia, who’s name entered the news in recent years when his photograph of Barack Obama was appropriated for Shephard Fairey’s iconic "Hope" poster, was harassed by a novice security guard. It caused quite a stir when the professional photojournalist balked at the unreasonable attention. When a uniformed law officer stops you while you’re taking pictures in public, the best practice is to be polite and cooperative—even if you know you’re right. But if you are detained illegally and prevented from taking pictures, be sure to get the officer’s information and file a complaint rather than to cause an immediate stir and get yourself arrested in the meantime.

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