Not your traditional Technology Deathmatch today but when I saw this post on Wired last week my hackles were raised to the point of crowbaring the issue into my regular Monday feature and, well, here we are – camera phones: should they have to make a sound when the shutter is released, or shouldn’t they?
See, the deal is that it’s already the case in Japan and they’re looking to make it so in the States after Republican Congressman of New York, Peter King, asked for a new bill to force all mobile phones sold in the US to have no option of a silent camera click. The idea, of course, is that you can’t then take photos of people without them knowing – well, not so easily anyway.
Now, my opinion on this matter is a red faced one of fury but I’m going to try to be as fair about it all as possible. The problem is that I’m a passionate photographer and this shutter noise query is really all about the issue of privacy and whether it’s ok or not to take photos of anything you want in public. So, here are the two sides of the issue as I see it:
If someone is in the public realm, then they can’t claim that their appearance to be a private matter. That’s the essential standpoint here and, I’ll be transparent about this, my personal general feeling on the matter.
If someone is prepared to go out in public dressed up like a member of the opposite sex, absolutely stark bollock naked or just in whatever they might normally wear, they are essentially saying that they’re happy for the world to see them that way. In which case, how is it a problem for me to take a photo of that person if they’re already accepting that they’re on public display?
There is no rebuttal to the first part of the point that I can think of but there is a slight difference in the second. Yes, if a person is willing to go out in public looking a certain way, then I don’t see how they can talk about an invasion of privacy. However, the difference comes depending upon who then sees that image.
Someone living above a shop in a small village may happily walk down stairs in their dressing gown and fluffy slippers with no make up and go and buy a pack of fags before returning to the comfort of their own abode. Now, in doing so, they can reasonably expect only to be showing themselves in this state to a very limited set of people, namely the shopkeeper and any locals who happen to be there.
If one of these locals takes a photo and then distributes the person’s image on a leaflet throughout the Middle East, I think it would be fair to say that this is a lot more exposure than that person had bargained for when they made the decision to head out looking like shit.
Misuse of images
The next issue I can think of is what the image may be used for. The one that springs to mind is sexual purposes. Let’s be brutal about this. A man takes a picture of a woman sunbathing. The man then masturbates in front of that image. The woman is then used, without her consent, as a sexual object and would probably find the idea abhorrent.
I use this example because it’s easy to imagine but there’s no reason why the gender roles couldn’t be interchanged in all manner of ways. Even worse, is that paedophiles could be out with cameras snapping pictures of minors and doing the same thing. The danger in all these cases is that it could lead to obsessive behaviour, stalking and even attacks. Nasty stuff.
So what? So what if someone takes a photo of a person and masturbates in front it. If someone did that to me, I would never know. So, how would I be hurt by this and why should I care at all. More fool them with their sad lives.
Even more, what if they came up to me and told me that they had a photo of me and they planned on using it for sexual purposes. So what? Why should it matter. It wouldn’t make me think well of them. It would be a very bad way for them to endear themselves but there would be no harm done to either myself or my mental state.
This kind of thing happened long before the existence of photography. There has always been obsession, whether or not there were stills images to fuel it. One could argue that, for some, an image would be close enough; that it would satisfy and that it would prevent things going further such as stalking or even the attacks themselves. Besides, it’s equally possible to use mental images and imagination for the same sexual purposes. Are we to get to the point where people aren’t allowed to look at each other any more?
When photos were part of a personal, private album or collection, perhaps, this wasn’t such an issue but since the advent of Flickr and, more importantly, Facebook, photographs have become far wider reaching. They have effectively become material published to the world.
So, that given, I don’t think that it’s fair that one’s, essentially, private embarrassment in a limited public realm should then be publicised for the world to laugh at online. For example, let’s say that I’m walking down the street and the wind blows all my clothes away. I run back inside to minimise this humiliation that, luckily, only three other members of the public witnessed.
Sadly, one of these three people, unbeknown to me, took a snap of my naked wobbliness and bunged it up on Facebook where millions of people now know me as wobbly naked guy in the snow or some other such catchy title. If I’m really lucky, someone will recognise me and suddenly I’m tagged and identified for the world to remember forever. I am then exposed to contempt and ridicule for the rest of my life.
I never intended to show this to the public and it’s one hell of an invasion of my existence that someone took a picture of me without my permission.
Exactly how is this different to the press putting shots of naked celebs in the papers, wardrobe malfunctions, bad hair days or cellulite shots? We don’t bat an eyelid over how acceptable these pictures are when we open the tabloids and these shots are certainly not taken with any permission. Why should there be one moral rule for the Paparrazi and another for us?
And what about that girl who replied to all on that e-mail “to her boyfriend” when she slagged off everyone she shouldn’t and talked a bit dirty? Sure she made the initial mistake but it was everyone else on the web who republished it. If all that’s ok, then surely it’s the same for pictures put up on Facebook whether they were taken willingly or not?
It’s a proper tricky subject, this one. Two of my best photos are black and whites of people who never knew I snapped them. One is of a man with a moustache eating a big mouthful of food and the other of a young child in a buggy laughing. I’ll post them if I can ever track them down again and scan them in.
I doubt the man would particularly like the photo. It’s not attractive but it’s not embarrassing or humiliating by any means and if the mother of the child had seen me taking a photo of her baby or knew that I had it now, she might well freak out, but if she stopped to look, she’d see it was a beautiful shot of a lovely moment.
I think lot of this issue is about vanity and about fear. I totally accept there is potential for extreme humiliation with Facebook lurking around every lens but that’s incredibly rare. Most people are just picky about bad photos going up online because they don’t capture the image of ourselves that we want to convey. Well, we spend 95% of our lives not conveying that image in person, so how about just relaxing and accepting we’re not perfect?
And fear? Well, that’s the sad product of an incredibly small minority of people who perpetrate sex crimes or attacks or, worst of all, paedophilia. As much as I hate it, as much as I can’t stand the way all photographers are considered guilty until proven innocent, I can appreciate that people should ask parents before taking pictures of their children. If that prevents some blanket law being passed, then so much the better.
But, other than photos of kids, I don’t think it’s really a problem, is it? So long as the photographer isn’t slavering in your face and actually invading your privacy, then what does it matter if someone snaps you from a distance? You’ll never know what they do with it and why should you really care?
The funny thing is, even if they force a camera click on a phone, it’s not necessarily going to stop people taking photos without permission. They may not care if it upsets you and exactly what are you going to do about it once they’ve snapped?
Anyway, more importantly, I want to hear what you think. I’m not a parent and I have little shame either, so come on, shoot me down, agree with me or give me your own angle on this one. Get on the comments. It’s hard thinking this one through on your own, you know. Ease my mental anguish.