Sunday, April 11, 2010

Some thoughts on street photography

Simon Fodden, the head slawer over at http://www.slaw.ca/ has a great post to end the week (The Friday Fillip – Slaw), pointing to a great piece of photographic excellence "We're all gonna die". It's a 100m long photograph of people taken from Warshauer Strasse in Berlin. Go take a look at it, then come back here.

Simon notes that you can't go and see the location on Google Street View, presumably because of the supposed privacy issues that the German government has with street level imaging. That's too bad.

Simon brings up the broader topic of the privacy issues of photographing people, particularly in public places. It's an issue that has come up in all the discussions about Google Street View and other street imaging products out there on the 'net. I've given this topic a bit of thought, being simultaneously a privacy nerd, photo nerd and history nerd. Obviously, taking photos of people raises privacy issues but I don't have much of a problem when photos are taken in public places. People simply have diminished expectations of privacy on a public street. I like that Google and some others have allowed individual "vetoes", so that anyone who does not want to appear online can have the image taken down.

That's not to say that wholesale surveillance is ok, but when the images are being taken primarily of places and the people are incidental, I don't think this is what privacy laws were designed to protect us against. (The line can blur towards stalking or harassment if you follow a person in a public area and continue to take their photo, but that's not at issue here.)

Canadian privacy laws are meant to address commercial activity. To me, this sort of imaging is not "commercial" but fits under the exception of "journalistic, artistic and literary" expression, which is expressly excluded from PIPEDA.

My firm's property department has some great historical publications on the original property grants for Halifax. They include all sorts of info, like what was where, who owned what. For a history nerd, it is fascinating. It's a cool city with a neat history. I've spent hours looking at historical photos of Halifax. Many of them have people in them, which only adds to the value. I don't care who they, but what they are doing, where they are going and what they are wearing add so much to the historical significance of the photos.

I can't wait until the technology has been around long enough so that not only will you be able to stroll down a virtual street, but you'll be able to scroll back through history. Imagine looking at a downtown street in Street View and being able to choose to see what it looked like last year, five years go, ten years ago and fifty years ago. Not only will that be immensely cool, academics will have an incredibly valuable resource at their disposal.

11 comments:

Bob Tarantino said...

With respect to the "artistic/literary" exception to PIPEDA, do you think that would be sufficiently broad to encompass films intended for commercial release? Or would it be possible to create some kind of scale of such films for purposes of the analysis (eg non-commercial films, documentary, commercial, etc. - I would imagine there would need to be finer gradients, but that's a broad brush start)?

David T.S. Fraser said...

Though there's no caselaw out there, I would suggest that a creative film would fit within the artistic exception. That doesn't mean that there are no privacy rules, since you'd have to worry about the tort of invasion of privacy and appropriation of personality.

designKULTUR said...

Thanks so much for this post. It got me curious about art and privacy, and I contacted Simon Høgsberg, the photographer of the piece to ask him some questions about the subject. You can find his response on my blog, designKULTUR. Best, Michael

Roger Flanagan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

PIPEDA concerns the collection of information and does exempt editorial and artistic use. I am not even sure the act applies to street photography. It has long been settled law that there is no restriction on taking pictures in or from a public place.

The problem is whether or not publication and display are allowed without consent. In Québec, the question was settled by the Supreme Court of Canada in Aubrey v. Vice-Versa. Unless a person is a principal in a newsworthy event or incidental to such an event, a picture of a person taken in a public place cannot be published or publically displayed without the person's consent.

Anonymous said...

what about filming the police while on duty in public in Alberta

Sandy Weatherall said...

Noticing the dates on this blog, I a curious what the current laws are. I have done some fine art street photography - mostly of dogs - but a few have faces of people. Can I post these on my website without a model release?

Derek Madge said...

I have been frustrated by the lack of clear law in Canada on the subject of what can be photographed and particularly what can be published. I have found this link (see below) to be helpful though and it has been referred to by other photographer related websites. Note that the author is not a lawyer and given the ambiguous nature of Canadian law on this topic, I'm not surprised there are not many lawyers sticking their necks out on this! Here is the link http://ambientlight.ca/laws/overview/what-can-i-publish/

There are similar links on that site dealing with similar topics.

Derek Madge, Waterloo, Ontario

Derek Madge said...

I have been frustrated by the lack of clear law in Canada on the subject of what can be photographed and particularly what can be published. I have found this link (see below) to be helpful though and it has been referred to by other photographer related websites. Note that the author is not a lawyer and given the ambiguous nature of Canadian law on this topic, I'm not surprised there are not many lawyers sticking their necks out on this! Here is the link http://ambientlight.ca/laws/overview/what-can-i-publish/

There are similar links on that site dealing with similar topics.

Derek Madge said...

Anonymous asked about photographing Police in (Canada) Alberta. From what I've read you can film police doing thier job in public. As you should be able. You could not photograph in private businesses or homes without the owner's permission- technically you could still do that until you were asked to leave at which point you'd be contravening trespass law. You'd also be unable to photograph, say , undercover officers which could potentially endanger them if published. (Or perhaps otehr circumstances I can't imagine at the moment where the security of a person(s) or building could be jeopardized. (You could be a tourist taking a picture of the CN tower or- you might be someone plotting somethign and taking pictures of entrances and accessways... soem interpretation and common sense comes into play.) Even showing non-uniformed officers getting into unmarked cars could get dicey. Note that they do not have the right to sieze your camera or your film or memory card without a warrant. It is your property.

Unknown said...

Has there been any update on this question(Jan 27 2015) ?
I live near Toronto and have done a version of 'street photography' http://frankgross.com/portfolio/portfolios/untold-stories/
and the people in the images are for the most part recognisable.
I do not approach them for model releases for a variety of reasons.
The images are never sold as stock photography or for other 'commercial' purposes where the image is used for commercial gain.
I have always taken the approach that if someone saw it online and objected, I'd remove it as the ethical thing to do.

However I was asked to show the images at a city wide 'art festival' in Montreal where they'd be printed large and displayed publicly.
The curator is concerned about being sued if someone recognises themselves.
The same question would apply if I exhibited the images in a commercial photography gallery there or here in TO, or even a 'coffee shop', or sold prints from my website. Or if I wanted to publish a book.
My thinking has been that millions of images are taken in this way (a myriad of other photographers), and the images are often sold in galleries, published in books, used for editorial, without releases from the subjects.

I came across the referred to ambient light pdf which pertains to Ontario but I'm not convinced it's legally watertight, or even who the author is
Does anyone have experience &/or knowledge to share. Or a link ?

Thanks,
Frank (please email me - link on above website link)