Public privacy

After being accosted yet again today while photographing in my own neighborhood, I decided it’s time to update my website with information about privacy rights in public. Essentially, there are none, with some narrow exceptions and restrictions. If you don’t believe me, just ask Bert Krages; he’s your go-to attorney on the web when it comes to privacy and publicity law.

Anyone who’s visited my website has seen my photographs of suburban homes and shopping malls, inter alia. I was shooting today along the same lines, when a woman pulled up to ask me what I was doing. Actually, she turned around and drove back toward me to ask, after first passing me by.

Only, she really didn’t ask me straight out, or I’d have taken the opportunity to school her in my usual charming manner. (Really.) Instead, she blathered on about whether I was shooting a nearby house for sale (not hers) and was I interested in buying it, etc, etc. It was obvious she was checking me out; but she didn’t have the nerve just to straight-out ask me. I find this quite irritating. Heck, I’d have preferred she called the cops, if she found me so intimidating she couldn’t talk to me like a normal person. At least with a police officer I’d have had some small chance of encountering a person who knows the law.

I replied politely, but monosyllabically, to her questions, as she writhed through her attempts not to ask me what she plainly wanted to ask me. She left, and I drove away when I was finished shooting. The house I was shooting wasn’t hers. Guess she’s the Neighborhood Watch block captain.

I’m glad that my neighbors are watching out for “suspicious activity” in my ‘hood. We’ve had some burglaries and vandalism, so vigilance is good. And I don’t mind explaining what I’m doing—usually by handing my interlocutors a business card and inviting them to my website. (I think I could get away with almost anything if I printed it on a business card. What about, “Michael Sebastian,Voyeur”?) But I am quite tired of having to fend off such inquiries when they are made in a mealy-mouthed, passive-aggressive manner; or, on occasion, with aggression of the chest-puffing and loud-talking kind. (I’ve encountered that, too, here in Suburban Acres.)

At times I’m something of a curmudgeon, so if you find this an unreasonable stance, sound off (politely) in the comments.


3 thoughts on “Public privacy

  1. The unfortunate problem is that we are now living in a different era – one filled with suspicion and a serious lack of trust that is further fueled by mainstream media.

    Ten or fifteen years ago someone might have stopped to talk with you simply because you were out and about, and your camera probably would have found its way into the conversation merely as a point of topic.

    You weren’t causing any harm and it’s sad when people believe they must live every day life in fear.


  2. Right you are Michael. I am very aware of eyes stabbing me in public when I photograph. And mostly my images are not about people; people are incidental when they appear at all.

    It is especially uncomfortable photographing around children. I got a lot of dirty looks when photographing my son’s baseball games. For the most part I wandered through the crowds shooting. Pedophile hysteria has reached epidemic proportions, way out of sync with its actual rare incidence.

    Thanks for commenting.


  3. The general public’s ignorance of these issues is rather astounding. I think the average person would tell you the exact opposite of what is true, they think the photographer has to get complete permission and/or that they can deny a photographer the right to shoot anything in public.
    I’ve had a few run-ins over the years. Once I was photographing a crazy homeless hippy guy who was running around ranting about Jesus on the streets. He ran up to me and threatened to smash my camera. Which was a Holga. So I handed it to him and whipped out another Holga in preparation of photographing him smashing my first camera. He became confused, handed my camera back and ran off to yell at other folks. Another time I was shooting down in an industrial section of Santa Fe, right near the barrio. Two gangster types came out of a nearby house and were staring me down. I had an 8×10 camera, so I was kind of conspicuous, and in SFe gangs might actually know to steal and fence your 8×10. When they confronted me, I told them how interesting I thought their neighborhood was and I invited them to look at how the image was upside down on the ground glass. They were really cool after that, and they went back to their car and brought out an bunch of cameras, mostly tourist style point-and-shoots. They asked me if I was interested in buying them, and then how much they were worth. I had gone from potential victim to potential customer.


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