Recent scrutiny of press intrusions and the heightened awareness of the use of photography by paedophiles has conflated to produce a toxic environment for street photographers.
In this week’s Amateur Photographer* there is an article entitled ‘Antisocial’ Street Photos Can Get You Arrested’. It describes the story of Richard Selby (81) who photographs in Brighton. Selby takes pictures for a personal project of the numerous hen parties that his home town hosts.
One evening his collar was felt by the Law (something that has happened to me) after a complaint from the public. He was suspected of contravening Antisocial laws (section 50 of the Police Reform Act 2002). He avoided arrest by reluctantly giving his name and address. To be released Selby had to persuaded the Law of his innocence by showing them his shots which were immediately recognised as not contravening any antisocial norms. In addition Selby had to (reluctantly) supply his name and address. The police also told him that he was in danger of being physically attacked by a group of men.
Whilst we have no privacy laws in the UK unlike France, for example, we have a very sophisticated legal web dedicated to the control of antisocial behaviour – the UK is a world leader in both the committal and control of these crimes. Now these laws are being brought to bare on innocent and enquiring photographers. Perhaps this is a product of the shear number of snappers out on the street but it is also worrying that we are now moving towards a culture in which photographers are seen by the public at large as pariahs.
There is no ready answer to this situation but I think it is time that photographers realised that with every Richard Selby story comes a tightening of the noose around all of our necks.
We must be bold in our style. We must not hide in the shadows and we must believe that by capturing these fascinating moments of life, far from infringing on society, we are adding to the sum of human experience and celebrating the diverse appeal of our culture.
*Amateur Photographer is often cited as the guiltiest/greatest of pleasures by many of the very successful photographers who I print for. BJP, Hotshoe and the like barely get a mention.