Do we need permission? Do we own the right?

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This is a photo I took in Greece two months ago of the Acropolis in Athens. Being such a busy tourist destination it was impossible not to get any people in the shot. A man unknowingly became the main focus standing central and looking straight at my phone. Did I mean to get a photo of him? No. Did I want him as the central focus? Not really I was more interested in the thing behind him.

In this case should I have asked for his consent? Or does it simply not matter because he was just a bystander obstructing the main focus.

These are the questions becoming more apparent with the growing use of technologies and photo sharing apps available today. For street photographers they have to consider this everyday. This week we were discussing the legalities behind taking photos of others. As Colberg puts it there has become a serious issue of consent, especially when you take a photo of someone and they confront you (Colberg, 2013). In todays day and age photographers both professional and anyone with an iphone can take a photo of someone provided they are in a public space and there are technically no legalities behind it.

There has become a major issue of contention between the violation of people’s privacy and art. Art photography occupies a tiny niche, and we cannot expect the general public to have the same kind of knowledge and/or understanding of photography the members of this tiny niche have (Colberg, 2013). The concept of Art in all its forms will almost always grapple with public perception. Much like the photography works of Bruce Gilden and Garry Winogrand, arguably two of the most renowned street photographers, both known for taking raw, unplanned images hence, could get away with not asking for consent.


Bruce Gilden: JAPAN. 1998. Two members of the Yakuza, Japan’s mafia. The Yakuza’s 23 gangs are Japan’s top corporate earners. They model themselves on 1950s American gangsters.

 While I am no Bruce Gilden, I tried to get my own shot of people in the public space of University. In this image there a various people passing by while others are sitting using their respective devices. Because this image was not directed at any one in particular I didn’t ask for consent.


What I have just demonstrated represents the exact ethical dilemma of public space photography. Like myself who didn’t ask permission, many people don’t ask and like the lack of law I don’t think it is necessary, however in saying that if I were to take a picture of a clear subject, like Gilden that required consent then obviously I would. This whole dilemma poses the question of safeguards. While safeguards may protect a person’s image at face value, I don’t think that it is in any way going to help or limit public photo taking especially with the proliferation of technology. With the ample of photo apps, Colberg believes people have become more conscious of being photographed, but actually maybe they haven’t, maybe people have become too busy on their own devices to even notice!

Arts Law Centre of Australia, 2015, Street Photographer’s rights, Arts Law Centre of Australia, viewed 6th September 2015,

Colberg, J 2013, The Ethics of Street Photography, Conscientious extended, viewed: 6th September 2015,


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