At other times I would have dismissed this image as ‘out of focus’ and unusable. Just another missed shot caused by poor focusing technique on a fully manual film camera. Nowadays, however, I have begun to change my attitude towards these kinds of blurred images because of the privacy hysteria affecting the practice of street photography.
There have been cases where people have been found guilty of harassment for covertly taking pictures in public spaces, but street photography has nothing to do with criminal behaviour. There is a huge difference between taking sneaky, random, meaningless pictures of people on the street and trying to freeze sketches of life to tell a story.
There is no privacy in public: the law in the US, the UK and the EU is adamant, and an author – yes, the Berne Convention on Copyright says that a creative photograph gives the photographer this legal status – has the right to make his work available to the public. This means that, even in terms of compliance with the dreaded ‘GDPR’, the publication of street photography works has a legal basis in copyright law.
Nevertheless, the quasi-superstitious attitude towards images, allows people and – worse – the ‘GDPR experts’ to consider illegal this way of documenting our lives. As a result, the risk of being involved in unfounded legal dilemmas or confrontations is skyrocketing, unless you are Joel Meyrowitz, Zun Lee or Girma Berta. Pragmatically, ‘for the rest of us’, this means changing the way street photography is done, by taking blurred pictures, wide angle shots where people are unrecognisable and so on.
Sometimes this is a stylistic choice or a way of experimenting with other approaches, but it is starting to become a necessity. Sad, but true.
The damage that privacy hysteria and a culture of whitewashing do to the preservation of our social memory as a form of heritage for future generations is staggering. There is no one individual to blame for this, but the barbarisation of our society as a whole, aided by a myopic reading of privacy laws that have been conveniently turned into a censorship machine. Instead of punishing those who abuse fundamental rights by taking illegal pictures or re-using them illegally, the authorities are targeting bona fide photographers taking pictures for work or for genuine cultural reasons. This is simply wrong.
Of course, if someone does not like being photographed, they are perfectly entitled to ask that the picture not be taken or shared.
Respecting this is a matter of deontology, far more than a legal obligation. This is the difference between a real photographer and a criminal – or an idiot taking stupid pictures in a stupid way.