Sunday photoblogging: each to his own

by Chris Bertram on January 14, 2018

From nearly a decade ago.

Each to his own



Matt 01.14.18 at 10:19 am

A question, Chris: when you take pictures of people, like this one, do you ask the people if they mind, especially if they’d mind if you post them? It’s something I wonder about. (I started thinking about it for two reasons, first, because of Kevin Drum’s photos that he posts, which I assume are pretty widely seen, sometimes include distinct and probably identifiable people, and, more personally, a fair amount of times when I’d be whitewater kayaking (“playboating”, more specifically) people would stop and take photos. I wasn’t crazy about it, especially if I didn’t know them and they were posting them on facebook or where ever. )

Now, I don’t know that I think people have a moral right to not have their photo taken (and then posted) when they are out in public. (I feel more sure that people don’t have such a right when the photo isn’t used for profit, but even then, I’m not certain. When the photo is used for profit, I am much less sure that it’s not a violation of one’s moral rights, but still not certain either way.) But, as someone who doesn’t especially like to be photographed, I know it would certainly annoy me to find out that a picture of me had been posted in public by someone I didn’t know without my permission. But perhaps this is too idiosyncratic to make a judgment on. I’d be interested for your thoughts.


Chris Bertram 01.14.18 at 11:47 am

I know both the subjects well and the photo has been public on Flickr for nine years. I can’t remember whether I discussed with them at the time. However, though it doesn’t settle the question, you are basically ruling the entire historical tradition of street photography morally out of bounds. So no Cartier-Bresson, Winogrand etc If you sell the photo for profit then there may be a claim the subject can make, but no I don’t think people have a moral right not to be photographed in a public place. (Actually we are all filmed and photographed in public places all the time by CCTV, which I’m not wild about to put it mildly, but it seems far more troubling than the odd bit of street photography.)


Matt 01.14.18 at 12:19 pm

Thanks, Chris – I mean it when I say that I don’t think my own feelings about the matter settle things, but I do admit that I don’t love it when other people [whom I don’t know] take pictures of me, and really dislike it if they post or reproduce them without permission. It might be idiosyncratic of me, and even if not, I wouldn’t assume that settled the issue. But, I wish there were more discussion of it. (Maybe there is, and I just don’t know if it. That’s certainly possible.) Of course, it’s a long standing practice, but that alone surely doesn’t mean it’s okay, even if it’s been necessary for lots of great art. Again, though, I’m not certain it’s wrong, even though I really don’t like it when directed at me. In any case, it’s a very nice photo.

The misgivings I have about CCTV would be rather different, I think, given that it’s typically not shown publicly or for amusement. The problems there (and there surely are some) seem different to me.


steven t johnson 01.14.18 at 2:42 pm

That seems to the Times of London. There’s something ever so faintly off-putting about taking the Times of London so seriously.

Is the other guy supposed to be looking at a page three topless?


Chris Bertram 01.14.18 at 6:50 pm

No. He is reading a sports magazine. (The Times reader is probably reading the sports section at the back)


steven t johnson 01.14.18 at 10:40 pm

Sports section! Like so many things, it makes sense when you know.


Dr. Hilarius 01.15.18 at 8:47 pm

Nice, I like photos that suggest a story (however ambiguous). Don’t have anything of my own to contribute along these lines and my recent portraiture work probably wouldn’t play well here on CT.

Interesting comments about street photography and privacy. I’ve encountered objections on occasion, sometimes from people who think they are the object of my lens but, oddly, also from people who are not being photographed but who object to other strangers being photographed. I never photograph the homeless without prior permission because they don’t have the luxury of being able to retreat into private accommodations.

But I’m afraid I don’t see moral issues involved in photographing people in public places unless the photographer is seeking to embarrass or exploit the subject in some manner. My exception to that general rule has been undercover cops at demonstrations (I have a nice collection spanning decades).


Alan White 01.16.18 at 12:31 am

First, it’s encouraging to see people reading print anything (even 10 years ago).

Second, although I’m a shutterbug, I’ve never been much of a portraitist. I’ve torn feelings about taking photos of people in public, but at least with adults presumably they are at least dimly aware they are in the public sphere and willingly so, and thus subject to video and photo capture. At least some of the ethical question about photographing people in public is photographer’s intent. I’d say that clearly there is a place for artistic intent in taking photos of adults. And this particular photo does not make for easy identification of the subjects with heads bowed anyway.

Third, the point about street photography is a good one. There are probably issues about the uses of such photos, but I side with their legitimacy overall.


Scott P. 01.17.18 at 6:13 am

This one was on Separated by a Common Language. American English would usually be “to each his own.”


JanieM 01.18.18 at 3:29 am


engels 01.19.18 at 3:00 am

you are basically ruling the entire historical tradition of street photography morally out of bounds. So no Cartier-Bresson, Winogrand etc

I would personally put it in the category of ‘stuff that was okay when only a few people were doing it but has become seriously annoying now that millions of people are’. Also I don’t think I’d mind people taking photos if they weren’t invariably posting them on Facebook etc. Surely it’s only a matter of time before it’s possible to track large parts of any individual’s history by automatically identifying them in non-consensual third-party published photos


engels 01.19.18 at 7:19 am

(Sorry: the last part of the above is a bit unclear and runs together Matt’s issue—photographs taken and published without the subject’s consent—with another—photographs taken and published without the consent of people appearing in them who aren’t necessarily the intended subjects.)

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