Photography: A Dying Art

By SallyB2 Last edited 119 months ago
Photography: A Dying Art

Alarming news from the courts of…yes, that news capital of the south, Croydon.

Late last year a young man, one Dimitri Petrov, was on a tram from Croydon when he took a few photos on his mobile phone. One or more of these seem to have involved children who were also travelling on the tram. Mr. Petrov was confronted and chased off the tram. When he tried to defend himself by throwing stones at his attackers, one of them struck a certain Terence Crawford, who then punched Petrov and broke his jaw. Crawford has been sentenced to community service and fined damages. End of story. Common assault. Not the sort of thing that normally alarms Londonist. What we mean to say is that while any aggression upsets us, fragile flowers that we are, this is not the stuff of headlines.

What has jolted us is the reaction of the public to the random taking of photos. We know not whether Petrov had any intentions other than the innocent capture of images of his journey. He could have been one of our flickr friends. A sociologist recording behaviour on transport. An artist. A fellow blogger. Or maybe they were just really cute kids. The problem is that, to quote from an excellent article by David Toyne:

the collateral damage of this culture of paranoia has been a certainty in the eyes of many of the public that any photographer in any public place is either a paedophile or a terrorist

It is not illegal to take a photo in public. And the paedophiles and terrorists in our midst are thankfully few. Are we really that anxious and suspicious? Have we lost all innocence? When did it become a moral crime to attempt to capture beauty for posterity? If this misplaced righteous fervour (which surely stems from a sort of collective self-obsession) carries on, public photography will become a an occupation carried out in stealth, if at all. O tempora, o mores….

We know this is a contentious issue: we’d like to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Photo taken from Thomas Hawk’s flickr photo stream under the Creative Commons Licence.

Last Updated 03 August 2008


This is a concern of mine as someone who is trying to improve my photography by going out with the camera and shooting random objects, people and events. In that respect kids are a potentially limitless resource, and in many cases they'd be delighted to oblige, but I have a real nervousness about pointing the camera in their direction because of the potential reaction of adults.

e.g. last weekend I was at the Ealing festival in west London with friends, and was taking photos for a small Flickr group that I am part of, the theme being "summer fete". There was an area outside the main site which contained attractions specifically for kids, like a helter skelter and a small ride. Lots of smiling faces and great expressions, but I felt sure I'd end up getting hassled by folks if I tried to take any pictures. So I didn't.

I felt similar fear, (that's really what it is) on the tube recently when trying to take photos for the same Flickr group, which runs themes every couple of weeks. Lots of opportunities for great pictures, but the definite feeling that things could get hairy if I tried.

Of course there's also the whole "security" issue too, where individuals have experienced harrassment at the hands of over zealous security guards, police officers and community support officers. That came up in discussions with friends recently and as part of that the following links were supplied:

That third link contains a handy guide to photographers' rights. I've printed off a few copies and keep them in my camera bag in case I am bothered by anyone who may have the wrong idea about both my intentions and the law. Unfortunately though having these bits of paper in my bag goes no way towards removing the nervousness I feel about taking candid shots of young people, or indeed candid shots of anyone. Which is a shame as candid photography is to my mind the most rewarding kind, from both a photographer's and viewer's point of view.