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  • Pete Robinson
    March 26, 2018 at 10:10 pm #16037

    I’ve just been reading an article about photojournalism by Glen Edwards  in an on-line magazine. In his job he likes to document life as it is. One of the photographs in the article was of some children in white coats herding sheep at a county show. He was having a discussion about his work and the issue of photographing children was raised. Please see an excerpt of the article below:

    Another important issue raised during the discussion was photographing children in public. Some photographers have a personal policy not to take photographs of minors because ‘it is more trouble than it’s worth! ‘

    It was a subject that was also raised at The Northern Eye Festival at Oriel Colwyn in October when McCoy Wynne, working commercial landscape photographers from Liverpool, showed their work. In the Q&A Bridget Coaker, The Guardian Picture editor, asked if they had asked permission from parents to use the urban landscape picture that included children. They said no as it was taken in a public area so, rightly, no permission was required. Bridget’s response not only amazed but also worried me as she said the Guardian would not use a picture like this with children in it without consent.

    At the end of the festival there was a general Q&A and I brought the subject up again. I asked Bridget if, as a ‘FREE PRESS ‘, are we not losing that title because the press themselves are afraid to use a picture simply because there are children in the frame. Her answer was a simple ‘yes ‘. How scary is that!!!

    Thinking of this during the talk and remembering Bridget’s remarks I flippantly asked ‘if the press continue with their self censorship in this fashion, in 100 years time the question will be asked ‘Where are all the children ‘?

    We are recorders of history, and that includes every member of society rich, poor, old and young and we can’t allow political correctness to stop that, whether it’s conceptual or traditional. Though different, they are the same and as important in telling the truth of our world for future generations.”

    I like to get parent or guardians permissions before photographing children, but it’s not always possible. As you may know I take some photographs for the council of school children being taught computer technology in libraries. We always get permissions before photographing them. Most parents welcome the photography, but on rare occasions they decline so I avoid photographing that child.The council use the photos on their twitter and websites. I haven’t published any, but am using one for the portrait competition. I had permission from the parent and the council say it’s OK but wanted to know where it would be used.

    The article says the Guardian’s editor won’t use a photograph of a minor taken in a public place with consent of the parent. Glen Edwards argues that we need to record these events for historic reasons so future generations can see how we lived.

    I know we have to be respectful and sensible about it, but has political correctness gone to far? What do you think?

    • ajroyle
      Posts: 814
      March 26, 2018 at 10:33 pm #16038

      I’m inclined to agree, unless you are in a carefully managed situation photographing other people’s children is a fraught with difficulties.

      The situation is by no means new. Over a dozen years ago I was asked by my school to return to photograph classes at work. It was all carefully managed so that only those children whose parents had approved were allowed to appear on the shots. This was a far cry from the situation a few years earlier, when we were getting pictures of children at work in school almost every week.

    • Ian McNab
      Posts: 1387
      March 27, 2018 at 8:51 pm #16040

      This question is slightly more complicated than it seems at first sight, but not for the reasons you might think. First off, what’s the law about privacy in public places? With a few minor – and, in the present discussion, not relevant – exceptions, the law in England is that no one has an expectation of privacy in a public place. It follows from this that, in English law, you can photograph anyone in a public place. That’s regardless of age, sex, religion, or official status (i.e. military, police, fire or ambulance personnel, council and government officials, and similar people). (There are some technical exceptions about crimes and terrorist incidents, but those are very limited in scope.)

      Now, the slight complications. First, be careful to make sure you are actually photographing in a public place. Inside the Arndale Centre in Trafford Park is not a public place. Nor is inside most theatres. But if you are standing on the public highway, and photographing things going in the Arndale Centre car park in full view of the highway, that’s OK. (The main exception to this situation is when people have what’s called ‘a resonable expectation of privacy’, such as being in their own front room; it’s not OK to photograph them there from the public street with a telephoto lens – even if they did leave their curtains wide open before they started doing what’s caught your attention!)

      And when it comes to what is and isn’t a public space, you have to be careful about places like airports (many are privately owned), and probably railway stations (I haven’t checked railway stations, but I suspect they are owned by a public body, and may therefore count as a public space, in the same way as public parks, art galleries, etc. do.)

      Secondly, the biggy. You’re OK taking photographs of anyone in a public space for the purposes of art – either professionally or as a hobby. And you can display prints, or make books of your art works, and offer them for sale. But if you want to sell the photographs for commercial use – in advertising, in newspapers, in marketing, in editorial publications, etc. – then (with some limited exceptions) you may well need written consent from the people appearing in the pictures, because they have an interest in the financial transactions that such use entails. And this is probably the reason that the Guardian Picture Editor that Peter quotes above got hard-edged: her newspaper’s legal advisers have probably told her and her colleagues to be dead careful about using pictures in the paper, as, without written consent, the paper risks being sued by the people in the pictures. The fact that the people in the pictures are children is a red herring. The legal issue is to do with privacy and commercial use.

      Now, having said all that, there’s the current social ambience to consider. This has nothing to do with the law and what’s legal, but with people’s sensitivities in the current context of media coverage of matters to do with child safety. If you look as though you are making efforts to take pictures of some particular child or group of children, and you haven’t asked the adults looking after them, you risk being confronted, not just by those adults but by nearby members of the public who may suspect your motives.

      But if you’re just taking pictures in the street, where there are old ladies with shopping trolleys and mums with pushchairs and chin-wagging gaffers and kids with their dads and blokes selling newspapers and whatever else, I don’t think you need to go over the top in checking that there are no children in the frame when you snap the shutter.

      In other words, these matters are not to do with what’s legal. They’re to do with being able to make documentary photographs without a lot of avoidable upset for fellow citizens and hassle for yourself. So we each need to work out how to make our pictures in a way that works comfortably for us personally (as long as it meets the law’s fairly wide requirements); and if someone comes to a different way of proceeding, that’s not necessarily wrong – it’s just their way of doing it.

      As John has often reminded us, it’s a hobby: we’re supposed to enjoy it!

    • Pete Robinson
      Posts: 1050
      March 28, 2018 at 9:27 am #16041

      That’s quite a comprehensive reply Ian. Thank you for clarifying a complicated subject.

      Concerning your last section about the current social ambience, like you say it’s more to do with your morals than what’s legal. It might be legal to photograph someone in an awkward situation, but they probably wouldn’t like it to be photographed and published. It’s all about being respectful and considerate. I would advise anyone who wants to photograph children to get the guardians permission first and explain why you’re taking them and what they’ll be used for. Offering to send them a copy is a good why to show your gratitude. If you’re thinking of using the photos in a competition tell them.

      Regarding the biggy, that is photographing for editorial reasons, I’ve often been confused with when I see a photograph of a football crowd for example that is offered for sale. The photographer didn’t ask them for permission to take the photo or get them to sign a model release from.  They didn’t get paid for being photographed and the photographer would have been, then he’s offering the photo for sale. Isn’t there an argument that the crowd should get some financial reward for being photographed and helping to sell papers. Just a thought.


    • Ian McNab
      Posts: 1387
      March 28, 2018 at 3:00 pm #16043

      It’s all about being respectful and considerate.

      I’d entirely agree with Peter that this is what’s important. Yes, you can photograph anyone in the street. (You might even go in for sticking flash-guns in their faces, like Dougie Wallace or Bruce Gilden do). But what’s legal is not the same as what’s respectful and considerate. However, if you’re open, straightforward and friendly while you’re photographing in the street, very few people ever object – a nod, a smile, a friendly remark go a long way to making folk feel comfortable about what you’re doing.

      Selling photos for commercial use is a bit of a minefield, because of the complexities of civil law about ownership, copyright, contract, injury and damages, and so on. From what I’ve come across, selling your pictures of a particular person without their consent for use in an advertising campaign or news story is fraught with risk of civil action for damages against you and any publisher of the pictures by that person.

      In other words, the law in this area is about enabling someone (the subject of a photograph) to seek redress for some loss or damage they have suffered at the hands of a photographer and publisher who have profited from the sale of their image without permission or recompense. So it needs an aggrieved party to undertake a civil action against a photographer or publisher who could and should have sought permission, agreed recompense, or otherwise contracted fairly with the aggrieved person. But where there’s little or no reasonable possibility of getting the consent of everyone in the picture, or of entering into an agreement or contract with them, as when photographing a football crowd or the crowd watching a street parade, it’s unlikely that anyone could bring a successful action against the photographer or publisher.


    • KEN LAST
      Posts: 360
      March 29, 2018 at 7:37 pm #16059

      Some commendable postings there. Now photographing children is easy–” Just don”t ” well that’s my advice. When people e-mail me pics of their kids I always delete from my computer, so much is misconstrued . Takes me back a bit though–asked to photograph peoples babies–what a nightmare–little brats. But the best when asked to photograph individual girl guides in a troupe. At their club room one evening , mums had sent them all groomed and washed faces looking very smart. I would deliver the photo”s next week. All went so well I drove home quite pleased with myself. There to discover I had no film in the camera. I still where dark sunglasses when ever I go that way as there is still a bounty on my head.

    • Pete Robinson
      Posts: 1050
      March 30, 2018 at 9:51 am #16076

      I think most of us old film users have done something like that some time. I drove to Colwyn Bay many years ago to photograph a house for a builder. When I developed the colour film I found it wasn’t attached to the take up spool and hadn’t wound on! Oh heck! I had to do it all again.

    • Ian McNab
      Posts: 1387
      March 30, 2018 at 3:51 pm #16078

      Brian  Duffy (he of the 1960’s ‘Black Trinity’ of fashion photographers, Duffy, Donovan and Bailey) got taken on by British Vogue in 1957, and was sent on his first job, to do a portrait of conductor Otto Klemperer. He was given a Leica 35mm camera for the shoot, a camera he’d never used before, as he’d always worked with a Rolleiflex.

      He went to the hall where the orchestra was rehearsing. The great man gave him twenty minutes to do the portrait. To his horror, as Duffy was leaving, Klemperer asked, “Young man, is it usual when taking photographs, to leave the lens cap on?” He went back to the office, handed in the film and went home, thinking that was the end of his very short career at Vogue.

      The picture editor called him in to her office the following morning. “This is it,” he thought, “me out on my ear!” To his surprise, the editor was very apologetic and concerned. “Duffy”, she said, “I have some terrible news. The boys in the darkroom have just rung me up and said there’s been a dreadful accident with the film for your Klemperer pictures, and none of them has come out! I’m afraid I have to ask you to go and do them again.”

      The darkroom guys had covered for him.