Let me start a little discussion here today.
Brought on by a shoot cancelled because of “privacy reasons”, I had a discussion yesterday on an Internet pro photographer forum about photographing children. In short, this is frowned upon even when allowed (in a public place) – in my view, a worrying development for photographers and for anyone who likes freedom.
Apart from my cancelled shoot, this is in no way a personal argument – I do not go around photographing kids – but I am concerned that the general opinion in this discussion was that photographing children should be illegal, even in a public setting, and that this opinion seemed to be based not on fact, but on emotion.
Now don’t get me wrong: I know there are bad people in the world, and I am very sensitive to the need to protect children, and to parents’ wish to do just that. Goes without reason and should not even need saying.
But I had a problem with the majority opinion and the lack of nuance in translating the need to protect to the desired policy to achieve that. If I – hopefully correctly – paraphrase that majority opinion, it was:
- That photographing kids is dangerous to them.
- That whether it was legal or not, it was objectionable and should lead to police persecution, if not prosecution.
- That the law is irrelevant: kids matter, the law does not.
- That the wishes of the individual (e.g. a parent) overrule those of the photographer.
As happens regularly, in this case I was in the minority – a minority of one, in disagreeing with this.
Alas, the thread was deleted by the moderator (who was arguing against me – I have to think perhaps the deletion happened because he thought he was losing the argument? :-)). So I will try to recap my thoughts – this subject is important enough to be discussed extensively.
I disagree strongly with the position that photographing children should be de facto illegal. For the following reasons:
- I believe that there is no evidence to suggest that photography, or identifying children, does any significant harm. Child abuse is done in the vast majority of cases (over 98% I believe?) by people who know the child, not by weird stalking strangers. If there is any evidence to suggest that photography has caused any child abduction or abuse cases, I do not know of it. I have kids and want them to be safe – but let’s be evidence-based, not emotion-based. Evidence may well show that we should outlaw uncles, soccer coaches, and relatives, but not photography.
- The argument that people who photograph a child “obviously” do this for sexual reasons (“let them go away to masturbate”, was the phrase used”) is entirely unsupported by factual evidence.
- The argument, also made, that one must not be allowed to offend anyone or hurt their feelings is also a very weak one. Whatever we do, we will hurt someone’s feelings. Imagine if we allowed religious feelings to dictate policy – the sum total of all religions is against, and hence is offended, I am sure, by everything. Everything we do offends someone.
- A phrase similar to “photography of children should not be protected by the law” was used. (Forgive me if I do not recall the exact phrase: the thread, as said, was deleted). This shows a worrying lack of understanding of law. Unlike people who live in dictatorships (and I have worked in them), we do not live in a society where everything is forbidden except what is specifically allowed. Rather, the reverse, and I think we should keep it that way.
- With few exceptions, our law allows photographers on public property to photograph anyone on public property.
- The phrase “I do not care what the law says, it must not be allowed” (again, paraphrased) is also a worrying one. The whole point of having laws is that it does matter. If something is bad, prove it and make a law against it, and then it is no longer allowed. We do not regulate ourselves by random sentiments or opinions: the law ensures that all this clear, evidence-based, discussed openly, and agreed upon by a majority. History has shown amply that freedom restrictions by popular emotion are always a bad idea.
- Imagine if we outlawed photographing children. There are many issues with this seemingly simple law. Like “what about crowds?”. “What if they are your own”. “What if you are their uncle?”. “What about public events?”. “What if it is news?”. “What if the thing you are shooting is newsworthy but the criminal brings a child to avoid photography”. And so on. A simple idea, when thought through, would end up as many complex pages of law. Lawyers would be happy I imagine, but would we?
- There are already plenty of good laws against criminals. Stalking is already illegal – no need to make the act of photography itself illegal.
Meanwhile, often aided by our authorities, the general population increasingly thinks that photography is already illegal. And when photographers support this, rather than pushing back and insisting on evidence and law, we live in sad times. Again and again, it is easy to manipulate the vox populi.
So before you take a quick position, I recommend you think things through and try to be fact-based.
Sure we should be sensitive, but if photographers everywhere stopped shooting whenever anyone objects, or worse, did not start because someone might, we would end up doing little photography. Lawmakers and governments always want to increase their power by restricting our rights; since the magna charta, we have pushed back against this.
Remember: Photons are just photons and have no magic evil-powers when captured by a sensor instead of a retina.
But there is one good thing here: I am glad that people apparently feel that a photo can be powerful.
(You can comment by clicking below. Feel free! The first comment by any reader has to be approved, which I will do quickly – then you’re good from then on).