The Null Device

The war on photography

The practice of street photography, taking spontaneous photographs in public places, is under threat, as photographers find themselves lumped in with the shadowy paedoterrorist hordes who are out to kill us all and molest our children:
In the past year, the photography blogs have buzzed with tales of harassment, even violence. There's the war photographer who dodged bullets abroad only to be beaten up in his own South London backyard by a paranoid parent who (wrongly) thought his child was being photographed. There's the amateur photographer punched prostrate in the London Tube after refusing to give up his film to a stranger; the case of the man in Hull, swooped on by police after taking photographs in a shopping centre. “Any person who appears to be taking photos in a covert manner should expect to be stopped and spoken to by police ...” ran the Humberside force's statement.
Sophie Howarth is a curator specialising in street photography. She says she's noticed - despite the difficulties - a boom for the art, enabled by technology, and with London at the centre. “In France, traditionally one of the great centres of street photography, the law now says you own the rights to your own image, so street photography's become a dead art. In London there's a growing community of photographers, using digi- tal technology, not just cameras, but blogs, too, to document the city and give each other instant feedback.”
When did the law in France change? Was that one of Sarkozy's neo-Galambosian intellectual-property-maximalist reforms, like pushing for EU-wide copyright term extension?
“I'm not going to belittle the issue of terrorism, but this is paranoia. And unfortunately, since Lady Di and now this link with terrorists, photography's seen by many people as something that's a little ... cheap.”

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