“You can’t take pictures here”


General Culture, General Photography

The first (and only) time I went to the New Museum, and of course I was snapping some photos with my little digital camera (mind you, not of the utterly forgettable art on display, but of the building). A “security” guard approached me and told me “You can’t take pictures here,” and I almost responded “Oh yeah? I just did.” But I ended up being a good boy and put my camera away. This experience will be familiar to many people taking photos, and a new post over at the Smithsonian talks in length about the various cases (the UK seems to have become a particularly bad place for photographers; see Michael’s new post).

Of course, the development of photography becoming ever more restricted in public and semi-public spaces - which is mirrored, btw, by people’s claim that even in a public space photographers can’t take their photo without their permission - is ironic in more ways than just one. For example, when you travel to Britain, you’ll easily notice how places like London are plastered with surveillance cameras (supposedly to deter crime or to fight terrorism) - but you’re not allowed to take photos in many places yourself.

Or contrast our desire to control who is allowed to take our photo in public spaces with our ever-increasing willingness to share even the most private bits of information on sites like Facebook, and to completely ignore the growing numbers of cameras taking surveillance photos of us. You could maybe argue that if the government is taking photographs that’s not so bad (because, in principle, there is at least some sort of oversight), but handing private information to corporations that make no efforts whatsoever to keep your information private and that have no oversight panels?

It seems to me that harassing a street photographer who takes our photo without asking for permission really is approaching the issue at the completely wrong end.