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Despite the drama in many debates and even in some parts of the video below, I’m not entirely sure this could be the end of Street Photography… But maybe it is?
These days, everyone is focused on AI and all that auto-generated images can do to disrupt the industry. But at a much higher level, governments are introducing or updating their privacy laws, tightening them to the point that Street Photography may become completely illegal. And in some countries, this is already the case.
As I mentioned at the very beginning of the video, a photo almost got me arrested in Spain not too long ago. But why? And what do these laws enforce? And is there a way to operate within these restrictions? Or should we abandon our craft in the name of a greater social good?
I hope this video will generate some discussion, here and on my channel. And I’ll be happy to have this conversation with you. So, let’s talk: are we witnessing the end of Street Photography?
Street photography lets us glimpse the poetry of everyday public life. A candid shot can reveal so much about a time and place.
But this unique genre may be in jeopardy. Even a photo as insignificant as the one I took was enough to potentially cause me quite a lot of trouble. And not just in the moment I took it, but even years later and across different countries.
Privacy laws are now stricter than ever in parts of Europe and beyond. In Spain and countries like Hungary, Switzerland, and Brazil, you need express consent to take a recognizable photo of someone, even in public spaces. And you absolutely can’t publish images of strangers without permission.
Think about it – this would make street photography as we know it illegal! Masters like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, and Vivian Maier built their careers on candid public shots. But ironically, their most iconic works could now get them arrested or, at the very least, fined. So, to them, it would have been the end of Street Photography.
These privacy laws arise from real concerns in the modern digital age. Images spread uncontrollably, and anonymity is fading with facial recognition. People feel more vulnerable to having their photos popped online without consent.
At the same time, enforcing strict rules for Street Photography clashes with artistic freedom of expression. And they may not account for the nuance of different situations. Not all candid shots are alike.
As street photographers, do we need to get consent now before clicking away? Does that defeat the purpose of capturing authentic moments as they happen? Or do we have an ethical obligation to adapt?
I don’t claim to have all the solutions. But I do believe street photography can survive and thrive with some adjustments.
By the way, I have another video where I give 5 tips on how to photograph strangers in the street that may be quite helpful here. If you want to watch it, start with this blog post.
So, in this video, I discuss all of the above and present verbatim references to worldwide laws. I even went on reading the GDPR myself, to make sure I was not simply reporting hearsay but I was debating on the true content of the law.
For example, you might have heard the argument that someone’s face can be considered personal data in the GDPR, and, therefore, Street Photographers cannot take candid shots anymore. Well, that is not true. Or not entirely. And I present the relative paragraph of the GDPR in the video.
But then, some countries within the EU have additional laws that make candid photos more difficult. The laws governing Street Photography can be complex and vary from country to country. It is always best to err on the side of caution.
And in countries like Saudi Arabia, you could face imprisonment.
That’s why the title mentioned the end of Street Photography. It seems very dramatic, but the situation is indeed complex. And so, I hope this video will help clarify some controversies and that you will find it useful.
Looking forward to your feedback. More to come soon – stay tuned.
Here is the direct link, in case the embed doesn’t work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mBCTXcxm-o
One More Thing…
I feel the need to write down this quote from Sean Tucker. It’s in the video as well, but I believe it is worth repeating:
“No single shot I take is worth ruining someone else’s day”.
So, even when you have the right to take a photo, please be respectful and considerate. Thank you.