Street photography versus portrait right

In my previous post I linked to an article that is about a Dutch law suit. A woman was photographed in the street. She did not know about it and is now suing because her photo was published (as stock photo) with an editorial. Professional photographers in the Netherlands are watching this case closely.

There are many similar frictions, questions and cases about the rights of the portraited individual and the rights of the photographer/artist. Here’s an article on the topic :

Herald Tribune | Street photography: A right or invasion? / (The Theater of the Street, the Subject of the Photograph)

“The practice of street photography has a long tradition in the United States, with documentary and artistic strains, in big cities and small towns. Photographers usually must obtain permission to photograph on private property – including restaurants and hotel lobbies – but the freedom to photograph in public has long been taken for granted. And it has had a profound impact on the history of the medium. Without it, Lee Friedlander would not have roamed the streets of New York photographing strangers, and Walker Evans would never have produced his series of subway portraits in the 1940s”.

“In an affidavit submitted to the court on diCorcia’s behalf, Peter Galassi, chief curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, said diCorcia’s “Heads” fit into a tradition of street photography well defined by artists ranging from Alfred Stieglitz and Henri Cartier-Bresson to Robert Frank and Garry Winogrand. “If the law were to forbid artists to exhibit and sell photographs made in public places without the consent of all who might appear in those photographs,” Galassi wrote, “then artistic expression in the field of photography would suffer drastically. If such a ban were projected retroactively, it would rob the public of one of the most valuable traditions of our cultural inheritance.”

The Getty | About Walker Evans’ subway portraits

This subject is difficult, as there are two sides to the coin. I would not like it if my portrait was published or displayed in an exhibition without my knowledge and consent. But on the other hand, if I were the photographer, I would like/need my right to artistic expression…

I know two things though, if somebody would object to me making photos in a public place or the street, I would respect the NO. Also I would never publish a photo that would be disrespectful.

Last year I was very upset when a disrespectful photograph of my grandmother was published in a newspaper. The paper admitted the mistake and published my complaint, but the harm was done of course. It was extra bitter because the photo was taken at a happy family gathering and it turned out to be our last happy occasion together. It’s difficult to think back to our special event and not see that ugly picture.

Ethics are necessary.