Creepshot or Not: Bikinis in the Park

Paleo Retiree writes:

When I solicited thoughts and opinions some months ago about whether a snapshot I’d sneaked of a couple of sunbathing cuties in a public park was a Creepshot or not, some visitors concluded A) that it wasn’t, and B) that the reason it wasn’t was that you couldn’t see the girls’ faces. If the girls couldn’t be identified, so what?

Today, in the interests of muddying up the debate, I’m posting a snap of some attractive young women in bikinis, in a park, several of whose faces can be clearly made out. Visitors: Creepshot or not? What’s your opinion?

danish_bikinisSome questions that strike me as worth mulling over: When women are stripping off and sunning in a public park, how much “reasonable expectation of privacy” are they entitled to? Should it be legal or not-legal to sneak a snap of them? Perhaps it should be considered legal but also rude. Did these women all give the photographer their approval, both to take the pic and to publish the pic? If not, do they deserve to be able to sue, or perhaps just to protest? Should the taking-and-publishing of this photo be condemned?

These are all semi-trick questions because the photo in this case isn’t in fact wank-fodder sneaked off by a creepy old perv like me. Nope: it’s a legit journalistic photograph. (Proof.) OK, let me amend that a bit: it’s a pic, licensed from a respected stock-photo agency, that a legit news outlet has seen fit to use.

My small point here: People have been taking and publishing photos of other people in public since cameras became mobile enough to carry around. People have even been taking and publishing pix of skimpily-dressed women sunning themselves in parks for many, many decades. You may personally have a quarrel with the practice, but it’s been widely-accepted behavior for a long time. And besides: How do you feel about blue jeans at the office? Granted that, in an ideal world, perhaps people wouldn’t wear jeans to the office. But we don’t live in an ideal world and, given that jeans-wearing been accepted in many offices since the 1970s, is it a practice that’s really worth losing sleep over? Perhaps “not losing sleep over it” is a sensible attitude where long-established photographic practices go too.

Depending on several variables, this kind of photography is known as “street photography,” “social-documentary photography,” “photojournalism” or plain-ol’ “candid photography.” In other words: whether or not we’re personally new to these debates, these issues have been hashed-over since a few days after the first street photograph was taken in 1838. The masochistic may want to take a look at this Wikipedia entry. Short version for those in the U.S.: “It is legal to photograph or videotape anything and anyone on any public property.”

Not to be coy about my own opinion (and after 30 years in the media biz I’d be a pretty sad case if I hadn’t sorted out my feelings and ideas about the topic): I’m a “If you’re out in public you can be photographed. Best to be aware of this and act accordingly” person. Basically: I’m a free-speech fan, and I believe that being able to photograph things in public is a free-speech issue. And, just as I’m willing to go to the mat in defense of free speech for writers, I’m willing to stand up for free speech for photographers, even if that speech offends me.  Now, realistically speaking, just as “free speech” in the verbal sense depends on some rules — famously, no yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater — a photographer’s right to snap pix of whatever he pleases in public is enabled and protected by a few rules along the lines of “no sticking your camera up a woman’s skirt.” I do know that.

All that said, and entirely IMHO, photographers should be able to fire away as they see fit, and the rest of us should be aware that, where photography goes, time spent in public is a radically different thing than time spent in private spaces. Don’t whine about it, people. Grow the fuck up and comport yourself in public as though someone might be taking a pic of you at this very moment. Dudez: Think twice about picking your nose, adjusting your balls, or scraping out your ear and inspecting the wax. Ladies: if you want to go out in public wearing a skimpy, floaty sundress and it’d bug you if someone snapped a pic of your bare butt as the wind makes that dress fly up over your hips, don’t stamp your feet at the injustice of it all, wear boy shorts or yoga shorts instead of a thong.

(By the way: there are some subjects, some photos, and some ways of taking and using photos that, while technically legal, will strike many people as rude and / or cruel. The feelings people have about these questions interest me a lot. Fun phenom to ponder in this light: People of Wal-Mart. Often cruel? Sometimes ungallant? Even a little elitist? Sure. But: Funny as hell and a valuable document about Idiocracy today? Just as certain.)

What’s new about today’s Creepshot debates isn’t the fact that a lot of people are snapping pix of each other in public. That’s been happening for well over a century. It’s that, long after many of the issues triggered off by the topic of photography-in-public were settled, a new public debate about it has cropped up. Given that I’m perfectly happy with the legalities as they were settled circa 1950, what mainly fascinates me here is the question: Why should this new debate have arisen at all?

As far as I can tell, two things are propelling this tempest in a teapot.

  • Digicams, smartphones and surveillance image-making devices seem to be everywhere. There are ‘way more devices snapping and humming away than ever before, and ‘way more imagery is being displayed in public than ever before. (According to sources in this posting, more than six billion photos are uploaded to Facebook every month.) These facts and realities are certainly changing something. Perhaps the omnipresence of imagery and of image-making devices is heightening people’s awareness of their “Omigod, am I being photographed right now?” feelings. Perhaps they’re experiencing self-consciousness in a way they didn’t in, say, 1980, when cameras and images were in much shorter supply. Also, as Blowhard, Esq. has argued, perhaps the proliferation of images and image-making devices is making many people feel like the situation has gotten out of control. And, as often happens, when a situation starts to run out of control, certain people will freak out. Perhaps shaming — in this case, calling a kind of picture that we’ve in fact been comfortable with for many decades a Creepshot — is a way some people have of trying to regain control of a situation that makes them uneasy.
  • The other main thing powering this discussion, it seems to me, is the arrival on the scene of a lot of young women who 1) are spoiled and entitled, 2) seem to be completely unaware of the history of culture, and 3) have blogs and media outlets that they’re using to express their silly and uninformed opinions. Given that young women are by nature vain creatures, and given that many of today’s young women are deeply convinced that life in the wild should resemble a well-run PC college campus, these girls can’t believe that people are being allowed to snap pix of them without their explicit permission. And they hate it, just hate it, that some of this picture-snapping may be motivated by humor or lust. “But how is that supposed to make me feel about myself???” is the cry of today’s young woman, as well as something that she thinks the rest of us should be seriously concerned with.

Tl;dr: Is the ominpresence of digital images and digital imaging devices making people anxious? Or are we raising our girls to be spoiled dodos and tyrants?

As it happens, I’ve been thinking about photography a lot in the past month or so, making visits to galleries and watching docs about the subject. Some interesting movies the curious may enjoy:

  • Bill Cunningham New York. This tribute to a legendary New York City photographer won numerous awards and has been a big audience favorite, and it certainly has its share of virtues, generosity and resourcefulness among them. Cunningham, who’s now in his 80s, has been documenting New York City street characters and NYC society events for many decades, first for the SoHo News and Details and in more recent years for The New York Times. I found the movie a charmer but also disappointingly shallow and unincisive, as well as sanitized and oversweet. It’s nothing but a valentine, both to Cunningham and to the version of “culture” that he’s part of and documents. But don’t let my misgivings discourage you from watching it. It’s fun watching Cunningham at work — dancing around as he snaps pics on the street and at events, and driving colleagues nuts as he polishes layouts at The Times. And he’s unquestionably a fascinating oddball, cheery and bright, with a monkish devotion to his journalistic mission. The movie also provides some glimpses of how the downtown performance-art / drag-queen / art-school / fashion-kook world took over the mainstream. If you’ve ever looked at the Style section of the Times and wondered where the hell its peculiar adorable-faggy tone came from, you’ll know a bit about the explanation and history if you watch this film. It’s currently on Netflix Instant.
  • The Vivian Maier Mystery. Looking forward to Blowhard, Esq.’s musings about “Finding Vivian Maier,” an informative but perplexing documentary about the recently-discovered photographer that we caught at NYC’s invaluable IFC Center. Meanwhile, I’ll put in an enthusiastic recommendation for this straightforward BBC doc by Jill Nicholls. Vivian Maier, who spent much of her long life working as a nanny and who died in 2009, was as peculiar and dedicated a figure as Bill Cunningham; like him, she had no romantic life whatsoever. But where Cunningham is a cheery enthusiast who publishes dozens of photos a week, Maier was gloomy and arty and published almost none of her pix. Her images are richly expressionistic — sometimes tormented, sometimes even cruel, but always striking. A good question the doc poses: What right does anyone have to turn negatives that were never published by a photographer who’s now dead into prints? Malcolm Jones’ Daily Beast piece about Maier (and about the docs about her) is a gem. “The Vivian Maier Mystery” can be watched via the iTunes Store.
  • An American Journey: In Robert Frank’s Footsteps. A personal-essay-style nonfiction film by a French director, Philippe Séclier, who, fascinated by Robert Frank’s legendary book of street photographs “The Americans,” recreated Frank’s 1958 trip that resulted in the book. (Séclier also visits with some photography-world insiders, critics and historians, who provide info and context.) It’s moody, quirky, informative and quite fascinating. Robert Frank — an officially certified genius and a major presence in legit photography-history books — didn’t often ask people for permission to take their photos, that’s for sure. The movie is a pleasant 58 minutes long and is available on Netflix Instant.
  • Everybody Street. A wonderful documentary by Cheryl Dunn (herself a gifted and accomplished photographer) about New York City street photographers. She interviews many of the biggest names (among them Bruce Davidson, Elliott Erwitt, Jill Freedman, Bruce Gilden, Rebecca Lepkoff, Mary Ellen Mark, Jeff Mermelstein, Clayton Patterson, Ricky Powell and Jamel Shabazz), goes out with them on photographic safaris, and sits with them as they edit their pics. It’s fascinating to reflect on how their personalities, preferences, interests and talents result in such different bodies of work. Some of them sneak pictures. Some of them hang out with groups and gain their trust. Some politely ask permission and have their subjects pose for them. Some are motivated by arty concerns while others are fueled by anthropological or social-protest ones. Joel Meyerowitz appears here, as he does in several other photography docs I’ve watched, and he’s a standout commentator: smart, appreciative and articulate. He has got to be an inspiring teacher as well as the first-class photographer he is. And New York City is quite a character in its own right in the film. Though as a resident of the place I often find the city exhausting and infuriating, while I watched this doc I puffed up with pride. What a wonderfully Whitmanesque spectacle the place is, and how great it is that the city is so full of assertive characters and productive talents. If anything’s wrong with “Everybody Street” it’s that we spend too little time with many of the figures included in it. But that’s a far better thing than spending too much time with them. “Everybody Street” can be watched for a very reasonable $4.99 on Vimeo. At that link you can sample some outtakes and clips for free.


  • Previous conversations about the Creepshot phenom: here, here and here.
  • The latest tantrum from the bluestockings and cultural know-nothings at Jezebel. One typical comment on the posting: “When we talk about rape culture, part of it is the idea that men have the right to do stuff like this because the women dared to go outside so they deserve what they get.” Another: “This is about violating someone else’s personal space/privacy, rather than just seeing body parts.” Why on earth do these girls think that when they’re out in public they have a huge claim on “personal space/privacy”? Or do they simply feel, as I suspect they do, that they’re entitled to do whatever the hell they want to, and that the world should always and everywhere submit to their druthers and endorse their behavior?
  • Looking forward to catching  up with this BBC doc.
  • Speaking of visuals-motivated-by-lust: Don’t forget to stop by our 18-and-older Tumblr blog, where we share some of the naughty things that get our juices running.

About Paleo Retiree

Onetime media flunky and movie buff and very glad to have left that mess behind. Formerly Michael Blowhard of the cultureblog Now a rootless parasite and bon vivant on a quest to find the perfectly-crafted artisanal cocktail.
This entry was posted in Movies, Photography and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Creepshot or Not: Bikinis in the Park

  1. Will S. says:

    “Or are we raising our girls to be spoiled dodos and tyrants?”


    How does that saying go? They’d cover the world in leather and walk barefoot, rather than put on shoes.

    Eventually, I hope, reality will return, and nobody will demand that you don’t look at what you can see, don’t shoot pics of what is shown.

    But it may take a while…


  2. agnostic says:

    Seems like it’s more due to generational rather than technological change.

    Millennials don’t get what the outside world is, or what the norms are, having been sequestered in the nuclear household their entire lives by helicopter parents. They seem to think that going out in public is just like moving from their personal room into the common family room, and hence that anyone taking a pic of them in public is like a peeping Tom outside their living room window.

    How would 40 year-old women react to finding out that lots of guys were taking public pictures of their demographic instead? For whatever purpose — #MILFs, #GrannyPanties, #EmbarrassingMomJeans,,, and so on?

    I think women in Gen X would actually stop and take these possibilities to heart, and prepare accordingly before going out. They have more of a sense of shame, or susceptibility to peer pressure, whereas narcissistic Millennials won’t bow to anyone else. Or if the older women weren’t going to prepare, they’d just brush it off, not really caring, and move on.

    Ubiquitous digicams, smartphones, etc., are new to Gen X as well — even more so, since they’re not digital natives. Yet they don’t seem to give a shit about the possibility of someone snapping a pic of them outside. They look and act way less retarded in public, hence less to worry about in the first place; and they have thick enough skin to brush off petty slimeballs rather than blow them up into sinister armies of creeeeeepshoterrrrrrrrs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Millennials don’t get what the outside world is, or what the norms are, having been sequestered in the nuclear household their entire lives by helicopter parents. They seem to think that going out in public is just like moving from their personal room into the common family room, and hence that anyone taking a pic of them in public is like a peeping Tom outside their living room window.”

      I think there’s a lot to that.


  3. agnostic says:

    Someone should troll the feminist sites, along the lines of creepshots being a blessing in disguise — with creepshots easily and freely available to young males, the demand for pornography will dry up, and so put an end to mankind’s most patriarchally exploitative rape industry.

    From the comments at Jizzabel, they seem to think the opposite — that creepshots are not a substitute for porn, but a separate vice of getting off on violating a girl’s privacy / consent without her even knowing. They glibly conclude that this is the obvious motivation, since otherwise they’d just be watching porn.

    It never occurs to them that maybe the creepshot takers and consumers are turned off by tattooed sluts, feel pathetic relying on fake paid women to jerk off to, can’t tune out the fact that the women are broken screw-ups and feel dirty watching them, are turned off by vileness, don’t feel like hearing “actresses” shouting fake orgasms like retards and taking them out of the mod, prefer a little mystery (identity and clothing-wise) to remain surrounding the girls they’re jerking off to, or any other number of reasons why they’d substitute creepshots for porn.

    When you think about what their alternatives are now, and have been recently, the creepshot phenomenon looks more like a turn back in the wholesome direction. More like a high schooler pointing out to his friends the chick who’s bending over her desk, than the sad isolated middle-aged bachelor fapping to Throatfuckers 27 HD.


    • JV says:

      “From the comments at Jizzabel, they seem to think the opposite — that creepshots are not a substitute for porn, but a separate vice of getting off on violating a girl’s privacy / consent without her even knowing. They glibly conclude that this is the obvious motivation, since otherwise they’d just be watching porn.”

      If you’re jacking off to it, it’s porn. With covert images/video, it could the nonconsensual aspect that turns you on, or the fact that the subjects are your typical paid porn girl. Doesn’t really matter. It’s just another subgenre of porn. And hey, I look at porn too, I’m not against it. But I don’t think you can say creepshots are a substitute or more wholesome alternative to porn. It’s just porn (if you’re jacking off to it).


  4. Watched the Cunningham doc last night, enjoyed it for the most part, but I could’ve done with less scenes of Cunningham and the Times art director futzing on the computer with the layout for his column. Also, as you allude to, hard not to be struck by their narrow interpretation of what fashion is.


  5. I can see where it can be construed as creepy if the individual(s) happen to catch you taking pics.
    And of course you could easily say you were taking pictures of rare grass or insects and you happen to be in the picture. But how is this different than any of the other cameras starting to inundate our society (traffic, security…) and in various public spaces? I had no idea there was such a law here in Georgia, it does state “private” areas out of public view are illegal without “consent”. As with all interpretation of laws, there will be grey areas when confronted.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Fenster says:

    I read the Jezebel stuff, including comments and the news reports linked to. I think you are right that there is an element in there of whiny and hypocritical privilege, as in the one comment you quote. But in fairness, I saw less in the totality of that material in the way of hard feminist ideology about the male gaze per se and more by way of an objection to what people considered to be creepy behavior relative to the *photographers’ actions*.

    Specifically, people seemed to be having a hard time with photographers on those beaches trying to hide the fact that they were taking photographs. Being sneaky. Using telephoto lenses in more or less in hiding. Ummmm . . . is that behavior not a little . . . . peculiar? In each case cited, most of the grousing was about the fact that the photographer was doing things like hiding behind bushes or quickly dropping his lens when spotted to make it seem like he was not snapping. Note also then when the issue is *framed* as being about odd or secretive behavior, it is not just the Jezebelites that object–those news articles make it plenty clear that your average Joe don’t like it much neither.

    One of the commenters makes hay of the alleged hypocrisy of the news people on the scene, since as they are chatting about the creepy photographer they are at the same moment using distance lenses to capture unaware bikini-clad women to illustrate the story. But that’s just my point: the news folks were not trying to hide anything and so it is not so weird, really, that people didn’t notice the “hypocrisy” or object. The news crew wasn’t being “creepy” by hiding behind bushes and their shooting didn’t really register for most people.

    If you like you can argue that snapping behinds from behind bushes with telephoto lenses is both legal and proper. You’ll be correct on the former in most jurisdictions most of the time, depending on how good your lens is and what angle you are shooting from. But on the latter–the propriety of such secretive shooting–expect pushback, and not just from Jezebelites. You tell members of the public to suck it up and deal with being in public. Same goes for the shooters.


  7. Fenster says:

    Also, per the above, the fact that issues overlap with other issues is one of the things that makes it hard to be an absolutist on x. What about y? Here, the free speech issues bump up against our current concern, right or wrong, with pervy public behavior.

    But that’s not the only overlap between “free speech photography” and other issues. The other overlap you mention–far, far more important to me than fizzy concerns over public flesh–has to do with the political aspects of how the public/private lines are being redrawn.

    You say folks should suck it up and just deal with the fact that when in public they can be snapped, filmed or recorded. Really? You really think it is OK that someone can use an audio version of a telephoto lens to record what I am saying to a friend in the park? Am I just to suck it up and deal with that? Or that the government can create a constellation of recording devices so that I am tracked wherever I go from the moment I step out of my house? Uh-uh.


  8. malcolmation says:

    The difference between free speech and free thinking is pretty big. I might, however, take it upon myself to publicize my thoughts. As publicity, my thoughts about someone else are actually not legally without any inhibitions. And of course there are conventions of “social” propriety and “interpersonal” courtesy. Even though strictly speaking “social” and “interpersonal” might be “optional behaviors” they are also not the same as “public”.

    Am I allowed to investigate any public location from any vantage point that I may have? The legal allowance is not entirely free of restrictions. And related to that, there is a difference between public location and public access.

    But that’s not actually the point that makes observation controversial, nor is the unfettered transmission of a visual memory or illustration. The real issue underlying the controversy is about the terms under which we might claim to have been assaulted.


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  12. As far as I am concerned, anyone who strips off in public is fair game for the camera.
    To pretend you don’t mind being seen by a few thousand people whom you don’t know, on the beach, is any different from your picture on that same beach being seen by maybe millions, is completely illogical.


  13. JV says:

    To my mind, it’s an unfortunate byproduct of technology that what we do in public now has the potential, even probability if you’re an attractive young woman, of being captured and published unbeknownst to the subject. It’s prudent to have this in mind when deciding what to do or wear in public, but to participate in what I feel is just pure surveillance, while legal, is also just being an asshole. That pic in your earlier post is a creepshot, man. You sneaked it off and published it on the internet without getting permission, and you can hide behind the motive of “having a conversation” about it, but that doesn’t change the behavior. If there’s nothing wrong with taking a picture like that, then why not ask them for permission? Is part of the thrill the covert nature of it? Sure it is. But then suck it up and admit that and accept the criticism.

    As Fenster said, there is a difference between acting a certain way in the moment in public, and having that moment captured and distributed. All of us have behaved in public in ways we’d rather not have photographic or video evidence of. Life is situational, which is why it’s acceptable and not surprising to wear a bikini at the beach or in a park, but not at work or in a store. People expect that those around them in such a situation will either also be wearing something similar, or will have an expectation of such attire. Take a picture and slap on the internet, and the context changes and now maybe your coworker is looking at you on his computer at work.

    Again, this kind of thing shouldn’t be illegal, but it should be recognized and not that cool.


    • Impressed by your self-assurance in judging what’s a creepshot and what’s not. (I’m perfectly happy accepting the word creepshot, fwiw — it’s a funny coinage, and it seems to be coming into general use. So why not?) The answer to the question is hardly as self-evident as you make it out though. Are you willing to dismiss all candid pix snuck off of people in public as creepshots? All, from artistic things like Robert Frank shots to the stock photo at the top of my posting to the pix on the blog People of Wal-Mart? None of the people in those pix gave permission to the photographers. If you believe that some such shots are creepshots and some aren’t, where do you draw the line, and on what basis? Since the term “creepshot” has only come into any kind of popular usage in the last couple of years, these issues are hardly settled matters. And let’s not overlook the possibility that the concern with “creepiness” that’s kicked up on several different fronts in recent years is more revealing of our bizarrely lewd-yet-prissy era than it is of photographic ethics and aesthetics. Reasonable people can disagree, and many of them will make decent points and arguments.


      • JV says:

        I agree about the rise of the word “creepy”, usually meant to describe the perfectly natural and healthy sexual impulses and advances of men over a certain age. It certainly is a byproduct of misguided feminism and an irrational fear of men in general.

        I do draw lines between the street photography of someone like Robert Frank, and the picture you took (which I enjoyed looking at, by the way, I’m certainly not one to shy away from pictures of great looking women). Street photography usually is about capturing a moment or interaction. While the subjects often aren’t aware they are being photographed, the intent is not to objectify their bodies. With your picture, the sole reason you snapped it was due to the sexual appeal of those young women in bikinis. Again, nothing wrong being turned on my that, I certainly am. And sure, those ladies had to know that by exposing some young female skin, they were going to get looks. But in context of a park or beach setting, that is to be expected. Snapping a picture and slapping it on the internet changes the context and makes permanent what was a momentary display of flesh, and widens the potential viewer pool greatly. It’s not unreasonable for a young woman to be a little protective of who, when and where men, particularly strangers, view their bodies for prurient reasons.

        Again, I’m no prude. I click over to your NSFW blog all the time. My main concern is consent. My secondary concern is intent. You received no consent and your intent was prurient. And hey, I don’t think it’s end of the world, I don’t think this all that much. But since the subject was raised, I responded. And I apologize for my snappy tone in the first comment. You’re right, this is hardly settled law.


      • JV says:

        I should add, nothing wrong with consensual prurient interests! It’s the spice of life.


      • JV says:

        Sorry, another thing. You write:

        “Perhaps the omnipresence of imagery and of image-making devices is heightening people’s awareness of their “Omigod, am I being photographed right now?” feelings.”

        I think you’re right. The ubiquity of cameras has changed the game, and is a big reason why the concern over a “creepshot” is fairly new. That and the ability publish on the internet has made people, particularly young women, sensitive of this issue, with valid reason, in my opinion.


      • JV says:

        As for something like People of Walmart, while the intent is hardly prurient (I assume), it’s also not very classy. It’s classist, if anything. “Haha, look at the ugly poor person.” It’s the flipside of the creepshot, I suppose, in that the motivation of the photographer is not admiration but derision, while the lack of consent is the same.


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