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?
Some 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.