In public spaces, we have to be conscious of others. Public spaces and their peace hinges on us knowing the rules of behaviour. And one of these rules revolves around the ethics of photography or videoing others without their permission. I’m not talking about up-skirt shots (which shouldn’t exist in the first place), but the accidental appearance of you or your friends in the background of a tourist’s family photo, or a street photographer capturing you sitting pretty under a tree.
Jörg Colberg lists a set of rules for street photographers to ethically capture shots, which include asking permission and being clear about their project. Colberg, a published photographer, says he doesn’t find street photography unethical, but is concerned with the photographers brushing aside the concerns of the public ignoring their right to say no.
As an example, when publishing blog posts of photographs of my exchange trip, I went around asking people for their permission in using their photograph. I was careful in trying to use photos that didn’t show faces to ensure that people didn’t accidentally wind up on my blog without their consent or knowledge. The best practice, it seems, is to be transparent and obtain consent when possible. Brandon, the photographer behind Humans of New York, has certainly used this method successfully.
Tying in with the need for permission and rules is the topic of our personal devices and their uses. Most households have rules regarding the use of electronics at the dinner table. My family certainly started enforcing them when my grandfather had a full conversation with me, in which I paid zero attention because my eyes and ears were glued to a show on my iPad. I hadn’t even realised he was talking to me, and he’s just senile enough to not notice my non-response. Ironically, books and magazines and newspapers aren’t banned, so my mother can carry on reading her tome of the week in peace.
The lack of distractions during dinner harkens back to when our own parents sat down with their families in formal dining rooms to eat at 6 o’clock on the dot. My father tells me tales of his parents forcing him and his sister to hold books underneath their arms so as not to lean their elbows on the table. My grandparents most likely grew up with an even stricter standard of comportment. Dinner was, and still is for many, the only time when the entire family is together and is able to talk and catch up with each other. The creation of the no electronics rule reveals the fear that children will become mindless screen zombies and that this will bring the end to personal interaction.
I believe that the way these rules and regulations relate to space is that they seek to protect what people view as “sacred”. Family interactions are usually private and very personal, and it is rude for members to blatantly tune out the people they’re so close to during a time when personal respect is to be shown. The home is viewed by most as an important space where they can unwind and let down their guard, so when you’re busy texting as your mum recounts her day at the office, it’s seen as highly impolite and disrespectful.
But we all admit that there are times when it’s almost impossible not to dig out your phone or stick on your headphones in an attempt to avoid the weekly lecture about your irregular sleep schedule…