I had someone question the ethical right of my street photography, stating that it may be legal, but to take someone’s photograph without consent is ethically wrong. Their issue is that I was violating their personal space, that my subject may not want me taking their photo, especially if the person in my photo is working, and/or identifiable. In many countries it is legal to take photos of anyone, without their consent in a public place, and there is no right to privacy that protects a person’s image. Obviously it would be unethical to shoot someone in a toilet, changing room, or other public place where they would expect a certain level of privacy.
I started shooting street photographs about three years ago, and in that time I have had very few people ask me to delete photos. If I was shooting digital, then I have mostly complied with their request, but I shoot a lot of film, so I explain to them that I cannot delete the photo, but I won’t publish it. When I have been approached by security asking what I’m doing, I explain who I am, and what I’m doing, and usually they are ok with it, or ask me to move along. I don’t hide what I’m doing, sure I might be a little surreptitious trying to go the shot, but I am always clearly visible, I shoot with a standard lens, and not a massive telephoto lens from a distance.
When I shoot a subject, my intention is never to defame, humiliate, or slander them. I take photos because I find the subject interesting, and to document the everyday life around me for future generations. The candidness of street photography is what makes it valuable as an historical document, showing how life was, and is, rather then a posed, and often exaggerated, version of life. It’s about documenting the moments that people forget, moments that go unnoticed. Robin Williams’ character Sy Parrish in One Hour Photo says it best “Most people don’t take snapshots of the little things. The used Band-Aid, the guy at the gas station, the wasp on the Jell-O. But these are the things that make up the true picture of our lives. People don’t take pictures of these things.”
For more information about photographers rights in Australia, the people over at Arts Law have a handy fact sheet: http://www.artslaw.com.au/info-sheets/info-sheet/street-photographers-rights/
Make sure you check the laws regarding photography in public places for the country you are shooting in.