Street photography: A case of consent

Street photographers narrate stories through the images, but now, the challenge is to ensure their subject’s privacy and ask for consent before clicking.  

Published: 05th August 2021 09:08 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th August 2021 09:08 AM   |  A+A-

PIC: Lenny Emmanuel

By Express News Service

HYDERABAD: Privacy is a growing concern for all today. With changing times, the rules of privacy have become stricter and this applies to street photography too. While earlier clicking pictures of unknown people did not seem like a big deal, today it is a heated topic for discussion. 

Street photographers narrate stories through the images, but now, the challenge to ensure privacy and ask for consent before being photographed is on the rise for them. Sai Pavan, a budding photographer and cinematographer, says the core of street photography is to convey the story behind the image but not at the cost of invading the subject’s privacy. “Street life makes street photography. It is the art of displaying emotion and narrating the story behind it. However, the picture only becomes authentic for publication and when permission to be photographed is sought and granted.” 

He goes on to say that in today’s day and age where pictures can be manipulated online and used for the wrong reasons, it is important that the photographer seeks consent. They should go up to the subject, tell them the reason for being photographed and get their permission. “Doing so not only gives the photographer the leverage to publish pictures online but also ensures that the subject is aware of the occurrence, thus not invading their privacy,” says Sai.

Renowned photographer Lenny Emmanuel lists getting a copyright issue as a must-have. “Most photographers tend to capture pictures of people’s faces, which is not right. When shooting people, it is important to ask for their permission. The photographer should hand out a copyright issue which clearly states that the subjects have no objection in being photographed or published. It is the bounding duty to get the signature before publication of the subject’s pictures,” 

PIC: Sai Pavan 

Even if it’s a random person on the street, one must take permission and get a copyright issue. This provides authority and authenticity to the photographer. On the same lines, Kishore Krishnamoorthi, an award-winning publisher for Concorde Zine says, “An individual’s privacy is important at all costs. It is crucial to ensure that the subject knows they are being observed and photographed.” 

He, too, says that the first step is to seek the subject’s permission and then get a model release form, a liability waiver signed by them which grants permission to commercially publish the image on specific, agreed-upon terms. Street photography, without the use of the subject’s face, is possible but it solely depends on the photographer’s creativity, says Kishore. They could be photographed through silhouettes, face coverings, pictures of their backs, etc. but with keeping in mind composition, balance and framing. But what if the permission is denied? Jonathan David, a budding photographer and videographer, says: “The photographer must simply move on.”

“I walk up to them, ask and only then click pictures. Sometimes, people wish to see the pictures clicked and decide if I can use them. Based on this, I make the next move. If they deny permission, I will respect their decision and move on to another subject,” he says. Jonathan believes that this must be practised by all photographers as consent is everything. “The photographer must ensure to get in touch with the subject, explain the purpose of clicking the picture, abide by the response provided and keep in mind that ‘no’ means ‘no’.”


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