On Saturday in Bryant Park in NYC I had photographed a man using a cell phone on a retractable arm to make a video of himself, his wife and their child. It was nothing special really, I had been photographing photographers shooting and looking at photographs throughout my travels that day, so it was just a reaction to something I had never seen happening before.
I made a few frames and then sat down to enjoy the breeze, a bit of coffee, and a rest for my aching back.
After a minute or two, the man came up to me and told me that I could not photograph people I didn’t know without first asking their permission. He said his wife was upset. I’m sure he didn’t want to confront me on his own, but the things we do for our significant others is something I am quite familiar with.
I politely told him that, yes, I can actually photograph him, or anyone else whenever I like, so long as we are in a public space. I told him that there is legal precedent protecting my right to do so, and that there are museums filled with the work of photographers who have done just that for generations.
He said “can I ask you to erase the photo of us?” and I told him that he could ask but I would not, as it would be my choice as to whether or not the photo was worth keeping. His wife was very made up, and perhaps was a celebrity in another country. I told him that if they or she was famous, I had no idea who they were, nor did I care. I am not a paparazzi and the photo would not wind up in any tabloid.
He asked where the photo might wind up, and my website was my answer. I handed him a card and invited him to take a look at all of the photographs of all of the people from whom I did not ask permission. He admonished me again, as did his wife, that photographing people without asking permission is not allowed.
I bid them farewell and went on to photograph more people that I did not know or ask permission from. I saw them a bit later, still in Bryant Park, while they had a camera on a tripod set up taking more photos of themselves. I wonder if they asked permission of the people in the background or those sitting next to them for permission?
As it turned out, the photo was not so good, so it will never see the stream of the internet or a printed page. But I will defend my right to take a photo in a public space of anyone I choose. Photography is not a crime.