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Photographer’s rights

Living so close to St. Louis, the outrageous denial of reporters’ right to photograph and record in public shocked me to the core. As a participant in Project 365, I think about what is permissible and what is not as a photographer and a videographer. As one who wears Google Glass, I feel I am even more of a target for those wishing to curtail my rights as a citizen-photographer. At the same time, as an artist and writer, I am so grateful to live in a country that asserts my right to observe, speak, and record, as detailed in this ACLU report, Know Your Rights: Photographers. It begins with the clear statement that  “taking photographs of things that are plainly visible from public spaces is a constitutional right – and that includes federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties.” Even more important, this right is not a special right limited to journalists. If we are to remain a free country, all citizen must have this right. Dirty deeds love the dark.

Sometimes photographers go too far in accommodating people in public spaces for photos. If I were to take a photo of festival goers on Walnut Street, I would not have to hunt down all the attendees in the shot and get a release, but I have heard that recommendation or that I should only photograph their backs. Of course, private property is another matter, but even then, if the property owner is fine with it, then the recording can go on, even if, in the case of the police vs. reporters in McDonalds incident, the police demand recording stop. Since the owner/manager of the private space was allowing it, the issue was left as having one person in the conversation’s permission, and that was the reporter. This “conversation” rule for recording varies from state to state, but it is the case for Missouri.

I haven’t been intimidated so far as a photographer, but I should not let myself be pushed into refraining from recording/photographing in public. Rights that are not used or rights that are diluted by unnecessary release practices due to overcautious legal counsel can become rights that slip away. I am not a reporter, but I do not have to be. I am a poet, scholar, and observer of life’s details and quirks, and that means I have to be free to use my eyes and my extended eyes for my art. I am sharing this via Twitter and Facebook, and have qualms on both ends or the argument– am I too mild in my subject and claims? On the other hand, what if I’m not? Once again, rights not used tend to slip away.

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