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The Criminalisation and Marginalisation of Photography and the Photograph

The Criminalisation and Marginalisation of Photography and the Photograph

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Sinead McDonald. Originally submitted for Dissertation at Institute of Technology Tallaght, with lecturer Anna Maria Mullally in the category of Modern Cultural Studies
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Sinead McDonald. Originally submitted for Dissertation at Institute of Technology Tallaght, with lecturer Anna Maria Mullally in the category of Modern Cultural Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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12/04/2013

 
The Criminalisation and Marginalisation of Photography and the Photograph
Photography has become a contentious issue in the last decade. The development of inexpensive digital imaging technology has democratised photography, leading to manymore people picking up a camera for the first time. The proliferation of camera phones hasproduced more and more photographs than there have ever been. Running parallel to this,the fear of terrorist attacks and a decline in privacy through the pervasiveness of surveillance has led to a deep scrutiny of photographic practices. This has led to analteration in how photographers are viewed, by people on the street, in the eyes of the lawand perhaps even by themselves. I will address here how the image itself may be changingin light of these cultural and legislative shifts, and the possible future course of this mostimportant social and historical tool.
It is clearly documented by groups such as I’m A Photographer Not a Terrorist that in the UK,
the practice of photography, street photography and photojournalism in particular, hasbeen greatly affected by counter terrorism measures such as sections 43 and 44 of theTerrorism Act 2000, and section 76 of the Counter Terrorism Act 2008 (I'm a Photographer,Not a Terrorist, 2011). There are now almost weekly reports in the UK national mediadocumenting photographers, both professional and hobbyist, being restricted in or deniedtheir right to photograph (ibid.). This legislative framework was born from a climate of fear,following the brutal attacks in New York, Madrid, London and elsewhere. Parallel to thisdecline in the legal freedom to photograph, there has been a massive growth in statesurveillance and photography of public spaces, coupled with a dramatic increase in privacycases being taken to court, and a change in the jurisprudence landscape (Deazley, 2008).There has always been a public mistrust of the camera. This too appears to bestrengthening. Just as the camera becomes ubiquitous in our mobile phones, it becomesthe enemy when it is wielded by a stranger.In this piece I will address how all these circumstances are affecting the image itself. I willexamine how the themes of fear and mistrust we see today have been depicted since thebirth of the medium, and how photographers have been both restricted by theirconnotations and inspired by them. I will look at how images of conflict, both internal andinternational, have changed in a post 9/11 context. I will also examine how the artistic
 
community addresses the fear of the other, the private space and thesurveillance/voyeurism culture we live in today.It is difficult to pinpoint real-world examples of any shift in practice or publication when theissues are so current. In researching this piece,it has become apparent that intertwined in allthe arrests, incidents and newspaper articles isa sense of vacuum; of images vanishing. As thispiece discusses very recent trends however,there exists little academic research on thesubject. I feel it is therefore useful to considerthe historical perspective of the presentsituation, and how this may indicate futuredevelopments.As previously stated, mistrust of thephotographer is as old as the medium itself. Asfar back as its earliest practitioners there is
evidence of fear and the ‘otherising’ effect of the camera. Eugene Atget, the ‘father of photography’, whose primary focus was
architectural, was accused of being a spy and a lunatic because he was taking photographsin public, and chose to work in the very early hours of the morning to avoid confrontation(Weinberg, 1986, p. 11). The earliest practicing street photographers; Henri Cartier Bresson,Brassai, Doisneau, Atget etc., worked in Paris however. Despite the occasional affray, theirbodies of work attest to the freedom to make and publish images without explicit consentof the subjects. The French have always valued the private sphere, but it was only when the
right 
to privacy was enshrined in French law in the 1970s that repercussions on the practiceand the image became apparent. The cultural home of street photography shifted fromParis to New York at this time, with proponents such as Meyerowitz and Winogrand takingup the mantel (Turpin, French Street Photography? ...Non!, 2009). Indeed, even with therecent resurgence in street photography in Europe in the last number of years, there is aconspicuous lack of practitioners of note working in France. It is not necessarily that images
Figure 1- FRANCE. Paris. Boulevard Diderot. 1969. - HenriCartier Bresson
 
 
are not being produced. It is the issue of 
 publishing
these images that marks the vacuum.Turpin chose to highlight his concern over French privacy law in his ongoing body of work
The French,
a collection of candid images and street photographs taken across the country.The work will be published in book format everywhere except France (Turpin, The French,2010).
Figure 2 - from The French, Nick Turpin, 2010
 
Recent IADT graduate and RHA exhibitor David Earladdressed the discourse of consent and privacy in his 2010work
Modernal Street Photography.
Here, Earl respondsboth to his own earlier work in
Candid Street Portraiture
 and that of the wider genre, in contemplating the legal andethical dilemma of the photographer in balancingexpression and document with the rights of the privatecitizen. Heav
ily influenced by Beat Streuli’s often detached
and emotionless long-
lens street work, Earl’s earlier pieces
bring his subjects into sharp relief, isolating them from their
Figure 3 -
 
from
Candid Street Portraiture
, David Earl, 2006

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