The role of the camera
Recording the present is important for the future
A couple of points bring me to this theme, I was interviewed yesterday for an article appearing in the Sunday Telegraph dealing with the rights of photographers in the UK and how they are being threatened and eroded by authoritarian actions and illogical fears and suspicious attitudes. The vein of thought and attack is aimed mainly at street photography, something which in the past we have excelled at, and we have made great use of archive material to illustrate the history of our ancestors.
One of Tyneside greatest photographers Gladstone Adams is the subject of an auction tomorrow, and his work is legendary not just in this region but throughout the UK with his images of World War l battlefields being well respected. The greatest of them all was Henri Cartier Bresson, the earliest pioneer of street photography documenting many scenes that we now look back upon as being iconic, and if you want a flavour of more local historic scenes from South Shields, Jarrow, and Hebburn you can find a massive collection at Norman Dunn’s place (he also provides DVDs full of images). As you look through these old images you will be impressed by one of the most important elements within them, and that is people. People make history, not buildings, not paintings, not documents, but people, the folk who lived and breathed and created those works, and that includes the photographer who recorded the scenes.
You will note that there is no shortage of children in these images, the photographer has faithfully recorded what he/she saw and left a mark for our generation to return to.
I mention this because of the unsavoury incident that I, and many other other photographers have been subjected to over the past couple of years, as the UK with it’s “surveillance society” and inordinate growth of CCTV cameras which do not make us feel any safer, creates an air of illogical suspicion about street photographers. We are viewed as possible terrorists or even worse paedophiles if we point our cameras anywhere near the vicinity of children, people raise their eyebrows and some even object, others just ring the police and make silly accusations. Yet millions of us go about our lives without even realising that our movements are being recorded by thousands of CCTV cameras, and we didn’t hear anyone asking our permission to record us in this way. Oddly too, nobody seems to object when the ubiquitous and small camera phone is raised to take a snap (and some of these are now recording at 5 megapixels!). Why is it that nobody feels threatened by these? Surely they would be the modus operandi of terrorists and paedophiles rather than the obtrusive, ungainly, and eye catching professional looking digital SLR.
And so, the photographer who wishes to exercise the perfectly legal and permissible practise of recording life on our streets is threatened, bullied, stopped, prevented, pursued, arrested, and generally made to feel unwelcome and embarrassed about his /her hobby. I worry that our future generations will look back on our history through the medium of photography and wonder why the 21st. millennium had no people or children present, and that we portray a very dull illustration of “life”. By encouraging these irrational and illogical fears about paedophilia we are in danger of debasing the role of photography in recording our history and making our present generation look like a collection of automotons determined to hide ourselves from view.
The great photographers of the past would turn in their graves at the thought our weak kneed response to these fears. I urge everyone with a camera to write to their MP demanding that he/she supports the moves by Austin Mitchell MP to have those in positions of authority and responsibility made more aware and fully informed of the rights that we have to take photographs in public, before we begin to lose them forever.
The photographer and the camera have a very important role to play in how we record ourselves for future generations to learn from!
- Sex pictures shock!
- Miliband on photography
- Photographer detained in Middlesbrough
- Snappy troubles
- Austin Mitchell MP supports photographers
- Mitchell to lobby Home Office