When discretion is the better part of valour

Jeremy Brooks was walking around when he came upon a man yelling at a homeless person. Jeremy took the man’s photo. The man objected. What should you do?

2473047860_07b7be6cc9 The photo and here’s Jeremy’s website: http://www.whirljack.net/jeremybrooks/


I was a press photographer for many years. I’ve covered shootings (live and after the event), fires, evacuations, explosions, fights, traffic fatalities…well you get the point. I always felt like I was intruding into people’s personal lives when I took photographs of them in public situations. Sometimes they objected. (I had one guy who I photographed at an event who was with someone he shouldn’t have been with and I graciously decided not to run the image.) And sometimes they objected forcefully.

My overriding concern in those situations was my personal safety. I made efforts not to expose myself to undue danger or threat. That’s not to say I ever walked away from a news situation. I was known as a very aggressive press photographer who wouldn’t accept the orders of some cop yelling about not being allowed to take photos in public.

This is the price we pay for living in a democracy. Press freedom (freedom of the press) is a right that’s not just granted to the media. It applies to us all. Since we have this freedom we are also charged with exercising so responsible judgement.

In Jeremy’s situation, based only on what I’ve read, the man started to direct his attention on Jeremy once he saw his photo was being taken. An argument followed. Some threats were made. For me, this is an unacceptable level of threat.

Now you’re always going to hear some people say something like we shouldn’t be taking photos of people in public places but that goes back to the freedom to do what we like so long as it isn’t against the criminal code or city bylaws. The fact that somebody doesn’t want their photo taken is irrelevant to the law but may not be irrelevant to the concepts of social decorum.

If I was a press photographer, I’d be asking myself what is the public good being served by taking this photo. Personally I’d say not much.

If the homeless person was being assaulted I’d say a photo would be useful as evidence if an arrest was forthcoming and a charge was laid.

As an amateur photographer (one who takes photos for the love of photography) or as a photographic artist I’d ask myself if this was something I’d want on my wall and come up with the answer – for me – that I’d pass.

Yes the interaction is visual simulating. Yes it happens in public but for me it comes down to why. And the why not’s (This guy could be dangerous or armed with a deadly weapon.) outweigh the why’s by a long shot.


One thought on “When discretion is the better part of valour

  1. This reminds me of a phemonema I encountered while in India and Africa. Some people not only want to be asked if you can take their picture, they want to be paid.

    At first I was taken aback but then realized that there was a question of rights here … do we not have the right to own our own image?

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