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Brighton Photo Fringe Forum

BHCC and the Brighton Photo Fringe: 15 October 2008

‘Hey! Get that camera out of here! Photojournalism, propaganda, privacy and public interest: a panel discussion’

Panellists: Kevin Meredith, Gail Ward, Alison Locke, Graham Sergeant, John Perivolaris and Jonathan Friend.

                                            "video grabs" of the panellists (left to right): Kevin Meredith, Gail Ward, Jonathan                                                       Friend and John Perivolaris (Alison Locke and Graham Sargeant out-of-shot)        

For photographers, what an amazing place Brighton was during October and November. Not only were there the three major shows of the Brighton Photo Biennial but there were dozens of smaller shows in the Fringe. The Biennial itself brought us the highly informative but disturbing ‘Iraq through the lens of Vietnam’ at the University of Brighton, the stomach churning images of ‘The incommensurable banner’ at Fabrica and the heart-rending of the ‘Why, mister, why?’ at the Lighthouse. These alone would have made Brighton a Mecca for photographers all over the south-east. But then there was the Fringe with its mix of local and international, high art and snapshot, formal and candid photographs. There was even a show at The Old Market by members of the esteemed BHCC. ‘Esteemed’ because the Club has been asked to provide a continual, rolling exhibition at the same venue for the next year or so. I hope it will not come as asurprise to learn that, amongst all this photo-activity, the Club hosted a one-off forum that attempted to explore the legal and ethical issues surrounding the work of photographers today. For those that missed the event ... you really should have been there. The forum was rather wordily titled ‘Hey! Get that camera out of here! Photojournalism, propaganda, privacy and public interest: a panel discussion’, and took the form of an Any Questions-style debate with a specialist panel including war, documentary andstreet photographers and a legal professional. This article cannot describe the eminence and range of work of the panellists, but website addresses are given at the end. The panellists were Kevin Meredith, Gail Ward, Alison Locke, Graham Sergeant, John Perivolaris and Jonathan Friend.

What the forum was intended to do was explore issues around the rights of amateur and semiprofessional photographers to take photographs in public, and followed on from a growing number of reports in the general and photographic press of photographers being harassed while indulging their ‘harmless’ hobby.

The press reports suggest that photographers are being moved on by the police, by community support officers (CSOs) and by security guards with complete disregard of their rights. It seemed that not only did these officials not know the
rights that all of us have as photographersbut most of us were pretty unclear too. This was sufficient reason to propose the forum, and it was hoped photographers from all over Brighton and Hove, not just Club members, would attend. In the end it was run as a charged event,  with the proceeds being donated to the Landmine Action Trust charity. This not only tied the event to the theme of the Biennial but allowed us to broaden the forum to also discuss how vital photography has been in balancing the propaganda of all sides in conflict situations.

Very early in the forum, while the panel were introducing themselves, it became clear that it was rare for the police to stop photographers. Far more common was the initiative taken by CSOs and security guards to ask photographers to stop and to threaten if challenged. The police seemed only to intervene if a report had been made by a member of the public. And, it appears, the public are getting more vocal in their concerns; especially in public parks, on beaches, at
sports events and even on the street. A particular experience of this appears to have been the trigger for the raising of the matter inparliament by the Member of Parliament for Grimsby, Austin Mitchell. Unfortunately, Parliament has deferred this discussion because of the urgency of matters associated with the credit crunch, but it had been due to be raised in the same week as our forum. The text of Austin Mitchell’s Early Day Motion is at http://snipurl.com/ftay4.

There appear to be three main reasons that photographers may be asked to not take pictures. These are invasion of privacy, security risk and potential for misuse of images. In public spaces no one has the right to anonymity, not even children, so photographers can legally take any pictures they wish provided they are not guilty of harassment or breach of the peace. The use they make of any pictures taken may be more questionable. For example, the sale of a picture of an unknown individual may be challenged by its subject on the basis that commercial gain is being made of that image. This has led some of the panel to only take photographs with the consent of the subject and also to exercise care regarding the use to which images may be subsequently used by clients.

Gail Ward and Alison Locke have both worked for humanitarian organizations in post-war situations, and have documented the devastation of the lives of non-combatants.Indeed, for a moment prior to the forum we were concerned Alison would not be able to attend as she was being sent out to South Ossetia ‘as soon as the Russian troops withdrew’. Both stressed the consensual nature of their work, and felt strongly that they were conduits for war-damaged people to tell their stories to the West. They claimed to have never taken any photograph covertly. Yet they were both concerned that once an image had been used for its propaganda purpose it may resurface in another situation. Alison particularly had serious qualms about documentary pictures of recognisable individuals being used in sympathy-generating advertising for charities. Similarly, Graham Sergeant stated his photographic documentation of the life and, regrettably, the funeral of a homeless young woman had been by consent. He suggested the pictures he had been fortunate enough to capture would have been impossible any other way. And John Perivolaris, who had made documentary photographs of traveller communities in Spain, echoed this view. (It may be of interest to note that John Perivolaris’ current interest was in the presence and proliferation of CCTV cameras in both public and private domains.
He spoke passionately of his hate of surveillance, and was trying to invent a new observational genre, sousveillance. This would be the watching of the watchers! He was putting together a website of images of CCTV cameras and their locations, and inviting photographers to contribute.) Alison Locke talked about a project she had run in Brixton, far from the war zones, where she invited local people to have their portrait taken in a ‘mobile studio’ set up on the street. All these photographers acknowledged that the images they captured through a consensual approach were probably different to those they would have secured candidly. There was no suggestion that one form of photograph was in any way preferable to the other. There are, however, situations where photography, even from public spaces, is forbidden by law. These are mainly sites of national security, and include military bases and installations. Places may be added to this category on a temporary basis by the government or police. This has occurred when there was a terrorist threat at London airports. The situation changes dramatically when a photographer tries to shoot on privately owned land. The owner has complete rights to permit or restrict the action of photographers. It is often clear whether you are or are not on private land: in someone’s garden, on a farmer’s land, in a shopping mall or on a station, for example. Yet it is not always obvious. It seems Trafalgar Square in taking pictures or that photography has ever been a significant issue inany terrorist or criminal trial. Despite this, the Metropolitan Police ran a poster campaign early last year asking the public to be on the lookout for ‘odd’ photographers and to report them to the police.
The panel acknowledged the belief that there is not a single photographer who does not look odd when totally immersed in a photo project. We were lucky to have attracted the attention of a newspaper photographer who was down in Brighton (from Manchester) on an assignment and who thought our forum sounded interesting. He was a useful contributor to the discussion, but did not always concede that the problems we claimed photographers faced were real. He admitted that he did have the benefit of a Press Card, which seemed to give him special treatment by the police. He refused to tell us what his current assignment was, but suggested we looked at The Sunday Mirror the following weekend! In response to a question from the floor about whether photographers resented being photographed, he said that on several occasions he had found himself in other photographers’ pictures as one of the press pack. He said he had no problem with this.

Overall the forum was a success. It did raise money for charity. It did produce a lively discussion. And it did bring together a group of concerned photographers focussed on an issue of interest and importance to us all. Oh, and there was a raffle in which a non-Club member won a pretty desirable camera backpack. On behalf of the Club, we would like to thank all our panellists and the BHCC members who worked so hard to put this event together.

Panellists
• Jonathan Friend (Burt Brill & Cardens Solicitors), a solicitor specialising in copyright law but interested in the wider issues of intellectual property. See http://snipurl.com/ftcdt
• Alison Locke, a portrait photographer interested particularly in post-war conflict situations with strong ties to the work of international charities in addressing
civilian reparations. See www.brixtonstreetstudio.net and http://snipurl.com/ftcm2
• Kevin Meredith, a Brighton based photographer with interests in local scenes, particularly street and beach but becoming more widely known and therefore
receiving commissions. Is known as LomoKev on the Flickr website and has just published a photography handbook called Hot Shots. See www.analogintelligence.co.uk and www.flickr.com/photos/ lomokev.
• Dr John Perivolaris, a Nottingham-based academic with interest in defining specific cultures and tracking cultural change. Has maintained links with travelling communities in Spain over several years and is also interested in the cultural impact of technology in the UK. See www.johnperivolaris.com,
Gail Ward, a photographer of humanitarian causes and peoples of war zones and organiser of ethical tourism, particularly for photographers. See www.gailwardphotography.co.uk and www.responsiblephotographyholidays.co.uk
• Graham Sergeant, an established photographer who presented for this forum a project based on the life of a Big Issue seller in Brighton. Graham does not have a website.

Notes
Linda Macpherson, a lawyer based in Scotland, has produced a helpful guide called ‘Photographers Rights in UK’. It can be found at www.sirimo.co.uk/ukpr.php. Linda gave us permission to distribute it at the forum. She did, however, ask us to point out that since its initial version there has been clarification of many issues, and these appear in the discussion section of the website.
We relied quite heavily on the Sunday Telegraph article ‘Has our increasingly paranoid society declared war on the humble ‘weekend snapper’?’ by Sam Delaney and, in particular on comments submitted to the website by (usually) sympathetic readers: http://snipurl.com/ftc8g. We discovered two UK Government e-petitions concerned with photography in public spaces. These have now closed but can be found at http://snipurl.com/ftc9k and http://snipurl.com/ftca7. Although public photography is not illegal, there is a recent case from Scotland where a photographer was fined for being ‘unchivalrous’ in photographing a woman who was ‘unwell’ outside an Edinburgh bar in the early hours. See http://snipurl.com/ftcav.


©Tony Crowther and
©Claude Lester LRPS