Earlier this year, a collective groan resounded around me; yet another election. The one silver lining for me is that political activity can offer a super opportunity for photographers.
I’m too young to remember the decade of the protest movement, though I love the music. Great photographers of the sixties, like Benedict Fernandez, made their name with classic images of the demonstrations and rallies that changed the world.
On the March
People are on the march once again. NHS cuts and hospital closures, the increasing wealth gap, loss of social care, opencast mines, homelessness, tax-dodging corporations, standing up for war refugees and social equality inspired many ordinary people demonstrate recently. Despite being passion-fuelled, these protests are usually good-natured, colourful affairs, bringing a wide mix of people together in a carnival atmosphere. Protesters want you to see them standing up for what they believe in. They expect and welcome photographs. They are a street photographer’s dream.
Be aware if you shoot overseas
Britain doesn’t have the same overly-strict privacy laws as France. It seems incredible to me that the homeland of both Robert Doisneau and Henri Cartier-Bresson introduced legislation that killed street photography there. Even if it is not a legal requirement, asking for (or even paying for) permission to take someone’s portrait is something to consider. Do check local laws and customs before travelling overseas with your camera.
Street Photography in The UK
In the UK, if you see an interesting face on the street, there is nothing stopping you from capturing it. That does not equate to you stalking and harassing people with your camera, which will get you into trouble.
It’s not always possible, but I try to have polite interactions with those I photograph on the street. I then send them copies of their image. Especially so for the street performers I photograph, I also give them permission to use my pictures as a thank-you for being entertained.
Can I photograph that building?
Architectural photography is another popular genre for those who take to the streets with their cameras. Security guards may challenge you, but there is nothing in UK law they can do to stop you shooting images from the street, though the police can if you are causing an obstruction.
There are restrictions in Britain. You can be told not to photograph from within privately owned property, including shopping centres. Do so against the wishes of the owner and you are then committing trespass. You can be asked, or even forced if you refuse, to leave. In England, there is no right to roam. You don’t have the right to enter private land, such as school grounds or farmers’ fields. Doing so and trampling crops or breaking down fences may be criminal damage.
Photographing members of the armed forces, intelligence services and police officers with the intent of preparing an act of terrorism will land you in prison. Poking your lens through the fence of a military base, a dockyard, a factory or the Prime Minister’s private house can end you in hot water too.
There are other common sense limitations, too many for me to fit into the confines of this article, but easily found on internet searches.
Express your politics
Valuing my human right of political expression, I turned out to vote and hope you did too, whichever party you support. One thing I didn’t take with me was my camera. Photography is not allowed in the polling station.
On a protest, it’s a different matter.
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