May I take your picture? Please sign this consent form…

This post started out as a comment on K8’s blog, but it got so long that I felt bad about taking over her blog and decided to just make it a post on my own instead! You can read her post here. Basically, she said that when the school photographer turns up without warning and takes pictures of her child, then demands money for the pictures, she feels “invaded”:

It got to me that nobody had asked my permission to take that picture, or at least warned me about it so that I could have given her hair a pre-emptive brush.  It suddenly struck me that if I didn’t pay for this photograph, somebody else would get at it and could potentially do strange and unimaginable things with it.  I felt compelled to give these bastards my coal money, just to save my daughter’s soul.

It also occurs to me that there is now a negative picture somewhere in someone’s studio with my kid on it, and no amount of cash can get it back. Not sure my kid needs that.
I’m highly bloody un-nerved by this.

I understand her point, but I can’t agree with it, other than the being blackmailed into buying them. But even that, I agree with for a different reason! To me, the obligation to buy a photo is not because you want to get it away from a stranger – more because you might feel like a bad parent if you’re the only one who doesn’t buy one. That’s the bit that would annoy me!

Maybe this is something that I can never understand because I don’t have kids, but it does actually really annoy me how taking pictures is close to becoming a criminal activity in our culture nowadays. If you take pictures of a child, you’re a pervert. If you take pictures of a building, you’re a terrorist. I mean, yes, there’s a very small minority that *could* be perverts or terrorists, but does that mean everyone should have to apply for permission before they take photos? If a small minority of people throw themselves in front of trains, should all train users have to undergo psychiatric tests before stepping on to a platform? (Not the best example, I’m tired!)

When I was in Switzerland, I saw a little boy and girl in a garden up in the mountains. They were wearing very quaint, old-fashioned clothes, and busily tidying up using a wheelbarrow and a rake, from what I can remember. It was like a scene from a picture postcard, and I badly wanted to take a photo – but I was scared of being seen and getting into trouble, so I didn’t. In the UK and Ireland, strangers taking photos of children is a Very Bad Thing. The person who was with me, on the other hand, went ahead and took a picture, saying that there was no law against it. He was perfectly right, and he did what I wanted to do but was too afraid to. Neither of us had any nasty,  sick motive – we wanted a picture simply because it was a beautiful scene and the kids were so cute. They were in their own garden, but there was no high wall or fence – we didn’t have to snoop or climb or peek through a gap. Anyone walking past could quite easily aim their camera and click.

If those had been your kids, would you have been angry? What if they’d been on the other side of the low wall, i.e. not in a private garden? And does it stretch to adults as well? Like photos of crowds, street scenes, etc.? I’m interested to hear opinions on this. Here in Korea, the teachers at school take pictures of the kids practically every day, and I like that I can do that without feeling like I’m a bad person for it. I have dozens and dozens of photos of my students now, simply because I love them and I want to have reminders of them for when they leave. Parents have absolutely no issues with it – it doesn’t bother them at all that some woman they don’t know has pictures of their child. The people here don’t even understand the concept when I try to explain how people back home would feel about it. Is that wrong?

As for adults, I don’t really mind strangers taking pictures of me (which is a good thing, since I’m something akin to an exotic animal in a zoo, here!), because how is them having pictures going to affect me? I take pictures of people without them knowing all the time – I wouldn’t enjoy this photo half as much, for example, if I’d drawn attention to the camera and they were all making peace signs and saying cheese:

I did, however, ask permission from this girl:

I asked because she was watching me and it seemed rude to brazenly photograph her without even checking if she minded. To me, there’s a difference – it’s not that one photo is somehow more OK than the other;  it’s about politeness. If I could have taken a natural, unposed picture without her noticing, I would have, and I don’t think that’s something to feel bad about. I feel the same way about pictures of children, but I’m just a lot more nervous then about what people might accuse me of!

You can see why I decided not to post all this as a comment on someone else’s blog, can’t you?! But what do you think – about any of it? I’m interested, in case you didn’t pick up on that! I love taking photos of people, adults and children alike, going about their daily lives in the various places I visit. I will be polite and ask, if they see me. If I can do it without them seeing, I won’t ask. I’m simply capturing an image that is right there for every other passer-by to see, and preserving that moment. I’m not snooping or spying.  As I see it, I’m doing nothing wrong.



12 thoughts on “May I take your picture? Please sign this consent form…

  1. nelly says:

    Some schools here will not allow parents to take photographs of their own children in school settings because other parents might object. I don’t agree with the thinking behind this. It did strike me as odd that you were able to take and use pictures of your Korean students. But that is because of the new thinking here in Ireland and the UK where everyone is on their guard because of the fear of paedophiles. Meanwhile most child abuse continues to take place within the domestic sphere.

  2. roseski says:

    When I was in India I couldn’t help taking photos of the children; they were one of the most interesting features of my trip. But I, too, felt awkward taking photos of people when they were looking at me, unless they were posing for me (and then asked for money).

    In England I just wouldn’t do it. Taking photos of children in England is definitely frowned upon. I’m surprised the school didn’t inform K8 that they’d be in school because parents have the right to opt out. And also there should have been a signed agreement between the parent and school about whether photos can be taken.

    In France the teacher just whipped her camera out all the time. I took mine in on the last day but still felt weird about doing it, so I gave it to one of the children in the class and she took some lovely pictures for me!

  3. You raise some interesting questions, both here and over on Facebook, about what is public and what is private. I agree with you on all counts, I think. If you don’t want people to see/read/look at it, don’t post it! If you’re doing something in public, where other people can presumably see you, I don’t see the harm in having a photo taken, whether you know it’s happening or not.

  4. K8 says:

    I’m glad you came at it from this point of view, my torture as to whether to pay for the photo last night was based on the fact that I really wanted it, it’s a lovely photo, but it felt like I was being railroaded into buying it, y’know?

    The thought that people would do something nasty with the photo is of course the extreme, it’s just a thought that wandered into my mind, I couldn’t help it. It was ironically perverse of ME to think that way. It’s the reason you never see naked toddlers frollicking on the beach anymore… I think that’s really sad, but it’s a sign of the times… you just never know who’s thinking what.

    I guess my main gripe is that you describe a different type of photo in this post. You see a subject matter and you think it’s interesting or beautiful, so you snap it. If someone saw my kid gazing dolefully out of a train window I’d have no problem whatsoever with someone capturing it… the difference here is that the photographers in my post ONLY took the photo to extort money from the parents. That’s what really irks me!

  5. katyboo1 says:

    I’m torn, to be honest. I have three kids at school and nursery and I have to sign forms agreeing to them using photos of the kids and taking them. And I’m o.k. with it. At school events if I wish to take photos I have to sign a form to say that I will use them responsibly, and not, for example, publish them on my blog etc.

    My family do not wish me to publish pictures of my children on my blog and I comply with it. If it were my choice I would use them.

    On the other hand if I saw someone taking pictures of my children randomly, I would probably be slightly bothered by it. They’re my children, so I understand why I would want to take photos of them. I don’t understand why anyone else would, and it would certainly make me think very hard about why they were doing it.


  6. I started replying to comments individually, there, but my thoughts were all running into each other, so one comment will do!

    I think the main reason this issue gets to me is that the ‘new thinking’ Nelly mentions seems to me to be a direct result of “moral panics” created and fed by a sales-hungry media and scaremongering government. The term ‘paedophile’, like the word ‘terrorism’, can be used to control people by drumming up a deeply emotional, unquestioning response. Both words trigger lots of immediate mental connections, images, and fears. They also easily create a very clear “them vs. us” divide, and so very few people will stop and say “here, hang on – why are we doing this?” if something is being done in the name of fighting “them”, for fear of being seen as a sympathiser.

    I have no idea whether there really are more people around who are a danger to kids today, but to me it seems unlikely. When K8 says “it’s a sign of the times”, she’s right, but I think it’s more to do with this moral panic than with a heightened risk. Wouldn’t there have been just as many sexual predators in the world when we were playing naked on the beach as toddlers? The paranoia, fear, and suspicion (in many other areas as well as this one) is one of the most noticeable aspects of society in the UK/Ireland. I didn’t pick up on it quite so much until I came to Korea, where it is pretty much totally absent. Teachers at my school use the same bathrooms as the kids, and you can be standing washing your hands when a little boy comes in and pulls down his pants to use the urinal, chatting merrily to you all the while. It’s such a far cry from back home (where a teacher can be fired, sued, and labelled a paedophile just for comforting a child or going into the bathroom with them) that I couldn’t deal with it at first. I was terrified that I would get into trouble – even though I wasn’t doing anything wrong, my brain had kind of been programmed into believing that I was.

    Now that I’ve relaxed and grown accustomed to the different attitudes here, I’m honestly much more comfortable around children. It’s OK for me to cuddle a crying child or be alone in a room with a student who struggled to keep up with the class and needs help to finish his work. I don’t have to push away a pupil flinging their arms around me and planting a kiss on my cheek. It just feels much more natural, relaxed, and comfortable.

    Of course, “bad people” of all kinds must surely exist here just as much as at home, but the attitude seems to be one of trust rather than fear. Yes, it’s possible that that trust will sometimes be broken, with horrific results. But then again, you might live your whole life in fear and paranoia, for nothing*. It doesn’t seem to occur to parents here to be suspicious of teachers (or other adults in general), and they actually seem *proud* when they see a stranger taking a picture of their children. It’s as if their first thought is “ahh, he/she thinks my kid is as beautiful as I do!” rather than “he/she must be some kind of pervert”. Trust before suspicion. And I’ve seen parents look delighted when they see their kids run up to me or another teacher for a cuddle!

    I’m not denying that there are dangers and terrible things out there. I just didn’t realise until recently how liberating it is to live without paranoia, fear and suspicion about them. Of course, Korea does have its own issues – I’m just talking about the child thing here! ;)

    *As a “hypocrite alert” aside, I have to mention that one of the reasons near the top of my list for not having children (behind not actually wanting any, I mean) is that I’m pretty sure I would be one of those suffocatingly overprotective mothers. I would be terrified to let my child out of my sight, and live in constant fear that something would happen to them. But I suppose that’s more about my irrational fears than any one big issue!

  7. I went on an architectural tour in the Netherlands. There was a group of about 20 of us and we were mainly looking at newly developed areas. One place we visited had a primary school with a playground that was unfenced so children could freely run into the road. This is something that wouldl never, ever be allowed here in the UK. It was in a residential area and the traffic speed was heavily restricted. All 20 of us stood around happily snapping the children and nobody was remotely concerned about it. It did strike me that the police would have been called if it had been in England. It actually made me feel uneasy despite believing that the paedophile scare is completely overblown. It shows how quickly we have accepted the new social norms in certain countries where any interraction between children and adults who don’t know each other is viewed with extreme suspicion. I think it is everyone’s loss.

  8. katyboo1 says:

    My understanding is that you are right Hails, levels of paedophilia etc are fairly much unchanged since the seventies. It is our awareness that has changed. And yes, it is a shame. I also agree that we probably overprotect our children in the UK. And yes, most children who are abused are abused by someone they know. I know all this. And my children do have a lot more freedoms than most. On the other hand I am way more protective of my children than my parents were of me. Not because I’m a better parent. I’m just a more nervous parent.

    There is always the fear that although you know the chances of your child being hurt/lost/abused is minimal, that should you turn your back for a moment it could be your child. And how do you live with it if it is your child and you felt you had behaved negligently? It’s not something you get over just because you had the misfortune to be in that tiny percentage of parents whose children suffer a horrible fate.

    I do agree we take this correctness too far with school teachers not being able to care for children properly in case they are sued/accused.

  9. This is a really, really old post, but I believe that you should always get permission when taking a photo. Some people don’t like their image spread about. Some parents want privacy for their children. Others want to live a life as interrupted as possible. There are also many cultures where it is common belief that a person’s being can be destroyed/captured in an image.

    It’s not hard to ask, it doesn’t take that long. I do make exceptions for parades (where the purpose is to be seen), exhibitions, and crowd scenes, where marking an individual is impossible.

    I wouldn’t want anyone taking a picture of me without my permission.

  10. Fair enough, but I don’t think I’ll ever agree. The only one that I could get on board with is your cultural beliefs point. In terms of people wanting privacy, I’m just not sure I see how having your image captured when you’re in public and there for all to see anyway is an invasion of privacy.

    And I’m a huge fan of photography that is natural and unposed. That would disappear if photographers were banned from taking pictures without asking permission first.

  11. ronniel says:

    I actually stumbled across this forum while looking for consent forms for photographers. I’ve been taking photos in a studio for quite some time but want to publish the photos I take outside of work. The problem I am running into is how to aprproach parents and ask them if I can use their children’s images for publication. But I don’t want them to get excited or offended. They may not be published because I’d have to review them when I get home and I wouldn’t know where or when they would be published because I don’t know who would buy them. It’s frustrating and stopping to ask for names and permission breaks my attention when I take photos.

    I’m writing from America, the land of blame and paperwork hoops. In college we were required to take a media law class where we learned the dos and don’ts of permission. Even after that class, I’m still fuzzy on the whole thing. It bugs the heck out of me that I don’t think I can publish my favorite photo. I took it while I was walking around my college town and chanced upon a playground. I know what other posts have said about taking pictures in public but this town was used to college students and no one bothered me and to be honest I wasn’t looking to take awesome pictures, it was more for practice. But I came across one photo of three kids (two where you can see their faces) that I absolutly loved! I didn’t get any names or talk to any parents that day so I have no idea who these kids are. I’ve entered the photo in a couple of contests and have gotten great comments on it., but at this stage I don’t think I can sell it because of these restrictions.

    I completly understand how parents want to know if there are photos of their kids floating around but I wish there was a more black and white approach to getting permission or when to ask for it. Does anyone else have ths problem or can help me fix it? I know this post is older but your advice would be great!

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