19 July 2012

Getting caught reading?

I love posting about what I see people reading on the subway, and the blog Underground New York Public Library is like a glorious visual enlargement of that. Photographer Ourit Ben-Haim captures some incredible images of regular old subway riders captivated by their books of all shapes, sizes and colors.

That said I feel like it's a slight invasion of privacy to post people's photos without permission, even for so glorious a cause. What about people who are reading books they don't want their work supervisors or friends to know about? (You could say, "Then they shouldn't read them on the subway," and maybe you'd be right in saying that.) Maybe they have other concerns, like privacy around where they live (and what lines they take) for personal reasons.

Ben-Haim's website offers this answer:
Is it wrong to take photographs of people without their permission?
Legally, it’s not wrong. There are legal limits to what I can do with the photographs but none of those things are things I’m doing or interested in doing.
Ethically, it’s a gray area. The ethics of Street Photography is a topic that I continue to reflect on. I’m not running amok taking photographs without any regard for my subjects. Street Photography is a complex art form with its own subtle language of communication. I listen to cues when I see them and I present my subjects respectfully. For an alternative answer to this question click here
"Legally, it's not wrong" is a fairly entitled attitude to take. Just because she claims she's not "running amok" doesn't mean that everyone in the subway is giving her permission to be captured.

Would I let Ben-Haim use my picture, if I caught her in the act? I don't know. Which is more, my desire to see UNYPL succeed or my desire not to become a meme on Reddit? (That would be more "in my interest" than as Ben-Haim argues in a subsequent post that me being put on film is in our collective interest.) I guess the point is, I probably wouldn't catch her, because I'd be too busy reading.

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