with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Photography Comes Under Attack – Good or Bad?

As a professional photographer and writer, any time there is an assault against photography, I go ballistic. This is a warning….stand back.

There is so much the government has to do right now, it’s a wonder they can get anything done at all. After all, there are terrorists infiltrating our very neighborhoods that need routing out by not educating the public but expanding the government bureaucracy by “looking” like “we are doing something about terrorism”. There are laws to pass that protect us from mad cow disease and drugs that we already know might hurt us if we use them to help ourselves. After all, Americans can’t be trusted to make an independent decision, so we have the government to do it for us.

And now they have moved into photography.

According to a news story on CNN , while trying to push through last minute legislation, and the 911 Commission’s demands, congress voted in new laws to protect people from cameras on cell phones.

That’s right. According to the story: “Congress passed a bill that would levy heavy fines and prison time for anyone who sneaks photos or videos of people in various stages of undress, a problem lawmakers and activists called the new frontier of stalking.” It makes this a federal offense and puts it under the jurisdiction of the FBI.

They key to the law is the fact that the photographs must be “unknowingly” taken. If you agree to pose nude and expose your privates to the world, and you have proof of that permission, then expose away.

On the surface, I love it. Other than a personal violent confrontation, there are few things more invasive and an assault on the psyche than having someone intrude upon your body and spread it around. Sure, we all have the same bits and pieces, some more and some less than others, but we live in Western Civilization with a lot of time to waste on their hands (obviously) and a lot of phobias, and the more phobic and moral a society, the more sensationalist, and the more in demand, the need for naked photographs are. If a person can’t get photographs from people who want to be photographed naked, and there are a lot of them out there, honestly, then they will go after them surreptitiously. Hence the peeping-tom laws to protect people from spying, peeking, and photographing you without your permission.

Expected to be signed by the president, the bill would make it a crime to “videotape or photograph the naked or underwear-covered private parts of a person without consent when the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy”. Okay, let me understand this. Anyone could take a picture of me without my permission and sell it or distribute it anywhere, but put me in my nothingness or undies and it’s illegal. That’s clear enough. If caught, there is a cap on the fine, though. The law in it’s current form limits the fine to not more than $100,000 or imprisonment for up to one year, or both. Oh, come on, congress, be more lenient and respectful of a person’s right to privacy. Make the fine start at $100,000 and go UP from there. Same with the imprisonment. Start at one year. Do I hear two? Three? Going, going….

BUT, and there is always a big butt when it comes to the US government, this law is federal and therefore only enforceable on federal land. Ah, that’s the catch. The legislation only works in federal jurisdictions, like federal buildings, national parks or military bases. So if our military starts upskirting (photographing up someone’s skirt) on the base, they are in for it. Oops, too late, they already are. Seems that Navy officials have found small cameras hidden in women’s rooms on ships in Norfolk, Virginia. Those navy guys!

Supposedly, this is the government’s way of setting an example and hoping that the states follow through with their own laws that restrict the “use and display” of unwanted nakedness. There are already laws in place in some states.

The US isn’t the only one starting to do battle with small cameras intruding upon someone’s personal space and abusing it across the Internet. England, France, and other countries in the EU are starting to look at the laws around this, but Saudi Arabia, the “bastion of modernity in the Middle East” is really cracking down. According to CNN, “Saudi Arabia’s highest religious authority barred the use of them for �~spreading obscenity'”. Ah, nothing like technology for spreading obscenities. Look at the Internet….hee hee.

I guess that while we’ve been gone from the states, the photographic techniques of “upskirting” and “downblousing” have come into exsitence. With the advance in digital photography and the shrinking of the camera, people have obviously come up with new ways of using their cameras.

Is this good or bad? Well, I think that photographing anyone without permission, no matter if they are famous or not, with clothing or not, should be morally wrong if not legally. I’m serious. I personally despise anyone taking my picture without permission. It offends me greatly. I don’t need to sign a form, but hold up the camera, smile and wait for me to nod consent instead of flinging it in my face.

Is this good or bad for photography? Well, I think that anything that gets people interested in photography is a good thing. What they do with the pictures is a different discussion. Photography as a hobby or art form is an incredibly freeing and creative process, forcing you to examine all aspects of art and form and yourself in the process. Getting back to what happens to the photographs after they are made….for once I think the government might be making a good decision. Now, let’s see how they enforce it. They haven’t done too well with spam, so let’s see how this works.
Mobile, Alabama

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