As Germans are getting ever more tetchy about the protection of their public persona laws are becoming more stringent.
Most street photography showing identifiable persons is now illegal and can’t be taken and published lawfully.
The reasoning is that the individual holds the right the control their public image.
Fair enough to a degree, but laws against discrimination and defamation already exist and are well supported in Germany.
Consent needs to be sought of the people shown in the photographs but must be sought before taking the image.
Because the responsibility of proof of consent lies with the photographer the consent should be in writing.
This renders natural and candid street photography mostly impossible.
I have personally noticed that it is becoming more difficult to take images of people without their taking offense.
Recently I have been asked to delete images that showed two people enjoying a ferry trip even though there was nothing of concern recorded in the images.
On a previous trip I had a glass of Cola thrown at me, ruining a lens.
I never had these kind of reactions in New Zealand, the UK or Asia.
In virtually all cases people seemed happy to be photographed (or at least didn’t object) and even actively encouraged it.
The approach and attitude of the photographer generally decides if street photographs will be created without causing offense.
Please check out the image of the boy on the bicycle in the post below.
This image, a spontaneous street portrait, is illegal to be taken and published in Germany even though the boy rode into the picture with purpose and stopped to be photographed.
Because the boy is likely under age (younger than 18 years) consent would have to be sought from his parents before taking the image.
No spontaneous – and thereby natural – street photography can happen under such circumstances.
Real-life images – that are not manipulated to flatter the individual – would become very difficult to create and publish.
Street photography is already a little regarded genre of photography in Germany and will be further diminished.
A layer of German social and public life is likely to remain unphotographed and an important pictorial record lost.
Images can be published outside of Germany (for example on this New Zealand based website) without infringing the law (as New Zealand doesn’t have this law), although taking the images in Germany in the first place remains unlawful.
Any German can access this website and view the images making the law somewhat difficult to police.
Images in the styles of for example Cartier-Bresson (France) and Martin Parr (England) would no longer be possible in Germany without breaking the law.
Many photographers and art/photography historians might argue that the honesty and integrity of images that show real slices of life is exactly what photography should be about, and what the medium of photography is so well suited to.
My position is that the new laws have gone too far and that my freedom of expression is being infringed.
The publication of images has always been based on the subjective judgement of individuals.
Most photographers, editors, publishers and authors do not intend to harm individuals and generally base their decisions on convention, ethics and demand.
Artists and professional image creators should be allowed to record their impressions of the world without fearing repercussions by the law.
What the current law will do is turn some creatives – with the best intentions of capturing their public and social environments – into criminals and to push the street photography scene underground.
What is most silly about this law is that the paparazzi style of photography – viewed by many as one of the most unethical genre of photography – is granted an exception under this law as the law recognises that publically known figures, and so called celebrities, can expect to be photographed due to their public interest.
In the end the law applies to the every day life and activities that are part of the social and public fabric of this country and of ordinary Germans.
It would be sad to not have a photographic history of this important aspect of German life.