Through regulation, restriction, misguided legislation and baseless fear, the documentary photographer’s world is shrinking apace. Corporations and government instrumentalities have commodified our landscape in ways that make spontaneous photography in many precincts illegal.
National parks, beaches, shopping centres, rock concerts, railway stations, airports and schools are all off-limits for a variety of reasons, some of which I have touched on elsewhere (Uluru and photography restrictions…). Throw in an ill-informed public, uneducated security guards and police misquoting half understood laws and no photographer today raises his or her camera without a sense of unease.
Which makes the publication of these photos in 1991 by Australia Post, as part of an issue of five stamps, to celebrate 150 years of photography, all the more ironic.
The beach photograph by Max Dupain epitomises the Australian beach lifestyle. It rightly occupies a place of honour in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria. But can you imagine shooting something like this today without being pounced on by over-zealous beach inspectors or the police being called?
In 2006 Max’s son Rex was detained and threatened with arrest for shooting pictures on Bondi Beach. http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,20895457-2,00.html
Crouching down low to capture the curving energetic sweep of The Wheel of Youth, as he did in 1929 at Dee Why, would almost guarantee Harold Cazneaux’s arrest if he was making that picture today. After all there are children in the frame. The pedophile alarm bells would be ringing loudly.
The reality is, that no photographer in 2009 could expect to make pictures like this and not be challenged. But were times so very different? I’d be interested in your thoughts…