Tag Archives: freedom of expression

How I became an outlaw…

Once upon a time, I used to be a photographer who confidently recorded the world around me to generate a reasonable living. Then, all and sundry decided they would either prevent me from taking pictures by imposing regulations, or if they couldn’t do that, they would dip into my wallet to take a piece of the action by imposing permits and fees. They conveniently chose to ignore the fact that my pictures were part of an established symbiotic relationship that enhanced their profitability. Where photo fees are now imposed they are inevitably at a level which, in any sane society, would be equated with banditry.

This year again, because of these regulations, I have become an outlaw. As recently as yesterday, I committed the crime of publishing this photo of the Darling Harbour precinct in Sydney in a Russian consumer magazine.

Sydney's Darling Harbour by night. © Rob Walls

The magazine paid $38US for the privilege of using my photo. The former USSR is notorious for its low publication fees, but this was quite generous by their standards. My share: $22US. Not only did I break the law by marketing this photo, I had at the time of taking it, compounded my crime by shooting from a tripod!

Looking back through my picture sales, this year, I realise I am, so  far, a three-strikes habitual criminal. In January, I licenced for publication (through Alamy), this photo taken on Bondi Beach (no permit/no fee). It appeared in an Italian consumer magazine with a print run of 150,000. I wonder if the number of Italian visitors to Bondi increased this year?

Bondi Beach, late afternoon © Rob Walls

This picture of the Sydney Opera House was used once in a text book in January, and also in a consumer magazine in Taiwan, last March.

Sydney Opera House at sunrise © Rob Walls

Now, these organisations are content to take the profits generated by the tourists attracted to Australia by my photographs and those of other photographers, but they want it both ways. I have absolutely no argument with the authorities about ownership of the space or property. I don’t question the need to impose sensible rules that regulate the work of commercial photographers or film units in these spaces. That’s only common sense. But in every one of these instances, my photography imposed no more interference or obstruction than would any tourist.

What I do question, is the right of government to inhibit my freedom of expression…and their assumption that they own and can charge me for using the light reflected from these objects.

Footnote: These publications earned $US276.82. My share after commission: $US167.29. This is less than the Waverley Council would charge for one hour of photography on Bondi Beach ($150 application fee, $75 an hour).

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Filed under Australian, Digital photography, documentary photography, Photographer, Photographers' rights, Photography, Photojournalism, Rob Walls, Stock photography

The “p” word. Photography? No! Paranoia…

Received this email from my West Australian colleague, Tony McDonough of RAW Images, last week. Yet another example of the rampant and unreasonable paranoia infecting society.

“I have just finished a shoot in Perth’s northern suburbs. Nothing fancy, a pic of a shopping centre and some surrounding streets. Job booked and shot at 10:30 am.

For those of you who are not in Perth or have not seen the news lately, there was an alleged child abduction in the “northern suburbs” a few days ago. Now the scene is set.

While walking down a street with my camera over my shoulder and the person who briefed the shoot ( a lovely lady ). I happened to walk past a school. I didn’t look at the school, just a glance, I judged that there was no picture to be had using the school so we continued walking ( we did not stop ) I did not at any time, touch my camera while passing the school except to adjust the strap which was slipping off my shoulder as they sometimes do when a 200 mm lens is attached. I did not put the camera to my eye.

I was even unaware that my companion was not alongside me anymore when I reached an intersection. I stopped and looked around, she was chatting to someone, so I walked back to join in. The stranger was wearing a school name tag, and was enquiring just what we where doing walking past the school. Unfortunately the conversation was over by the time I got there, and all I heard was “…. you can’t be too careful ….” as the busy-body returned  100 meters to her rightful spot.

I only wish she had stopped me :). I could have asked her if she had indeed asked the two other men over the road, they had motorbikes, perhaps the vanguard of a criminal gang scoping out the area to sell drugs. Or I could have asked her if she would so willingly have stopped a plumber carrying a wrench, or perhaps a muslim, because they may have been planning a bombing raid, but sadly I missed my opportunity to chat to this guardian as she scurried back to her vantage point within the school fence.

She obviously  has a keen eye for  for dodgy characters , her first clue would have been the camera, because it is a well know fact  amongst our protectors that people who want to do mischief, often carry cameras worth upwards of $12,000.

What is wrong with our society that people feel a need to question people going about their lawful business? Why didn’t she at least ask me? Why do people immediately feel threatened by people with big cameras, or indeed anyone who carries a camera in public, when almost everybody today carries a smaller camera or a phone camera ? Why should I feel guilty just for carrying a camera?

What have we become? I was and still am really disappointed and upset that I was singled out for his treatment. Do I drive a white van (there was one mentioned in an alert) or was there one parked nearby? No. Did I fit the description of the alleged offender? No. Did I carry a camera past a school? Yes.”….

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Filed under Australian, documentary photography, Opinion, Photographer, Photographers' rights, Photojournalism

Ross Barnett asks hard questions of Peter Garrett

Writer/photographer Ross Barnett has long been active in bringing attention to the ridiculous regulations that govern photography in Australia’s so-called “national” parks. Here he asks some questions of Peter Garrett, the minister responsible and gets some answers that seem to indicate either the minister is evading the questions, or that he lacks the intelligence to grasp the idea that freedom of expression is a value worth embracing in modern Australia.

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Filed under Australian, documentary photography, News, Opinion, Photographer, Photographers' rights, Photojournalism, travel

The way it was…the way it has become…

Anti-Vietnam War demonstration, Grosvenor Square, London 1968. The way it was. A picture that reflected the mood of the police and protestors before the attempted storming of the US Embassy. © Rob Walls

Ev’rywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy
‘Cause summer’s here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy..
.” Street Fighting Man, Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

Watching the creeping prohibitions on photography in Britain prompted me to go to the archive for these pictures. I made them on Sunday, 17th March 1968, almost exactly 42 years ago. They are from the anti-Vietnam protest in London’s Grosvenor Square that became known as The Battle of Grosvenor Square.  It was the inspiration for The Rolling Stones“Street Fighting Man”. Grosvenor Square was the target of the march because this was the address of the United States Embassy.

With the crowd squeezed into the relatively confined area of the square, it was hard to estimate the number of demonstrators but reports at the time claimed they numbered between 6,000 and 10,000. At first the police handled the protest with a certain amount good-will and calm. Up until the point that is, where the protestors tried to storm the embassy.

I had forgotten how fierce the conflict between police and protestors had been until I revisited the video news coverage online.

Even without the benefit of modern riot gear it can be seen that the lads of the Met were not reluctant to put the boot in. According to the Friends of the Metropolitan Police, an organisation dedicated to recording the history of the Met, “on that day There were 86 demonstrators treated by St Johns Ambulance, and 117 officers injured, with 45 protesters and 4 officers hospitalised (vide Hansard). Of those arrested, 246 were charged with various public order offences. Thirteen windows in the Embassy were broken.”

As a journalist, I would think the disparity between police and demonstrator injuries questionable. I’m not saying that there were no police hurt. I witnessed injuries on both sides. But with the prospect of time off or other compensation members of the force would have had something to gain from reporting injured.  On the other hand protesters injured in the melee would have been more likely to write off their contusions to the “revolution” and experience.

Ironically, before he became one of the ruling class, the former head of Britian’s security agency MI6,  Sir John Scarlett, was one of the demonstrators on that day. He was quoted as saying of the riot:

“I twice saw policemen charge quite strongly at very few demonstrators who were doing absolutely nothing and both times people were heavily clubbed over the head while one of my friends saw a girl being viciously clubbed for no reason at all.”

The way it became. Police arrest demonstrators outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London 1968

For some balance, Peter Hitchen’s Daily Mail report on the 40th anniversary of the riot is worth reading. However, in 1968, much as they would have liked to, the Metropolitan Police weren’t quite ready to prevent photojournalists from doing their job. But back then the official NUJ press card still carried some weight. Producing it would usually ensure their grudging co-operation.

Not so today! More and more photojournalists are being harassed by police using the stop-and-search powers available to them under anti-terrorist legislation. According to The Guardian newspaper, the use of these powers has grown fourfold, from 33,177 times in 2004 to more than 117,200 in 2008.

On the 14th January, 2010, the weekly journal, Police Professional, under the headline Section 44 ‘breaches human rights’ quotes solicitor advocate, Simon McKay as saying that Section 44 “…has failed on legal certainty and proportionality grounds. It is ambiguous and its use was, and is always going to be, vulnerable to the indiscriminate exercise of discretion by police officers; not necessarily deliberately, but through a process of natural evolution. It is the equivalent of the erosion of rights by osmosis.”

In January this year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the arbitrary use of Section 44 stop-and-search powers are illegal. The UK Home Office is set to appeal against the ruling.  More here. (opens in new window)

Could it happen here? There are signs that it may. For the sake of a free press it is imperative that we in Australia remain vigilant against any erosion of our right to document our society.

Now; in the mood for a little music? Then you could do worse than spend a few toe-tapping minutes of your day with this Big Brother re-mix of Talking Heads, Born Under Punches-The Heat Goes on. It would be funny…if the accompanying video was not so chillingly relevant:

As it says: “1984 was not supposed to be an instruction manual”

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Filed under documentary photography, Opinion, Photographer, Photographers' rights, Photography, Photojournalism, Rob Walls

Child pornography and the artist…the new puritanism

The New South Wales government is considering laws that could severely inhibit and restrict artists working with children. Story here.

Surely laws already exist covering the production of child pornography? To give  government and/or police the right to be the arbiter of artistic standards is an act of repression that defies common sense and would undoubtedly ensure severe restrictions on freedom of expression.

The story in the Sydney Morning Herald quotes NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Cameron Murphy, who said that removing the artistic merit defence would infringe on genuine artistic endeavour. Mr Murphy said: ”The problem is getting sensible policy in this area, which is compounded by people becoming emotional to the point of being irrational.”

A lot of the hysteria over the photography of Bill Henson derives from the very ignorance of the kind of people who would be making judgement on the work of similar artists. Are they aware that Edward Weston’s lovingly explicit nude photographs of his son Neil are available in any bookstore in Australia that stocks good photography books? You can view these pictures here, (WARNING: they are of male child nudity).

Weston’s work has always had a sensual quality about it but pornography is in the eye/mind of the beholder. There is a specific instance I know of where a woman cancelled her subscription to a British fine art photography magazine because in her view they had published pornography. This picture was also by Edward Weston. This was the photograph:

Nautilus Shell 1927 by Edward Weston

Weston himself, in his published journals, mentions that people’s response to this picture often referred to its sexual nature, yet he has stated that at the time of making the picture sex was the furthest thing from his mind. Even if there is some subliminal Freudian connection, the reality is that this is a photograph of a sea-shell…and nothing more. Any other interpretation is purely in the mind of the veiwer. (As an aside: In 1968 I talked with his son Cole about buying a print of this picture. He wanted $US60. Cole told me he was coming to London and would bring with him a print. He never turned up. I wish I had pursued it further. A vintage print of this photograph sold at auction for $US1,105,000 in 2007).

Could you too fall victim to the new puritanism? It’s possible. About eight years ago I took this photograph of my daughter in the bath. She was about four years old at the time. It hangs framed in our hall:

Cassie bathing

Parental love, her innocent poise and the ethereal beauty of her long hair drifting around her in the bath water, were what moved me. It was a moment I treasure and a picture that I think transcends the mundanity of the family snapshot. I am certain that in that instant my motivation was no different from that of Weston when he photographed his son.

I think we need to beware this dangerous retrogade slide into artistic repression. Governments should never be taken at their word.

May I remind you of the words of Hermann Goering, “…it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” Substitute “artists” for “pacifists”. The meaning is the same…

“We should remember that an important index of social freedom, in earlier times or in repressive regimes elsewhere in the world, is how artists and art are treated by the state.”

Actor Cate Blanchett, Nobel prize winning author Jan Coetzee, Museum of Contemporary Art director Elizabeth Ann Macgregor and eminent Tasmanian economist Saul Eslake  in a letter to the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Minister for the Arts, Peter Garrett, May 2008.

In his essay “On Indignation” published By Melbourne University Press 2008, that wonderfully lucid Australian author, Don Watson wrote:

“…if some decent people get indignant about pictures of naked children in works of art while others just as decent don’t, is that because the second group are less decent in the matter of  children or because the first group are? Are the second lot simply insensible to the moral danger the first lot see, or are the first lot compensating for disturbing feelings the pictures disturb in them?

I would number myself among those people who don’t feel indignant about it, while conceding that they are not in every case morally vigilant or as strict with themselves as they should be. They do not feel themselves threatened by pictures of naked children, they do not feel their children are threatened  by them and, perhaps because a bit of nakedness really never hurt anybody, they do not feel that the child in the photograph is threatened. It might be for these reasons that the matter does not spark indignation; it might be because they feel indignant about too much else, or because stupidity or cultural theory have left them without the capacity to feel indignant about anything; or it might be that they have an aversion to particular kinds of moral indignation–especially the kind which cannot co-exist with ambiguity; a sense of humour, or any other sense that might grant us tolerance and self-awareness. There is always a sense with the morally indignant that their real aim is to console themselves.”

Don Watson, On Indignation MUP 2008.


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Filed under art, Australian, Opinion, Photographer, Photographers' rights, Photography, portraits, Rob Walls