Tag Archives: laws

Taking the high ground…

What do you do when signs like this condemn you to staying in heavy metal suburbia? Acres and rows of caravans, SUVs, Winnebagos and mobile homes?

© Rob Walls 2011

I’m getting the impression that every morning in Australia entire tribes of grey nomads uproot themselves and move off in a clockwise direction around Australia, like those great swirling schools of fish that are rounded up by dolphins. Millions upon millions of dollars, entire cities on the move each day.

The night before last, I complied for a single night for $45 for a “powered site”; a place to pitch my swag, park my truck and charge my computer, take a shower and walk 150 metres every time I wanted to take a piss. Faced with those kind of options, there is only one choice for me, become an outlaw.

Suburbia on wheels © Rob Walls 2011

In Exmouth, Western Australia, the tourist guide books recommended watching the sunrise falling on the ridges at Shothole Canyon in the Cape Range National Park. After doing a recce during the day, I calculated both sunset and sunrise would be good,. But risking driving in the dark over several miles of rough gravel road regularly crossed by kangaroos and stray livestock seemed a logical justification for ignoring the law. So, I found myself a well-concealed little campsite, well off the road, a few hundred metres from the canyon and pitched my swag to wait for the light.

My campsite at sundown © Rob Walls

I know which of these two campsites will linger in my memory.

Taking the high ground in Cape Range National Park © Rob Walls 2011

Late afternoon sky Shothole Canyon, Cape Range National Park, Western Australia from my elevated ridge © Rob Walls 2011

The brightest stars of the Southern Cross linger in the morning sky above my campsite as the sun begins to comee over the ridge © Rob Walls 2011

My camp at 6.30am, Cape Range National Park WA © Rob Walls 2011

The morning sun clips the range tops, Cape Range National Park, Western Australia © Rob Walls 2011

The irresistible self-portrait of every solo travelling photographer at sunrise © Rob Walls 2011

I could write a lengthy diatribe about loss of freedom, the shrinking of our horizons, the nanny state, but if I did, I’d have to admit that part of the enjoyment is in defying the restrictions that would corral us all in fenced-off, controlled areas where one’s wallet is captive to the conventional.

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Filed under Australia, Australian, Digital photography, documentary photography, Photographer, Photography, Photojournalism, Stock photography, travel

A return to photographic innocence?

Rosemary Neill writing in The Australian has highlighted the idiotic restrictions that are being imposed on photographers in Australia.

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/arts/not-a-good-look/story-e6frg8n6-1225930635070

I think it an interesting point she makes, that as television co-opts and commercialises their versions of “reality”, photographers are being restricted in their ability to document the world.

She writes: ”

It is ironic that photographers feel under siege when voyeurism has been turned into a national pastime. Witness the enduring popularity of reality television, the celebrities who tweet compulsively about the most mundane details of their lives and ordinary individuals who post dozens of photographs of themselves on Facebook. Our multimedia society is arguably the most narcissistic and (superficially) self-revealing in history.

Yet, paradoxically, the rise of online and mobile media has also bred mistrust of professional photography and has entrenched ideas about the need to control images — and who makes money from them — whether the subject be a private citizen or a well-known landmark.”

Will there ever be a return to the days of photographic innocence? One can hope…but I doubt it.

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

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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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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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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Uluru and photography restrictions

Uluru, © Rob Walls Photographed on Kodachrome with a Widelux camera

Uluru, © Rob Walls Photographed on Kodachrome with a Widelux camera

Parks Australia has recently released a draft park management plan for Australia’s Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park, which places quite onerous restrictions on photography within the park. Part of the problem stems from the all-encompassing definition of commercial photography as defined in the report.  In most international jurisdictions “commercial” photography excludes editorial photography. It is generally used to define filming or photography where props, models, lighting and a production crew are required; photography that would interfere with the normal operation of a park and a visitor’s enjoyment.

Parks Australia for reasons they state, of “protecting the natural and cultural values” of the site chooses to institute regulations where all professional photographers must apply for permits and approval to shoot pictures in the park precincts. There are no exceptions. (I should add that these regulations have, in similar form, been in place for some years. The draft report however, seems to indicate a hardening of stance, for reasons not at first, obvious.)

The justification given for the restrictions is based on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Regulations 2000 which states under the heading Deriving Commercial Gain from Images Captured:

(1)    A person must not use a captured image of a Commonwealth reserve to derive commercial gain.

(2)    For sub-regulation (1): captured images include an image that was not captured for a commercial purpose or in contravention of the Act or these regulations.

What the prevention of ” image capture” (i.e. photography) has to do with environment protection and conservation is beyond my understanding.  It also effectively makes criminals of every photographer who has ever distributed for publication a photograph made of a Commonwealth reserve.

Now, contrast this with the simplicity (and generosity) of the equivalent US regulations on Commercial Filming; Section 1(c) of Public Law 106-206 signed by President Clinton on the 26th of May, of the same year:

STILL PHOTOGRAPHY

“…the Secretary shall not require a permit nor assess a fee for still photography on lands administered by the Secretary if such photography takes place where members of the public are generally allowed…”

If it applies these regulations Parks Australia is choosing to ignore the traditional symbiotic relationship between national parks and landscape photographers, whereby photographers publishing pictures of a park provide free publicity and help generate park attendance. Of course, one could be cynical and suggest that using the EPBC legislation is an effective way of eliminating competition for the parks management’s declared intention of establishing a commercial image library within the park (Section 3.97 6.6.8 of the Uluru Kata-Tjuta Draft Management Plan ).

If these regulations are imposed  they will generate a lot of friction with photographers. They will also create a ill-will from magazine editors, who faced with deadlines, are expected to get approval to use pictures of Uluru. The overall result will basically be counterproductive as there will be a reduction in publicity for the park.

The reality is that there are currently innumerable pictures of Uluru, from every angle and aspect, available from a multitude of sources.  How Parks Australia imagines that it can control how the park is portrayed defies common sense. A search on Google returns 479,000 hits for pictures of the site. The photo sharing site Flickr turns up 82,127. Both of these could be defined as commercial use of photographs of the park. A keyword search of one of the largest UK based picture agencies returns 3,082 photos.  Almost any photo library of reasonable reputation would have anything from 50 to several hundred pictures on file. There are literally millions of pictures out there.

Google image search showing some of the over 400,000 photos of Uluru

Google image search showing some of the over 400,000 photos of Uluru

These are the resources that travel and feature writers, use for publication in magazines, and newspapers throughout the world. They are part of the traditional way in which interest is generated amongst travellers to visit a site. For Parks Australia to come up with ideas that use tax-payer dollars to inhibit tourism promotion, especially in a climate of declining visitor numbers, defies common sense. Asking photographers to apply for permission to take photographs is like asking musicians to apply in writing before they can play music; a process guaranteed to stifle their creativity.

Uluru was handed back to the indigenous community with reassurances that under Aboriginal management it would not be alienated to access by the broader community. That now appears to be happening.   To read the photography guidelines go here. You’ll have to go to page 95, as parks management have, within recent days, taken down the direct link to its image capture guidelines.

Your comment would be most appreciated, as I’d like the opinions of the photographic community before drawing the attention of the relevant ministers to this issue.

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