A commenter said:
If you took my photo without my permission, which I would find to be an invasion of my privacy, would you destroy the image if you were aware that I disapproved?
And if you were not aware, what would you do?
Is it not polite to ask someone's permission first?
Another matter if you were a member of the Korean Journalists Union, but then you would still be subject to the above laws.
I find those that appropriate another's image without permission arrogant and offensive.
Taking a picture of someone without their explicit permission isn't an "invasion of privacy." Come on – you're not Princess Diana, nor is the majority of the things that anyone does on the day-to-day very sensitive. Here are some famous examples of the kind of "arrogant and offensive" images that you seem to think make this world a worse place to live:
Walker Evans' "City Lunch Counter" (1929)
Lee Friedlander's "New York" (1963)
Gordon Parks' "Beggar Man" (1950)
Garry Winogrand in New York (1961)
You know, if Winogrand were alive and working in Korea, he'd probably arrested as a "foreigner sexually harassing Korean women" instead of being considered a man with a vision and an inexplicable drive to make images.
Or maybe take the infamous images of the little girl – Phan Thi Kim Phuc – running after her clothes were burned off after getting napalmed by American bombs – should Huynh Cong "Nick" Ut have gotten her model release before taking the picture (this link is an interesting background on that picture)?
Or maybe you might even interpret this as "child pornography" because she is a minor and this was published without her parents' expressed, written consent? After all, he didn't ask permission. She was a minor. And surely he just abandoned her and made a million bucks off the pictures, which is why us photographers obviously must do this work – because it pays so well. Here's an excerpt from a good account of this picture online:
Both David Burnett and Hoang van Danh changed film in their cameras during the peak moments of the action. Danh managed a few pictures when Kim Phuc had reached the line of photographers and soldiers and sold a few of them to UPI. "Nicky, you got all the photos," said David Burnett.
Nick Ut recalls that Kim Phuc screamed "Nong qua, nong qua" ("too hot, too hot") as he photographed her running past him. When the girl had stopped Nick Ut and ITN correspondent Christopher Wain poured water from their canteens over her burns.
Kim Phuc's relatives gathered around her and the reporters. Nick Ut heard her saying to her also injured older brother Phan Thanh Tam, "I think I am going to die." (Tam is seen in Ut's award winning picture, running alongside her, at left).
Kim Phuc's parents were still hiding inside the Cao Dai pagoda.
Urged on by Kim Phuc's uncle, Nick commandeered his car, and being one of the few reporters able to communicate with the injured villagers he took over and carried Kim Phuc into the car. Then other members of her family - her younger brother Phan Thanh Phuoc (5), her older brother Tam (13), her uncle and an aunt rushed into the car. Ut climbed aboard the now overcrowded minibus last and ask the driver to speed towards the provincial Vietnamese hospital in Cu Chi, halfway to Saigon. "I am thirsty, I am thirsty, I need water" Kim Phuc continued to cry. When the van moved Kim Phuc screamed out loud, obviously in great pain and then lost consciousness. Nick, beside her, tried to console her saying "don't worry, we will reach hospital very soon."
They reached the hospital within the hour. The doctors and nurses there had seen and treated burn and shrapnel wounds for many years. Even in situations when the hospital's emergency wards were suddenly overcrowding with war injured an atmosphere of quiet medical professionalism prevailed rather than panic and confusion. Nick Ut knew very well that the doctors would attend first those whose lives could most likely be saved, and put others, who were expected to die, aside for later treatment. It was a battlefield experience Nick Ut had often shared with soldiers and civilians alike.
He pleaded with the doctors and nurses to take care of Phan Thi Kim Phuc - and they did. Ut told them what he had seen on Route-1, what he had photographed and that he expected his pictures to be published everywhere.
Only when Kim Phuc was on the operating table did Nick Ut leave the hospital and head towards Saigon, to bring his film to the AP.
When a newsman later de-briefed Nick Ut for a by-line story of what he had experienced on Route-1, Nick did not mention that he helped Kim Phuc.
It was 28 years later, in London, that Kim Phuc said in front of the Queen: "He saved my life."
Eddie Adams similarly didn't have a model release handy when he took this photo just as the South Vietnamese officer summarily executed a suspected Viet Cong man:
Yes, all of them, arrogant assholes who lived to make the lives of everyone around them miserable. Yet, because of pictures like these, public opinion about the war itself shifted.
I know these photojournalistic examples are a bit extreme, but people need to realize that "asking for permission" is not a reasonable nor feasible thing to do, and if you actually stop to think about the situation for a moment, it's not even really necessary.
The great – and even the mediocre – photographers in the world have the urge to make images that can't be judged in terms that most people understand. No, we are not "normal" in the pure sense of the word, since most people buy cameras to take pictures that are explicitly used for personal purposes only – basically pictures of oneself, friend's birthdays, or major events in one's life.
But for a select few, we buy cameras and lenses to take pictures of people we don't know, situations in which we are newcomers; we have an unexplainable urge to make pictures of the world around us. Take this typical street photography shot, taken from my private collection and is one of my favorites:
Now, I think this is classic street photography, and an image many, many people I have shown it to said conveys some of the beauty of a particular moment, an endearing moment of a couple being playful, in which a man teasingly "stole" his girlfriend's ice cream cone while she looked on with this priceless, slightly amused expression. I got lucky in terms of framing and composition, and this was the product of me standing on a Shinchon street corner for hours.
Yet, if someone like the commenter had happened to catch me, I would have been subjected to "Who the hell are you?" or "Did you take my picture? Erase it!" or perhaps they might even had called the cops, and since Korean cops like foreigners just as little as I like Korean cops, they probably would have erroneously charged me with a crime.
And let's be serious – even in publishing this picture, which I feel brings much more social good than any real harm that could come to the subjects – how could they really be harmed? Is this man going to lose his job for being in this picture? Or the woman for holding hands with a man in the street? The only real way this picture could get me in trouble with the Korean law as it is written is if perhaps the man is married and is with his girlfriend, his wife finds out, and he gets divorced and loses his job. Then, according to Korean law, I could be liable for having caused that. That's the only way that a person could realistically be "hurt" by an innocuous picture such as this.
Were this American law, if they were in a public place, they have no legal "right to their image," unless I were doing something like casting people in a "false light" or certain other specific things that aren't really going to apply to a couple walking around in broad daylight eating ice cream. If I were sticking a zoom lens into their bedroom window and showing this, then yes, both personally and legally, I would feel this to be an invasion of their privacy, in just about any country you go to.
But the funny thing about Korean law is that this couple could actually sue me just for publishing their faces without permission. The general public is correct in that assumption. But what they don't understand about the law is that you actually have to show specific damages – according to Korean law – for this to be anything other than a colossal waste of time for everyone involved.
It is that over-inflated sense of "right to one's image" that leads people to actually think that the law legally defines damages as having occurred at the moment the shutter opens and closes. But in fact, the damage happens in the printing and distribution stage, after said publication results in specific harm to people that can be demonstrated in a court of law.
In the end, the funny thing is that photographers are rarely sued, for just that reason here. But the popular paranoia is so high, and the average citizen's legal perception of the grevious harm done by photographs is so overblown, that on the everyday, Korean folks are waaaaaaaaaay over-touchy and sensitive, and downright aggressive about people taking their pictures.
The other funny thing is that most of the "incidents" that Koreans point to of pictures going too far are actually really rather clear examples of ones' right to privacy being violated, rather than a photographer causing them harm directly. Again, the examples of "dog poop girl" and the girl in the Hongdae club are the ones that often stick in the minds of Korean netizens, but let's be real – the photographers in both cases weren't the ones who violated those womens' rights, and in the latter case of the Hongdae girl, the picture was taken with her full cognizance and permission anyway – she just underestimated the racist reaction of certain Korean males in finding her being in a picture scantily clad with two white boys.
And there were a couple instances during the recent World Cup, of the Korean woman and white man humping on top of the car, or the woman who was scantily-clad beyond the pale and was angry that her picture was getting around the Internet. But to me, those were examples of "stupid is as stupid does" because if you don't want people to take pictures of you that might get on the Internet in the day of the cellphone camera, you should probably restrain from simulating sex on top of a car while drunk and in public in the middle of one of the most highly-photographed public events imaginable, all while people are obviously rolling their cameras and flashes are going off. The same principle applies to wearing a mini-skirt that shows your thong, as well as the extent to which you wax or not in your nether regions, and then walking around Shinchon in such an outfit with crowds of thousands of people with still and video cameras is just, well, stupid.
A good rule of thumb, rather than vilifying the real photographers who tend to be more worried about the law than the average citizen, actually – would be to simply use common sense when in public spaces. If you are really worried about your "privacy", then instead of beating up the innocent photographer who simply took a picture of a cute couple together – and little did he know that this was his secret lover and had just come out of an illicit S&M session in a love motel together – perhaps those people should use the same effort to simply not be in a position to be embarrassed.
And if some hapless street photographer happens to snap their picture, rather than getting all enraged for doing something not at all unreasonable, they should just tell the photographer to please not use their image, instead of the man trying to get all gangsta gangsta about it. I'm not doing anything unreasonable, so I expect them to not be unreasonable with me. Again, I'm not standing with a zoom lens outside their love motel window; I'm standing on a busy intersection with a huge black camera.
One infamous "Hongdae club incident" shot, as shown in this article.
Most reasonable photographers follow the general rule of taking pictures in public places, where people generally aren't doing things that they wouldn't do in public. A reasonable assumption, right? I'm not waiting outside yugwans for couples and publishing their faces on the Internet, nor am I stalking women and sticking my cellphone camera under their skirts, nor am I using a zoom lens to snoop behind closed curtains.
That is what I would consider "arrogant and offensive." Standing on a public street corner is not, by any stretch of the law, constitutive of "sexual harrassment" or an act of "sexual violence", nor is it, in my extensively thought-out and reasonable opinion, an invasion of "privacy" because of the inherent public nature of the places the pictures were taken.
Now, there are exceptions, and the best pictures are the ones that sometimes step over the boundaries of the comfortably public and are able to achieve a feeling of intimacy. But even still, such pictures can't reasonably be called an overt "invasion of privacy." Take this example:
Am I "invading their privacy"? Technically. Would publishing this picture cause either of these girls mental, physical, or fiscal harm? Come on, probably not. My point is, reasonable photographers think about that problem all the time – because the vagueness of Korean law forces us to – and I am far more thoughtful about the consequences of my actions than any overly-angry citizen might think just from being pissed off because s/he overheard a shutter go off and thought their civil liberties were being violated. And yeah, there are weirdos and perverts out there with cameras, but they generally hide them and sneak around – not walk around with huge SLR's and WIDE ANGLE LENSES THAT FORCE YOU TO MOVE C-L-O-S-E-R TO THE SUBJECT, as opposed to the zoom lenses and other technically tricky tools that Korean citizens should waste their time worrying about.
The problem isn't even with the REAL photographers, who by nature of them attaching their names to their work and publishing in places where they could be tracked down if they were breaking the law, but with the idiots who harass people with cameras, but aren't actually artists.
And to the question of "If you took my photo without my permission, which I would find to be an invasion of my privacy, would you destroy the image if you were aware that I disapproved?" I would say that I don't destroy my images or stand on the street erasing images for anyone, simply based on principle alone. You don't want me to use the image? Fine. I'll give you my contact information and/or my business card. I think that's fair, since I did take the picture. But I don't pull out film, I don't rewind tape, and I don't erase pictures on my memory card – half of the reason being that I'm busy and don't have time to be dealing with silly requests like that. But I would give you my business card and promise to not use the image – I think that's fair, since you clearly expressed the desire to not have your image used and I've just given you my information to track me down if I did – but I haven't harmed you or you "privacy" at all.
If you had been those girls sitting in the KFC and were pissed I was taking the picture, if they made it clear that they were pissed about it, I would have explained who I was and that I'm just a street photographer (and implicitly not the sex pervert or whatever most people assume you to be – just out of curiosity, I'd like to know the address of that obviously perverted web site where people apparently publish pictures of other fully clothed people in public places doing completely normal things, but who somehow consider that sexy or erotic, since I've never seen a site like that, although everyone seems to think it exists) and not doing anything nefarious. That's enough for most people. And if my name card and perfectly reasonable explanation isn't enough, then frankly, I think you're paranoid.
Yeah, I understand that a person snapping your picture might not place you in the best of moods, but that doesn't mean you're right to fly off the handle. Like I was in that very same film festival opening night mentioned in the previous post below, and some photographers for the event were trying to get pictures of me – you know, the "foreign guy" mixing and mingling with the Korean staff, which would make the event much more international and be far more likely to be used on promotional brochures and the like – but I don't like having my picture taken (trade secret: most photographers hate their pictures being taken). But since I'm a photographer and understand how much I don't actually like my picture taken, I simply shifted my angle to prevent them from getting a good shot, and once even put my hand in front of my face to ruin their shot – they got the message. If I had been really feeling overzealous about it, I'd have asked them to refrain from taking my picture.
But I also realized that they were photographers at a public event, in a private venue, and that I was a legitimate target of their shots. Why would I get angry about that? And as a member of the audience, I didn't even think about it – it's unreasonable to think that a video camera getting audience reaction shots is violating – in any way, shape, or form – my "right to privacy." What are the even organizers supposed to do – pass around model releases to every member of the audience? Check the tape and identify each person who happened to come into frame? That's just fucking stupid.
Point is – being irritated by a photographer standing on a street corner doesn't constitute a crime being committed against you. And most photographers who get the signal that someone in the street has even noticed them – let alone is actually annoyed by them – don't take those pictures anymore. The beauty of the street photographer's art is in not being noticed; inherently, in people having even noticed me, the aesthetic beauty found in the shot's naturalness is ruined.
Street photographers don't want to disturb their subjects any more than their subjects want to be disturbed.
That's a pretty obvious point, but one lost on the overly paranoid. So I believe I've answered most of the questions posed by the commenter. If I were aware that the subject was aware of me and didn't want to be photographed, I would stop photographing. And as for being a member of the "Korean Photographers' Union" or not (I don't know anything about such a body), it doesn't affect whether the law applies to me, you, or any member of that group, so I don't understand that point. I have to think about the Korean law whether I were a member of such a group or not.
The point is, the actual law as it relates to photography is far less paranoid than the citizens who misunderstand it.
And anyway, I think anyone who thinks a picture like the one below is "arrogant and offensive" needs to have their head adjusted, for these are the iconic images that make the world a richer place to live, and photographers who push the boundaries of the socially acceptable to produce art for the rest of us should be applauded and protected, not attacked and derided.
And if I took this picture in a Korean context, I'd publish it, because it's perfect – their faces are not shown and these two people could be anyone, which probably occurred to Alfred Eisenstaedt at the time he took it. No one knows who these people are.
Could the photographer have known they were going to kiss? No way. And he was photographing a rare moment in history, and if he had to walk around asking for contact information and signing releases, he probably would have been too busy to actually TAKE PICTURES, which is what photographers do.
To this day, no one really knows who was in this picture, although a million people have come forward as that couple (these two people didn't know each other, by the way – the man just grabbed the nearest woman he could find and she obliged, and they likely never saw each other again). Well, it's understandable, since a lot of people probably did this on that day in New York in 1945.
Perhaps we should think about the "bigger picture" and think reasonably, rather than just assume that photographers are just out to get us, and realize that photographers like myself consider their work to valuable in that it's not easy to do, and we are some of the few people out there trying to express ourselves in a socially positive way.
Else, why would we subject ourselves to people's misunderstandings, insults, and even physical attacks? And since most of my photo work in Korea has been on film, one wonders what motivation it takes keep buying this film alone – at nearly 800 rolls of film at around $5 a pop, you do that math. And doesn't include the cost of developing, scanning, and the time it took to edit, process, and parse all that film. The way I see it, given the cost of equipment, film and processing, and other variables along, I've put out around $15,000 out of my own pocket, not counting the endless hours I've spent being out there shooting, Photoshopping, etc.
I'm not complaining. I loved every minute of it, and I learned a lot about myself, Korea, and people in general.
But I guess I'm doing all that just to annoy you, dear commenter, because I'm an "arrogant and offensive" man.
You got me. Guilty as charged.