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Writing for the Guardian, Sean O’Hagan is wondering how our recent laws governing privacy and surveillance are impacting the art form we’ve come to know as Street Photography. He explains:

Back in the 1960s, when New York was the centre of street photography, the main practitioners of the form would sometimes cross paths … More than 40 years later, Winogrand, Friedlander and Meyerowitz are still setting the groove for street photography, as key influences on a generation that has rediscovered and is busy reinventing the form … Winogrand remains a hugely influential figure, but it would be difficult to take pictures on the street now the way he did then. And, it would be a brave photographer indeed who would try and take photographs the way Bruce Gilden did in the 80s and early 90s, using confrontation as a kind of aesthetic. Gilden often used flash to surprise his subjects and to, as he put, it, “energise the frame.”

… Today, photography — and street photography in particular — is a contested sphere in which all our collective anxieties converge: terrorism, paedophilia, intrusion, surveillance.

Of late, though, the police have been stopping and questioning, and, in some cases, detaining, photographers on the street with alarming regularity, using – some would say, misusing – the powers given to them under Section 44 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Nearly every photographer I spoke to for this article had tales of being stopped and questioned by the police, not just near government buildings, but all over Britain.

The threat the photographers is so great that some photographers have joined forces to create a group called I’m a Photographer Not a Terrorist!. The group has had some success, according to O’Hagan, but the question in my mind is whether these new regulations have proven to us the real cultural value of street photography in general. Living in a world where anyone can be observed with a camera and rendered into “art” — even against their will — feels more relevant than ever.

Read the whole post here.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

4 replies on “Is Street Photography Under Threat?”

  1. It’s much worse than you think–you should read Carlos Miller’s blog. Practically every day someone is hassled, searched, or arrested by police/security guards over photographing or shooting video in public. Miller started his blog after being arrested twice for photographing police (and he’s a photojournalist!). Britain has more draconian laws, but the U.S. has that old stand-by–“disorderly conduct,” i.e., “contempt of cop.” That’s what they usually nab you on when you take photos of things the police don’t want you taking photos of.

    His blog is http://carlosmiller.com/

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