Consent is a word that is on everyone’s lips these days. From Educators teaching kids about healthy relationships to Lawyers arguing in court. But how does consent fit in photography? Obviously it goes without saying that one must always act in the most professional and respectful way to your model. Just because they are posing for you does not mean they are there for anything else.
But is that all? Should a photographer be able to adjust the hair of a model? Their clothing etc.? Last year I attended a workshop carried out by Podge Kelly and one thing that struck me was when he said he never adjusts his model without their permission. He will ask is it ok if he makes some adjustment? Then I read an article about a fetish festival held in a public park. A large number of participants had stickers saying “ask for consent” the intention being if a photographer wants to make a photo of them then the subject should be asked for consent. The logic and reasoning being that these people may not want what they consider private made public. Similarly I have read a recent post by my friend Julie Corcoran whereby she was discussing consent at Dublin’s Comic Con. Again the topic was that one should ask the permission of the Cos Players before making their photo.
While I can understand the logic of all three of these positions I have to wonder how does all this fit with Street Photography does. The essence of which in the words of Henri Cartier-Bresson; who is considered a master of candid photography, is as capturing a decisive moment. How can a street photographer capture that “decisive moment” if they must ask for consent. Isn’t that moment now lost? Isn’t the candidness of the image gone? Personally I think it is. Legally no one has the right to privacy when in a public place. As a Street Photographer I am entitled should I wish to make their photo. But should I? This is where the morals of the photographer comes in to question. As can be seen form my gallery below I am always making photos without consent. For me the moment is lost should I ask. But as can be seen I’m no stranger to just walking straight up and asking if I can make a portrait. As an introvert this style of candid street photography suits me. The simple act of walking up to a stranger and asking can be terrifying. Yet also liberating as for the most part they always smile and agree, they ask questions and both the subject and myself have both gained from the experience. I have only had one person steadfastly refuse.
So Consent? Should we as photographers ask? The answer quite simply is “it depends”.