Should Street Photography Come with a Warning Label?

I’m an avid street photographer.  I love capturing candid moments of everyday life on the streets and other areas around me.  I became passionate about this genre of photographer when I first discovered the work of Vivian Maier.  Vivian Maier is a posthumous photographer who actually spent most of her life as a reclusive nanny.  It wasn’t until sometime after a Chicago collector, John Maloof, purchased some of her photos in 2007 that she was discovered and made famous.  Maier had an amazing way of capturing the world around her.  It was almost as if she were freezing time itself.  Renowned street photographer Jill Freedman stated that “Photography is magic. You can stop time itself.” 

Photo I took at the mall I was harassed at.  

I have been shooting street photography passionately for nearly three years but I have only recently become aware of the dangers and unnecessary harassment that can accompany it.  Unfortunately, I discovered these dangers first hand a couple of nights ago while taking photos at a local open mall.  I’m not going to give another detailed account of my story which can be read here.  Instead I want to append a metaphorical warning label to the genre of street photography.  I want to focus on a couple of areas in which I believe are becoming a huge problem to those taking photos in public areas; paranoid people who assume every middle-aged man with a camera is a pedophile and security and police who need better training on the rights of photographers in public areas.  

I have read stories about how photographers have been accused of taking photos of children in public places without any rationale or proof.  These stories upset me but I never understood how prevalent this problem was until it happened to me.  I was humiliated beyond belief and reason.  I was accused of taking photos of children simply because I was a middle aged man with a camera and children happened to be in the area.  The level of paranoia in this situation was off the charts.  

This paranoia seems to be very common in today’s world which I can understand based on how we are constantly bombarded with news reports of sexual predators seemingly running rampant all around us.  What I don’t understand is how almost every guy with a camera taking photos in public areas is labeled in the same category as those predators being reports on the news.  Simply having camera doesn’t make someone a dangerous person.  Unfortunately society doesn’t see it this way on most occasions so it’s important for photographers and especially street photographers to be aware of their environment before taking photos.  

It’s unfortunate but photographers need to think twice before taking photos in public areas where children are present due to rampant paranoia.  It’s also important for photographers to know their legal rights since the odds of being accused of horrible acts such as preying on innocent children is on the rise.  I have noticed that local security as well as police do not seem to be well training on handling these accusations and situations.  This is another reason it’s so important to know your rights as a photographer.  Take the time to research state and federal laws as it pertains to taking photos in public areas and even private areas.