Thursday, February 5, 2009

Ethics of Visual Anthropology in Japan - Part Four

Photographing in Public in Japan: What Professional Photographers Have To Say

More monster text...

I contacted several photographers and photojournalists via e-mail and asked them questions about photographing in public in Japan. I received responses from 6 individuals. All are foreigners who have been working in photography for at least several years. One of the photographers reproduced my questions in his own blog and received more comments; I reproduce comments from 4 people in his blog here.

I am grateful to those who took the time and energy to answer my questions. There are some very interesting answers below that are helpful in my goal of establishing a set of guidelines for students of Visual Anthropology of Japan to follow when doing their research. I would have liked to receive responses from Japanese photographers; hopefully I will in the future. I present my questions followed by the answers I received. All respondents remain anonymous. I do not supply any of my own comments or analysis yet. My next move is a draft of guidelines for my students based on all the recent monster blog posts where I have dumped various data to be digested and pondered. After my students are set and working on their assignment I will continue with this project with the hopes of gaining more data and ultimately publishing a polished version in an anthropological journal. I am sharing my raw data here in the spirit of collaboration as all of the photographers who responded seemed very interested in this project and requested further information.

In addition, here are two additional sources that are valuable for this dialogue. The first is a web page with advice on how to conduct street photography.

Link to - Techniques:

The second is a YouTube video about American street photographer Bruce Gilden.

I will comment here while I enjoy Gilden's approach (although I wonder how he can get away with it, even in America...), such a technique would probably not go over so well here in Japan...

OK, so here is the Q&A with photographers currently working in Japan:

1) How do you go about taking photographs in public?

A-さん: The organization to ask is the 日本新聞協会 (Nihon Shinbun Kyoukai; The Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association). I went to their office in Hibiya and a one of their staff very patiently explained the rules to me. They are also printed in a handbook published by the organization called 取材と報道.

B-さん: So far I have just been shooting anything and anybody without worrying about anything.

C-さん: Generally, photographing in public spaces with a tripod often needs a permit (that depends from area to area), without a tripod is easy. If you use images of several people in the frame for non commercial like art or journalistic purpose, internationally this is fine without permission, but if these photographs ever show up in an advertising, you MUST have a written consent. And if you do portraits etc, asking is generally better. If you shoot a religious or cultural event, it is better to get a permission, too.

D-さん: As a general motto it is of utmost importance to be open and frank about what you do and then assess the reaction of people towards your taking photos of them. That will determine whether to go ahead with the shot or just move on to the next opportunity. We never compensate monetarily and when publishing (on the web) we never blur the face or similar. I have lately observed blurred number plates of cars as well in published photos, but I am unaware of the motivations behind it. I have no hard info on the legalities, but given the strong history of photography in public in Japan and the many exhibitions of photographers featuring strangers there does not seem to be any reason to be overly concerned, although as always the consultation of a lawyer may be advisable.

E-さん: As a photographer the anthropological aspect to what we are doing is never far from my mind. We notice the differences and similarities of the people and cultures we photograph, that is our job. The golden rule is also ALWAYS research. You can get much better pictures if you understand and respect, or even not in some cases, the people you wish to have in your images.

I try to blend in, to be unnoticed if possible. Sometimes though getting noticed in important for eye contact to fix an image in the viewers eye. Japanese people, I have noticed, have an understanding of the needs of many of the Japanese cameramen, particularly the retired enthusiasts with professional aesthetics that shoot everything, everywhere. Indeed at times they seem to be almost invisible to their subjects which is somewhat gall inducing when I try, without success, to do that. The annoying peace sign is the flip side of that knowledge and is mostly to me a wasted shot though it can have ironic impact like a nationalist burning a Chinese flag at Yasukuni flipping the peace sign as happened to me last year. It is harder to get the people to act down but be aware of you sometimes so I just hang around longer until they get used to you. Other times I just shoot from the hip and move on quickly.

F-さん: I just go out, walk about, and shoot that which interests me, which is usually people. I don't have any method, other than travel light in terms of cameras carried, small discreet camera is preferable. I walk and I shoot at random when something perks my interest. I'll criss-cross streets, back and forth, up and down, follow the action, or just loiter in somewhere where there are groups of people, or it looks like there might be pictures to be had. If you were to plot my movements you would concur that you were following a mad man.

2) Do you get permission from the people you photograph in public? How? Oral permission? Written permission?

A-さん: For photojournalists the rule tends to be "shoot first, ask permission later". Generally speaking, I only ask permission if people have noticed I am there.

B-さん: Usually I don't. Most people I shoot from a distance so they are not aware that I took their picture. When you ask people if you can take their pictures, they always start posing and put the peace sign up - totally useless images are the result. If you want to catch life on the streets you have to do it without the people knowing. Occasionally, I might ask somebody to take a series of pictures so then of course, the subject is posing and that shows in the images.

C-さん: That depends. If you need candid street shots, I don' t ask for permission. Otherwise, a simple smile for approval is fine. For a photo of posing people, a written model release is best.

E-さん: Sometimes I ask if it is okay to take their picture. I use the very polite keigo version for older people or right-wingers. Sometimes I need to isolate a person or people from a crowd as the shot is too messy or move them into a specific position that they had been before or someone else had been before and would have made a great shot if less busy. In that case I am quite business like and tell them my motivation and my intent. Since digital it has been easier to show people what you just did too and they trust you more when they can see you are not intent on exploiting them. I have rarely used model releases but if a shot will be used in advertising I do. The main journalistic rule however is shoot first apologise or seek permission after (if they notice) that is.

F-さん: No, I don't. I work on the premise that it is ok to shoot until told not to. I shoot and don't ask permission (usually, there are of course sometimes exceptions). Generally I shoot and don't ask permission. If someone deliberately moves away, or turns their back, or tells me not to shoot then I generally abide by that and don't shoot. Of course there are always exceptions, sometimes I will ask, but usually that would be if I was shooting more of a considered portrait as opposed to a fleeting moment, where if I was to ask permission the moment would be gone. (Oral permission?) Yes, if I ask people. (Written permission?) I don't think I've ever done that.

H-さん: I am a photo-journalist and also shoot for my sites. As a photo-journalist I never ask permission as my images are published as news stories in newspapers and magazines, mostly abroad. But for photos that go on my site... I have each person that I shoot sign a Japanese language release of rights. It is a lot of extra work, but it helps as the people in the images know exactly how the images will be used.

3) What do you know about the laws and regulations in this matter, especially dealing with privacy laws and portrait rights in Japan?

A-さん: You need to ask the Shimbun Kyoukai about this. As I understand it, there are no restrictions on taking photos in public places in Japan. But if the picture is published and you have infringed someone's right to privacy, they can sue you and have a good chance of winning. The example I was given was taking a picture of Shibuya crossing, publishing it in a Japanese magazine, and then being sued because a couple in the photo were having an affair. If you harmed their marriages by infringing their right to privacy you can lose in court. That's very different to say the UK where pretty much anyone is fair game as long as they are in a public place.

The Shimbun Kyoukai did tell me though that no foreign journalist has been sued in this situation. It's probably because if the picture is published outside Japan its less of an infringement of privacy.

B-さん: To be honest, nothing at all. I didn't even know there were such laws. Portrait rights?? Must be something new. Never heard about it before.

C-さん: I do not know much here. But, as Japanese generally are photo crazy themselves, photographing people here never has been a problem. Social documentary type of photography, like homeless people etc, there I always ask out of respect.

E-さん: As far as I understand there is no right to privacy in Japan if you are not a celebrity. Portrait rights are only to protect the product of a talento though there seems to be some call for these rights to be extended. I know that if an image is published in Japan and causes someone harm by exposing a secret that they could realistically hoped to have kept the photographer can lose badly in the courts. This doesn’t affect images published overseas though so am not too worried. The internet is another issue here as it is global but the English language barrier should stop any images accidently causing problems even in Japan.

F-さん: In the UK from where I come , I know the rules (although post 9-11 terrorism incidents these rules are becoming harder to work by and live with/ be protected by). In Japan I'm not so sure of the exact rules regarding privacy/portrait rights, but I work to the same rules as I would in UK. If I'm in the street then I'm on public property and everything is fair game. If I'm within private property, on the grounds of a company, in a building, bar/ hotel etc then obviously the rules are different, you should have permission, but this isn't to say I don't still shoot without asking- but legally if I was later challenged I'd be on thin ice. As for portrait rights, I wouldn't do a picture and then be able to use it in advertising or to generate money through adding it to promote a product etc, without having rights granted. I can understand that but it isn't something which usually I have to worry about. I do of course take portraits of celebrities through my newspaper work, and then I will resell those images, but only in an editorial sense, not to use in advertising in anyway.

G-さん: There is a law – I’ve been assured by Japanese nationals - requiring faces to be obscured in published photos. License plate numbers also seem to be regularly obscured. Don’t know about the face- obscuring issue. Seems very few faces are mosaic’ed in photos of all kinds on the Japanese websites and blogs. There also seems to be a gray area regarding photos of the girls at the beach. Cops forever seem to be arresting photographers for…taking pictures in a public place. Would be nice to know the rules about that scenario. Also, the Google Streetview images - seems to be a controversy also about photos snapped from public places.

I-さん: There is a portrait right regarding celebrities where all images of Japanese “talentos” have to be authorized by them or their management before being published (in Japan at least as I understand it). This is nominally to stop unofficial endorsements in advertizing, though this seems an unneeded protection to me and is, I believe, a way to stop scandal stories developing much publicity in the picture led gossip mags. Also apparently all images of the royal family are property of the Imperial Household Agency.

4) Do you do anything to protect the people who appear in your photographs (like blurring out their face, etc.)?

A-さん: No I don't, basically because I'm not worried about being sued (see above). Also, it wouldn't be acceptable in a foreign publication.

B-さん: No, I don't blur people's faces because what is the point of taking candid pictures if you blur the faces?? I do take care not to make people look stupid and I don't make fun of them.

C-さん: Never.

E-さん: No! It isn’t ethical to me to do so and aside from France where I believe minors are protected this way in print journalism, the face is most important to telling the story most of the time. I have tried to protect dignity of people who may not want their picture seen due to poor circumstances such as poverty in Japan, but the dehumanising blur or pixalation is unneeded where I sell my work mostly.

F-さん: No, unless it is specifically asked for, i.e. recently I did an assignment about "private investigators" etc., and I blurred the faces of some people they were following, as they had no idea I was taking their pics and those pics were appearing in a magazine.

I-さん: [T]he media here have a fear of maybe we’ll get in trouble so blur out any identifying features just in case. The courts have invariably come down against the photographer in any cases that have been brought and damages are high so it perhaps better to be safe. What I don’t like is the way that ordinary people have gotten this fear too though the trickle down effects of rumour and misinformation even though there is really no cause for a blogger for example to pixalate faces, and there is a growing false understanding, as in my own country of England, that it is illegal to take pictures of people in the street.

5) Do you ever compensate people you photograph in public (either money or other considerations)?

A-さん: Never money. I will send them a copy of the photo if they ask.

B-さん: Occasionally I give some money to homeless people when I take their picture but I don't think of that as compensation for taking the picture, just because I feel sorry for them.

C-さん: If I photograph people portrait- style, I would give them a nice print, otherwise I never compensate.

E-さん: I have given homeless people money and food and not photographed them after initially wanting to but I have never paid someone for a photograph. Usually spending a bit of time talking to them helps ease the way to shoot. One thing to remember is you are there with a camera and if you tell them why you are there and spend a bit of time explaining yourself and learning about them they will basically expect you to do your job and ask to take their picture. If they like you most will say yes.

F-さん: I say no, generally I don't, it changes the situation if you start paying for pictures..... But yesterday I did give a homeless guy some yen after I’d shot his portrait, but that was an incredibly rare event, that I do a portrait like that, and he was half naked in the cold, he needed some help and a friendly moment.

6) If you have published your work in print, how do book publishers deal with these issues? Is it up to the photographer or the publisher to gain permission for all photos published?

A-さん: This is about the difference between editorial and other photography. If you want to use the photo in an advertisement, company brochure etc you will need a "photo release" for any people or property in the photo. The photographer normally has the subject sign the release just after the photo is taken.

It is very important for stock photography as you never know where the photo might be used. In the US its necessary to make a small payment to make the contract legal I think. (There's a lot of info about this on the internet). Photo releases have become common in Japan too.

C-さん: Yes, the publishers always delegate this responsibility to you, the photographer. But as I said above, you needn’ t worry really. In the US, privacy rights are meanwhile very strict. Many photo contests now demand a written consent from everybody in the picture, even the images were taken overseas. That of course, is unpractical and nonsense. But in Japan generally things are smoother, and lots of contracts are done handshake-style, so a friendly smile asking for permission would be fine for most situations.

E-さん: Model releases are the photographers responsibility. Publishers have larger legal teams that would be able to assess the potential damages of any suspect photo and would I leave it up to them to run or not run such an image if I ever took one!

F-さん: I'd say it's up to both, it really depends on the work that would be published. How much it could be regarded as an intrusion of privacy, or defamatory etc. It would really depend on the pictures and situation, and if it were being used in an editorial way or advertising.

7) What about posting pictures you have taken in public on the internet? Are there any special considerations here? Do you do anything to protect your posted photos?

A-さん: I watermark my photos…

B-さん: The pictures I put on my web site are low resolution, small size and not suitable to be printed out. I don't think that anyone else would want to print them out and use them for evil purposes. My pictures never show people in a bad light.

C-さん: I suggest watermarking them and putting your copyright next to them or on them.

E-さん: I should watermark my blog pics but I don’t. I watermark my website pics. must really get onto watermaking my blog pics.

F-さん: I post pics on the internet, I don't hide identities etc of anyone in them.

8) Any other comments?

B-さん: It's really sad that more and more rules and regulations are being made that limit creative expression and spontaneity in photography. Do you think that famous street photographers such Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Eisenstaedt, Lartigue and others, ever asked their subject if they could take their pictures?? The reason why these photographers are famous is just because their pictures grabbed life on the streets first hand, raw, unposed and beautiful.

That is why do street photography, to catch life as it is in all its aspects.

E-さん: Photography is being attacked on all sides by the current fashion for control in the name of security and photographers need to be fully and intelligently aware of the rights they have. I’m from the UK where the general population, private security and even many policemen think that public photography is an illegal act. They are wrong and everyone with a camera should know that so that ignorance cannot take away out right as photographers to enjoy our hobby or undertake our business. I hope that this sort of intimidation does not come to Japan but rather fear it will. Like England also I fear that the subjects of street candids will begin take violent umbrage to having their picture taken first. A few assaults and such rules will be brought in soon after to "protect" subjects and photographers, nib the problem in the bud as it were much as has happened in France where I’m told that in an effort to stop the craze of "happy slapping" photographing strangers is more or less illegal. I am happy to be corrected though.

F-さん: I think when you are a professional photographer doing this type of work a lot, day in day out for 20 years, then you get a good sense of when it is ok to shoot, and when it isn't, and also, although this may sound crazy, even when it is ok to shoot even though you've been told not to (- and those moments depend on why you're shooting what you're shooting, what the end purpose is for etc.) My skill and professionalism tells me how far I can push a situation, how to read peoples body language etc, how much I can shoot before I'd better leave or move on. Being a Westerner in Japan also affords you a bit of extra leeway, people are less likely to challenge me. Although it can also work against you occasionally.

(I’m not sure if the following person is a photographer, but his comments are still interesting.)

J-さん: Regardless of whether there are laws that allow one to take photos in public, I confess that I’ve found it a very easy matter to get police cooperation to threaten photographers into ‘compliance’. In my case, I was irked by what appeared to be a team of Japanese professional photographers taking shots of us as I was walking my son to school. I indicated a firm “no! bugger off!” and they put down the camera but being a foul mood, I dropped by the police box further down in the road. In no time at all, the policeman was on them and forcing them to pack up their gear. Sorry - I know you guys have a right to your livelihood and everything. However, regardless whether you might have a legal right or not, I will be damned if anyone takes photographs of my kids.

A-さん’s response: Have been on exactly the other end of that situation! I was taking photos of schoolchildren for a story on the shrinking birthrate. Two policeman hauled me into a koban, checked my gaijin card, give me a ticking off, and told me to go away and take photos of Fuji-san instead.


Are there any other photographers out there who want to participate in this dialogue? Anybody else wish to comment or question? Stay tuned to VAOJ for upcoming guidelines and more!

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