In some developed countries, it’s legal to take pictures in public places including public roads and streets. However, if you’re being a creep and zooming in on people or otherwise singling out someone when taking a picture, it might be considered a violation of privacy, especially if that person decides to sue you.
I’m not 100% knowledgeable on the details of this law and where it is applicable: that’s a proper street photographer’s job. But what I do know is that in countries like India and Bangladesh, might is right. There are no laws that will save you if you get caught while trying to take someone’s picture in public space without their permission. The public will just have another field day beating the shit out of you if the subject(s) of your picture were to make a scene.
Today’s hot topic on Facebook seems to be a picture of a lady wearing a yellow saree, obviously celebrating the occasion of the first day of Falgun, who is riding a matching yellow-colored scooter. People are sharing that picture on various Facebook groups and in the comment section of those pictures, there’s a raging debate going on whether taking a picture like that without the subject’s permission is right or legal.
As I’ve already established, I’m not an expert on this, but I do have an opinion. And in my opinion, it’s okay to take the picture, and I think that for a number of reasons.
The lady was out with her scooter that matches the color of her saree which happens to be the color of today’s festivities. Altogether, she represents today’s festive moods, albeit differently than anyone else. Pictures, including single portraits, of people celebrating various occasions on the streets of Dhaka are commonly seen on newspapers and Facebook pages. On the first day of Falgun, on Valentine’s Day, on Independence Day, on Victory Day, on Friendship Day, on Pahela Baishakh, you name it. When you’re out in the public celebrating something, I think it’s fine that the photo of you celebrating the occasion would be taken.
I’m not saying that there is not a privacy concern here. For a number of reasons, you may not want your photo taken, but ask yourself, if a reporter took that picture of you out in the public celebrating Pahela Baishakh and printed it on the paper, would you have a say? As far as I understand, they are not wrong to do this. In fact, this happens all the time.
Surely, I don’t know that lady in scooter personally, but if asked, I don’t think she would object to the picture being taken.
There’s another picture that I’ve seen today circling on Facebook groups. That one is a zoomed-in picture of a couple on a motorcycle where the girl — also wearing festive yellow dresses — rests her head on the shoulder of the guy with a grim look on her face.
That picture just looks like something a stalker would take. Compared to the first picture, where you can also see the surrounding areas where other people are also waiting in traffic, the second picture deliberately zooms in on the couple to show their expressions. Regardless of whether it’s right or legal, I don’t think such a picture should be taken.
I really wanted to post both of those pictures here so that you could see a side-by-side comparison, but I decided to not do it. Because, understandably, not everyone agrees that it’s okay to take the picture of the lady on the scooter.
If you remember, there was also another picture of two women on a motorcycle, both wearing sarees, that went viral some time ago. That picture was shared even from some reputed media’s Facebook pages. One could argue that their faces were not seen in that picture, so that was okay. But even then, that picture was really encouraging for a lot of reasons.
In some ways, I think, today’s picture of the lady on the scooter is also inspiring and encouraging. While it’s a common even in the neighboring country India for women to ride scooters, in Bangladesh, it’s still considered ‘shameless’* in many societies and/or families.
Pictures like this change our attitude and views. Pictures like this change the way we look at things. Pictures like this have the power to change our perspective. So, I believe that pictures like this are okay to take.
It’s not just a random girl’s picture on the street. It’s a different sight that can bear a powerful message. If we’re failing to see that message, then that’s the topic of another day’s discussion.
*I used the word shameless because I have personally heard some people in my close proximity say that for women to ride a scooter is a shameless act. I don’t know if that choice of word is correct for other situations, but the fact remains true that there is a negativity toward women riding scooters in a lot of families in Bangladesh.