Excuse me, Montrealers...

A quirky thing about being a photographer in Montreal is the contrast between people’s understanding of their right not to have their images published – and their willingness to walk with total disregard through a shot being taken.

It leads to ludicrous situations where people will glare at a Montreal photographer to taking a picture of them that they just stepped into!Under Quebec law – upheld by Canada’s Supreme Court – you can’t publish pictures of individuals without their permission except in very specific circumstances, e.g. at an event that is evidently newsworthy or a matter of public interest. And the definition of newsworthy is itself very narrow. The Gazette newspaper lost a legal action involving someone walking past a demonstration who had his picture published. He claimed it led to him being ridiculed at work, and won a sizeable amount in damages.

In this era of a camera phone in every pocket, and instantaneous transmission through social media being the norm, the law is ludicrously inapplicable of course. Yet it remains on the books. Quebecers remain aware of it, even if they misunderstand it. I used to carry a copy of the Supreme Court judgement that makes clear the law applies to publication, not the mere act of pointing a camera and pushing the shutter. I started doing so after being shouted at in furious French at by a woman who thought she was somehow in the frame of a sunset shot I was taking near my home.

At almost the same spot just a few days ago, I was shooting pictures of a huge old tree that was snapped in half during a recent storm. I’ve posted some of the images on my flickr site http://www.flickr.com/photos/94756462@N02/ and will be adding more there in the days ahead, as well as on my web site here. What the pictures can’t show is the number of Montrealers that I wanted to snap in half for their absolute disregard of the obvious fact that I was standing there with a tripod-mounted camera and 300mm lens trying to get the light just right on the tree in front of me.

In fact, while I was shooting, an entire family walked up and posed in front of the tree while dad (I assume it was dad) snapped them with his camera phone. They ignored my expression of slow burn disgust, and only moved off when a policeman shooed them away from the overhead danger.
Of course people have the right to walk where they like in public places. And even in Montreal, photographers don’t have any right to a clear shot. But you’d think Montrealers so sensitized to their right not to have unwanted photographs taken would be at least a little more sensitive to the times when they are not wanted in the picture.

Tags: Montreal, Photography, Privacy, Supreme Court

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