Dave Gorman’s depressing post Twisted (via Post of the Week) prompts a pause for thought. He was harrassed by a couple of police-people for taking photographs at a fair-ground. Although he was not taking images of children at all, he was apparently making security guards nervous. In the comments, Matthew makes a related point:
One of my requests for the recent events was to take photographs for the PTA/school website. Nope no go due to child protection laws.
We often read such laments about how society is changing, and parents are becoming more risk averse. However, it always seems to be ‘other people’ who are the problem. I’ve never read an article or blog from a parent endorsing the stigmatisation of photography in public places or in schools. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that such litigious parents are in the minority. Yet schools and councils and the police have to err on the side of caution, and then bear the brunt of the criticism when taking measures to avoid trouble.
I wonder if the web has a part to play in emboldening a more permissive society that (it seems) most people want? Perhaps a website with a similar set-up to Creative Commons could provide a set of guidelines and a handy logo, which any event organiser could attach to their flyers and advertisement:
“Heatherside Junior School’s Nativity Play is operating under the Creative Commons Family Photography Guidelines (UK) Level 2 (Close-up Photography Allowed; Scenes of a Mild Christian Nature).”
Risk averse parents would then have plenty of time to withdraw their children from events they disapproved of, just as some kids do not participate in school prayers. This approach would still be highly problematic, however, since it still an imposition of values, only in reverse.
Either option flies in the face of such concepts as “parental choice”. This is an idea that seems to have much currency in education debates at present, but it looks to me like a red herring. In some areas of communal life, it is possible to partition time and resources so that people who make different choices can access the resources (think of women only swimming sessions). In other areas, such as a school play or an annual fair, such allocations are impossible. Someone has to impose their values onto the event, and no “choice” is possible.