Tag Archives: Instagram

But What About Vivian Maier?

My post this week for Role/Reboot about not taking pictures of strangers is getting some traction. I’m always grateful for that kind of attention not only because it stokes my ego (stoked!) but because the more people who read something, the more likely it is that I get asked some tough, interesting questions. Shocking, I know, that I didn’t think of everything.

To refresh your memory, on the off chance that my words are not indelibly etched in your brain, I argued that the modern habit of snapping photos of strangers in public (at the beach, on the train, behaving badly, etc) and posting them online to mock is tantamount to bullying. I hinged my argument on permission (as always, consent is sexy), suggesting that if what you’re doing is complimentary (i.e. street style galleries, etc), you’d be comfortable asking permission of your subject. If you wouldn’t be comfortable asking, you’re probably being a creep. Note: Not a criminal, but a creep; this is an ethical argument, not a legal one.

So what’s the counter argument?

BUT WHAT ABOUT ART????? 

1954, New York, NYWhat about art? What about photography like that of Vivian Maier, the little known, recently discovered photographer who left her nannying job in Oak Park every weekend to come into the city and take photographs? Many of her photos are of average citizens waiting for stoplights, smoking on corners, or, like Instagrams of today, dozing on  buses. Some are head-on portraits that imply willing participation of her subjects, but many are clearly not.

December 2, 1954, New York, NY

Why is Vivian Maier’s “art” more valid than the ‘grammer on the train capturing the guy picking his nose and hashtagging it #digdeep? Can we call one nonconsensual stranger photo art and another harassment? Aren’t both equal invasions of privacy? Our modern age gives us tools to share our invasive “art”, whereas Vivian’s photography lay dormant in boxes for decades. But don’t we think that had Vivian been alive in 2014, she’d be Instagramming along with the rest of us?

In my post, I made a blanket rule “Don’t take pictures of strangers without their permission,” and many people pushed back that, if obeyed, my rule would eliminate the work of artists like Maier.

Yes, it might.

April 7, 1960. FloridaBefore we continue down this path, let’s weed out the dickwads who are straight-up bullying on purpose; we can all agree that their intent is to mock.

But many of us fancy ourselves capturers of beauty or longing or the human experience or whatever; we don’t think we’re bullies, we think we’re artists. The only way to justify our invasion of someone else’s space is to convince ourselves that the thing we’re producing is more valuable than that person’s comfort.

Let me give you an example: I just got back from Chile. In the many hundreds of photos I took, there are a few in which I am intentionally taking pictures of strangers without their permission. A handful are of performers, people on stages or performing in parades; though I’m still a little uncomfortable with that, let’s even discount those as potentially justifiable. But what about this one:

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This guy is just hanging out, watching the parade from his house. He didn’t wave at me, we didn’t acknowledge each other, he in no way, shape, or form gave an OK for me to take his photo, much less post it on FB*. Which I did. Without even thinking twice. Am I mocking? Teasing? Shaming? Not intentionally, no. But, as we discuss all the time, I don’t get to decideMy intention taking this photo is not what makes it ethically sound or not; his perception of me is. Does he feel like the gringa is abusing her privilege? Does he feel patronized or reduced or mocked? Does he feel like he’s being treated as a Chilean prop I’m using to commemorate my travels? I don’t know, I didn’t ask. Although I didn’t intend the photo to be any of those things, in this case I’m equivalent to the cat-caller/harasser/privacy-invader/slur-slinger who “didn’t mean it that way.”

So what now? Let’s say you believe that the world is better with Vivian Maier’s photography in it. I sure appreciate it. I’m pretty uncomfortable with how we got it, but let’s say there actually is small portion of art for which we are willing to make ethical compromises. We do it all the time, right R. Kelly fans?  Picasso fans? Hemingway fans? Roman Polanski fans? We separate our appreciation for art from how it was made or the crimes of the people who made it, especially when those crimes contribute to how it was made (you think when R. Kelly sings about panties and pussy he’s always talking about women over 18? Really?).

What percent of nonconsensual pictures of strangers are worth the ethical compromise? A very, very, very, almost microscopically small percentage. Which ones? Whose bar are we using? Well, obviously, I don’t get to decide, and neither do you. The question is, is the photo you’re about to take one of them? Is the photo I took of the Chilean man in that microscopically small slice of pictures worth the queasy feeling that someone’s privacy is being invaded? Hell no.

The question is, do you think you’re Vivian Maier? If not, then knock it off.

*I’ve since taken it down, ditto any other non-performance pictures of strangers. 

Related Post: My memoir will be called “Is My Optimism Really Just White Privilege?”

Related Post: When you’re feeling attacked, you’re probably just having your privilege challenged.

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Stranger Pics & The Pope

Contrary to the title of this post, this is not an essay about stranger pictures and the Pope, but rather two separate essays for Role/Reboot. This week, I wrote about the first rule of fight club: don’t take pictures of strangers without their permission. Very obvious corrollary: Don’t post pictures of strangers that you took without their permission.

On rare occasions, stranger pics are meant to celebrate and compliment, in which case, ask permission before snapping and sharing. The rest of the time, when we are taking photos of strangers with the intent to mock, we are actively contributing to a culture of bullying. We all do embarrassing things, accidentally wearing a shirt inside out (a stranger photo recently seen on Twitter), or trying to surreptitiously pick a wedgie (Instagram). If you would like your moments of private shame or your brief lapses in fashion judgment generously overlooked by the Internet, you have to give people the same courtesy. “Being in public” is not equivalent to “giving permission to be photographed and/or mocked/idolized/lusted after/bullied/captioned/edited”. Maybe legally it is, I have no idea, I’m not a lawyer, but ethically it is not.

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Last week, after the Pope commented that married couples without children will find bitterness and loneliness, I wrote about what he calls “the culture of well being”, and why wanting to be a parent is the best possible reason to become one, and not wanting to be one is a pretty damn good reason to not.

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Related Post: Stranger pic example, hot girls of Occupy Wallstreet.

Related Post: “Don’t take my picture,” “Come on! You’re at the beach!”

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S(Monday) Scraps 108

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1. THIRD COAST: Tom Dyja, author of The Third Coast, is interviewed about the Midwest, Chicago, hot dogs, etc on the Freakonomics podcast.

2. COMICS: Bill Watterson, genius behind Calvin and Hobbes, has beautifully illustrated a little life philosophy for all those twenty-somethings (or forty-somethings) trying to figure it out.

3. YEAR25: The blog Wait But Why explains with hand charts, graphs, and cartoons why we millennials are chronically dissatisfied. Yes, it’s talking about you.

4. AUTHORS: What if famous authors had instagram? #malaise #misunderstood (BuzzFeed).

5. BEYONCE: Todrick Hall has created an incredibly elaborate Cinderella parody exclusively set to Beyonce songs. It’s called…wait for it… Cinderonce.

6. CELEBS: Just for kicks, a gallery of celebrity photos from back in the day. Damn, Stephen Colbert, you were fiiiiiine.

Related Post: Sunday 107: Amanda Palmer in the nude, mermaids and workplace discrimination

Related Post: Sunday 106: Hoffman, Delaney, sex ed in Ireland

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Sunday Scraps 103

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1. READING: Tumblr called Awesome People Reading is a bunch of pictures of awesome people reading.

2. WEALTH: The opposite of awesome people reading, I bring you Rich Kids of Instagram

3. BOOKS: Summer is the time of books! Yippee! Famous authors like Louise Erdrich and Junot Diaz reflect on their influential summers of books.

4. AUTHORS: In a fundraising pitch for charity English PEN, fifty authors have returned to their first editions to annotate and note their thoughts on those early efforts.

5. SEX APPEAL: Pin-up founding fathers from the blog Publius Esquire.

6. CHICAGO: How the housing crisis in Chicago has created a new kind of activism with the Anti-Eviction Campaign.

Related Post: Sunday 102 – Depression comics, war photos, and Rihanna’s hairstylist

Related Post: Sunday 101 – Colbert, Obama, and Lean-In Drama

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Sunday Scraps 86

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1. WRITING: Man, If only our shared first name meant I shared talent with Emily Rapp (Ditto Emily Nussbaum, Emily McCombs). In this essay for The Rumpus, Rapp writes about finding intimacy while her son continues to die. If that sounds sad, it is, but it’s also beautiful.

2. PARENTING: Emily McCombs, editor of XOJane, writes about her creative path towards motherhood and it’s pretty inspiring.

3. INSTAGRAM: Complete with lyrics (for your singalong desires), College Humor nails our obsession with Instagram with this parody of Nickelback’s “Photograph.”

4. SUFFRAGE: Weird and strange and weird again. Here’s a children’s book from 1910 against women’s suffrage.

5. TED: Anita Sarkeesian, from Feminist Frequency, speaks at TEDx Women on online harassment.

6. ROLES: Really interesting video imagining what club life (ha) would be like if the stereotypical roles of men and women were reversed. Who objectifies and gets objectified?

Related Post: Sunday 85: Painless? The path to the NFL, Ann Patchett’s new book store.

Related Post: Sunday 84: Astronaut letters, bedrooms around the world, women who model as men

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How to Move Your Wall o’ Books

Important Note: Artsy filters are required

Step 1: Remove all books

Step 2: Find place to put books while you move enormous shelf

Step 3: Replace all books. Kiss your pretty staircase of books goodbye.

Related Post: How not to make iced coffee.

Related Post: Turning the last page

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Sunday Scraps 58

1. TECH: Great analysis from NYMag about the technological differences between Facebook and Instagram, and what makes one distrusted and the other beloved. What happens after the billion dollar purchase?

2. PROM: Religious and cultural restrictions prevented many Hamtramck students from attending a co-ed prom, so they had their own (via New York Times).

3. PLAY: Design blog This is Colossal has an awesome collection of super creative play structures. No basic monkey bars here!

4. BOOKS: Can you guess the ten most read books in the world? The Bible is number one, but what else makes the cut?

5. AUTHOR: Surprisingly, Barnes and Noble has a really interesting interview with author Alison Bechdel (Fun Home) about her new book, her mother, and process (she had a font created from her handwriting.)

6. INTERWEBZ: Comic strip Bill and Dave’s Cocktail Hour explains why the machines have won, and we might as well give up on ever disengaging from their shiny, glowing grasp.

Related Post: Sunday 57: Naked in the park, David Brooks on higher ed, child stars all growed up.

Related Post: Sunday 56: Hef’s letter to Chicago, Barney Frank, Evernote founder.

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