Public Space Ethnography and Photography

Hello to who may be reading, you will find that this blog post has a little something to do with public space photography and ethnography. This week, we were asked to enter a public space and to acquire images, sound, or any other observations of public space media use in a way that was ethically comfortable for us. After we had collected these observations, we would then reflect on what we did in relation to the ethics of permission, discretion, and care for others.

In terms of street photography ethics, Colberg (2013) says that while photographers may legally take photos of people in public spaces without permission or consent, they need to become aware of the ethics involved in this practice. Colberg (2013) believes that it is important that we seek the permission and consent of those we photograph, while it may be legal to do so without consent, this does not mean that it is the ethical thing to do. Another thing that Colberg (2013) also believes is that it is the photographic community’s task to educate people on what they are doing.

Keeping my thoughts centred on how Colberg believes photographers should act, I took to the streets of Kiama in search of a photo op. I approached various people and explained to them that I was a university student in search of a willing participant to have their photograph taken of them using a media device. In the end I was only able to obtain one photo of Rhiannon Wilson.
I explained to Rhiannon that I would be using this photo on a public blog and gave her the options of not having her face or name appear. She was very accommodating and didn’t mind if her face or name appeared in this blog. As proof, I made an audio recording of Rhiannon consenting to my taking her photo and displaying her face.

In hindsight, I realise that I did not ask her in my recording if she consented to having her photograph published on my blog, even though she had expressed earlier that she had no qualms with my doing so. Rhiannon wanted to see the blog once it was finished so I gave her my blog’s address and my phone number should she need to contact me about her photo or if she has any concerns with the blog.

This little experiment I felt was really effective for public space ethnography. I think Rhiannon appreciated the fact that I had explained to her what I would do with her photo and the options I gave her about being included in this blog. The only negative thing I would say about public space ethnography in the situation of the photographer is that when you ask someone’s permission to take their photo, it immediately becomes staged, it completely destroys photo authenticity, which isn’t a good thing when it comes to research.

Colberg, J 2013, The Ethics of Street Photography, Conscientious Extended, viewed 13 September 2015,


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