I have some additional thoughts to the “Snap Happy Farang Women” submission.
I believe that although the letter of the law is such that anybody in a public place may be photographed within the public domain, there is also within the spirit of this an implied consideration that must be given to good manners and courtesy. Possibly there is even more freedom in regard to this in Thailand as opposed to UK or down under, I really do not know.
There is a difference between taking a shot with a wide angle lens from a distance to taking a close up without permission. This applies to either a physical close up or a clever shot with a telephoto lens. There is also a difference between freedom of the press (frequently abused) and some tourist with an axe to grind and a camera.
Of course we have all seen those shots of starlets and the like getting out of a car having their breasts, underwear and crutches photographed. What on earth makes this ok? Would you like to see a shot of your wife’s or daughter’s crutch in a newspaper or on a website?
I do recognize the difference between photos of public figures out and about for celebrity gossip (look at the lovely dress), generally protected by security and you and me walking down the street or sitting at a coffee shop or bar minding our own business.
Again touching on celebrity gossip, is it really ok to take a shot of Jennifer Lopez or Sylvester Stallone at a private beach or pool with family and friends? Usually these shots are taken without agreement of the parties involved, are unflattering, accompanied by some negative comment about weight gain or wrinkles. To me this type of sneaky voyeurism is at best the actions of a lowly peeping tom.
It is about invasion of privacy and then what is done with that material. There is a fine line between topical and personal. I think one of the qualities of a true professional is the ability to recognize this difference and then have the ethics and good judgment to take the right decision as to what to do with the material i.e. publish or delete. In my opinion, catching a shot of the Queen of England as she is yawning or coughing is personal. Catching a shot of her concerned, angry or laughing, when presented in context, is topical.
For instance; to take a photo of me with a young woman in Thailand, you would most likely be getting a shot of me with my niece or my daughter in law. To then interpret this image as a shot of a old lecherous sex tourist with a nubile young Thai prostitute either in a public placement or even in private showings to friends etc. would be a gross misinterpretation. Of course it is unlikely that we would be in Soi Cowboy or Nana etc.
Another example; I am walking down the street, I am not drunk, I have had some Thai food of questionable quality. Sadly and suddenly a violent bought of stomach cramps causes me to stagger and either vent my bowels or throw up or both. A golden opportunity to take a shot of a drunk out of control tourist with no respect for himself or others! Hey mate would you like some help, are you ok?
Let's take a shot of a car and / or motorcycle accident, another captured moment to show the poor standard of driving in the third world. Much better to take a picture than to offer a helping hand!
However that being said the law says its ok. Good, that being the case all you budding photographers please feel free to walk up to a policeman or an armed soldier and start banging away without so much as a by your leave and then we will see if the law is so literally applied. <I took way more than 1,000 such photos of Thai police and soldiers early this year and not a single word was said, in fact sometimes I enjoyed some light banter with them! – Stick>
For the above I am not talking about strategic areas where photography is prohibited for security reasons or areas of cultural sensitivity where respect and common courtesy rule the day. Do not climb on a Buddha statue to be photographed or to take one, you will most likely be arrested.
Walk up to a group of the motorcycle taxi boys in one of the small sois down Sukhumvit way and start taking close ups, shouldn’t be a problem. If any of them has an issue with what you are doing, just point out that legally it ok for you to be there taking pictures of them going about their daily business. If in the unlikely event that they still object, do not worry, as surgery has come a long way and if you still have your camera it can probably be removed!
It is always charming and somewhat unnerving to see an elephant walking the streets of Bangkok posing for pictures for the price of a bunch of bananas. For the truly stupid and suicidal, take a close up shot, using your high intensity super flash, of the pachyderm's face without letting its handler know first. Also have your friend stand well back with a video camera to film the result. With luck you will be torn apart and stamped on, a great YouTube moment!
I enjoy your column, Stick, and have been a reader for some years. I realize in most cases you have the good sense to ask first. Like when you took the photos of the katoeys some weeks back, they asked you to take photos of them once you had established a rapport. I wonder if the result would have been different if you had just walked up and started with the close ups? At minimum there most likely would have been a demand for money. The sausage lady was a true moment of spontaneous Thai humour and I imagine that next time you pass by she will playfully wank a sausage in your direction.
In “Snap Happy Farang Women” the writer was temporarily blinded and surprised by a budding artist down on one knee taking an upwards shot of him. This is in no way acceptable. I have always been a large built chap and when I read about that incident, my first thought was, if it happened to me, I would have just walked over the top of her and trod on the camera. Oops, sorry love I did not see you, what were you doing down on the floor? Do not worry I am ok, shame about your camera, no of course I am not going to pay for it, you should not have been there in the first place.
Part of the problem is that we have come a long way with technology in a short space of time. A good quality camera can be had for a fraction of the price they used to be. No longer do people have to worry about using up their film, the pictures are there instantly. Just about everybody can afford and carry a small digital camera. They can do it with a telephone and have the image on the internet in a matter of moments. Absolutely wonderful if you are with friends at a party, no so wonderful if the technology is being abused. The days of sharing a photo album with friends and family are long gone, along with the privacy that anonymity brings. It does not even stop there. Old photos can now be scanned and uploaded as well. So that shot of you in a bar 10+ years ago, that you probably thought nothing of at the time, is now potentially open to all and sundry.
As normal people most of us do not have the resources for private security, jets, exclusive hotels, shopping venues and houses etc. Anonymity is truly the only protection we have in a very public world with burgeoning security and privacy issues. Taking advantage of an antiquated law that is becoming more outdated by the day, due to the rapid advancement of technology, requires much more consideration than is being given by the Snap Happy.
If you wish to take my photograph, then introduce yourself, ask me if it is ok and tell me why you want it. If I say no, then respect my answer. If you do not respect my wishes, or do not ask me, then do not be surprised if I throw shoes at you.
From a legal standpoint, pretty much the world over it's the same – in a public place or anywhere that can reasonably be seen from a public place you have no expectation of privacy. Seems like a fair and sensible law to me and pretty much everyone I know who is keen on photography respects that!
The guys I know who are keen on photography in Thailand try to walk the fine line between capturing the fascinating everyday snaps that present themselves and respecting people's privacy. For example, if you look like you're on death's doorstep and you're walking down Beach Road with a girl 40 years your junior then everyone will be looking – and guys with a camera will be snapping. If you're walking alone, no-one will take any interest!
I think when it comes to the bar side of things and those concerned about photography, foreigners should perhaps consider adopting the Thai way of doing things – everything behind closed doors. It's discrete and there is no chance of you being caught in an embarrassing situation.