Rules For The Street

Friday, May 23, 2008

As part of WNYC’s Street Shots Online Photo Festival, we discuss the legality and ethics of taking photos of everyday people in New York. Bruce Gilden, one of the participants in Street Shots, and Eileen Clancy, founding member of Picture New York, discuss the changing rules of street photography. We also hear from Paul Browne, Deputy Commissioner for Public Information at the NYPD, who helps explain some of the policy surrounding public photography.

Click on any image to see it larger

The Rockefeller Task

Chinese New Year - NYC

Latin kings arrest

If you can't see the video, click here.


Paul Browne, Eileen Clancy and Bruce Gilden

Comments [29]

Lee from New York

I love how backwards some of the comments are on this thread. Some here suggest that a photographer taking their picture in public is a criminal act and deserving in violent retribution.

If someone takes your picture, and you do not want them to, ask politely for them to remove the picture. Though the photographer is under no legal obligation to do so they may do so if they are understanding.

Assault the photographer and you will likely end up in jail, fined, or worse.

Dec. 16 2009 11:50 AM
Alejandro from Argentina

"When a Permit Is NOT Required

A permit is not required for filming that uses hand-held cameras or tripods and does not assert exclusive use of City property. Standing on a street, walkway of a bridge, sidewalk, or other pedestrian passageway while using a hand-held device and not otherwise asserting exclusive use of City property is not an activity that requires a permit."

Extracted from posted on July 14, 2008.

Jul. 26 2009 10:57 PM
Alejandro from Argentina

No more permits are needed for still photos on NYC's streets even with the use of a tripod:

That´s good news!

Jul. 26 2009 10:52 PM
pantelis adiavastos from athens

nobody owns the street, and holding a camera (even a leica) does not give you any extra right. Street photography exploits faces of unknown and never to be known or thanked people.
that became accepted.
harrasing people because you hold a camera, and you consider yourself an "artist" and/or you are in Magnum, will never, and should never be accepted.

I gilden came my way, I would brake his couple grand camera, lens, and flash and slap him in the face.

I recognize the value of these pictures. They may be some of the best and authentic Street Pics, but as far as you consider yourself an artist, you must have some ethics, and some humility against your subject.

Jun. 20 2009 03:26 PM
alice strauss from tunkhannock pa

When WW11 ended the famous picture of the sailor kissing a lovely young thing was posted around the world as a symbol of joy and celebration. Today, we happily regard it as a part of our collective history - and nobody sued in the name of privacy! Isn't that a street photo? C'mon, people - what have we come to with all this pick, pick, picking? Photo documentation of life in this world is essential to historical continuity. How else will future generations know us?

Jul. 20 2008 09:51 PM
m from nj

How does one create a stand alone set of the photos entered into your contest so you can easily share them with your judges?

Jun. 26 2008 11:46 AM
m from nj

How does one "create a stand alone set of the photos entered" into your contest so you can easily share them with your judges?

Jun. 26 2008 11:45 AM
John Franco from NYC

Regarding the issue of taking street photos of people, the issue was settled (at least in NY) with the case of of Nussenzweig vs. diCorcia.
The NYTimes link to an article regarding this case is

Jun. 17 2008 01:31 PM
william pellegrini from huntington NY

anytime 911 and oppressive regulations are used in the same breath the powers that be are reading from an old playbook a picture is worth a thousand words and a tripod is not an optional accessory to fine and oft times spontaneous work the very nature of photography requires instant capture of the moment not a 6 month wait for my "safety from the enemy "

“ It is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, a parliament or
a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”
Hermann Goering, Nuremberg Trials

Jun. 13 2008 03:04 PM
Vincent Rodriguez from Stamford, CT

I can see how photographing the homeless can be seen as exploitation, however, I feel that these people should not be ignored as most people would just look the other way and make believe they do not exist. While not making them heroes, I applaud the fact that they keep going day after day to survive and give them alot of credit for doing so. If I could help in any way I would and perhaps a book donating the proceeds to a homeless shelter could make a difference.

Jun. 03 2008 09:12 AM
Ben Hunter from Santa Clarita, CA

Hey, I'm the photographer of "The Rockefeller Task."

I'm not sure why it is immediately assumed the person in the photograph is homeless. I have absolutely no idea whether he is or not. I generally refrain from shooting those whom I can tell are homeless. His social standing was of zero interest to me at the time, as I was merely walking by a man that looked very focused on what he was doing. That is what attracted me.

Thank you for discussing my photo, by the way. I enjoyed the whole podcast.


May. 25 2008 05:37 AM
jeff pappas from Ct.

I took the photo titled Latin kings arrest. When it was published in The NY post the caption ran Suspected Latin king arrested in police stabbing. I apologize for not titling it that way, but does it matter what I say? Look up the gang colors. Everyone is innocent till proven guilty. Anyone arrested can be published in the paper, it is News.

May. 23 2008 12:31 PM
kevin from park slope

This guy the street photographer was the wrong person to interview. He's an ass. If I was a cop I'd smack him. I'm afraid this program is going to encourage a lot of dilettantes to go out there and annoy people.

May. 23 2008 12:17 PM from NYC

The states & NYC seems to be one of the most oppressive places I've ever been.

Explicit or implicit rules, norms, and laws stifle creativity & innovation before it has a chance evolve.

1 in 10 Americans are in prison and there are laws against standing in the street.

The least "free" country in the world.

May. 23 2008 12:06 PM
john from upper west side

has the liberal establishment gond completely around the bend? I am reminded of WPA, depression photography and the great social comentary and vision of LIFE magazine. Liberals get a life, haven't you anything better to do than contemplating your own navels.

Art is art and a rose is a rose is a rose....

The liberial dicatomy is nothing compared to the same for right wing religeous extreemism.

How about a little ballance!

May. 23 2008 12:02 PM
Paul from NJ

This guy seems to think that expressing his art is above any consideration of other peoples' feelings. Also, if you choose to argue with a cop, you deserve what's coming to you. I have to say I go along with Robert's comment. Oh, and that goes for mimes too.

May. 23 2008 12:02 PM
amt230 from BKLYN

Photographing the homeless is undeniably exploitive. The guest used 2 terrible examples of why it might not be: first, cigarettes, which we are starting to regulate in public areas, and second, his idea that the people he photographs are just characters or subjects that represent something. Wrong, they are people.

May. 23 2008 11:58 AM
Nick from Austin

What is the difference between a photographer vs a journalist (which are required to blur faces) in the situation of the Latin King Arrested. It seems that without due process, he's already been judged in the eyes of the people. The photograph is probably more irresponsible than illegal.

May. 23 2008 11:58 AM
Robert from NYC

If he photographed right in my face I would do my best to slap his camera right to the ground.

May. 23 2008 11:57 AM
barry from Manhattan

I think legally, "on the street" everything is fair game.
But you have to do what the cops say, just cant be stupid about it.
Also if you flash folks at close range, you might get punched out.
Just be ready to run for it.

May. 23 2008 11:57 AM
david williams from ditmas park

isn't this a freedom of expression issue?

May. 23 2008 11:56 AM
Mike from NYC

Kenneth: The city owns all sidewalks. I think the NBC security guard was simply giving you a line of crap and hoping you'd leave.

May. 23 2008 11:56 AM
Mike from NYC

The same ethics and rules should apply to casual photographers on the street as apply to the paparazzi who hound celebrities. Why are the first harassed for no reason while the second are tolerated since they are exercising their rights? The police should concern themselves with the paparazzi, not casual street photographers.

May. 23 2008 11:53 AM
Em from Brooklyn, NY

Ridiculous. Instead of observing for suspicious behavior, it seems as if the police will basically target anyone with a camera. Can't individual officers be expected to exercise their judgment?

May. 23 2008 11:52 AM
barry from Manhattan

Here is the permit link.

May. 23 2008 11:51 AM
barry from Manhattan

You can shoot in Grand Central with a tripod for free but you have to have a permit.
Permits are easy to get though.
Even an Iranian agent could get a permit.

May. 23 2008 11:50 AM
barry from Manhattan

If the cops bother you just move along to another spot and keep shooting

May. 23 2008 11:48 AM
barry from Manhattan

Tripods require a permit, but you can get one for free with a little prior planning

May. 23 2008 11:48 AM
Kenneth from Long Island City

Is there a way of knowing which city sidewalks are public or private? For example, i was told to leave the sidewalk on 5th avenue and 50th by an NBC guard because the network apparently owns the sidewalk and they don't allow the use of tripods.

May. 23 2008 11:11 AM

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