The French are a little bit funny when it comes to anyone taking candid street snaps. It is simply not allowed to take portrait shots of anyone in a public or private space without their express permission, and if they ask you to delete the image then you must comply legally. Especially within the public domain, taking shots of people where they are readily identifiable is against the law, especially if the images taken might defame their subject’s reputation. This extends to storing such shots on your personal hard-drive, or doing anything with them for private or commercial purposes. That last part is kind of a given in any country. It just isn’t allowed. However, owing to the glut of tourists and other visitors, including camera/smart phone wielding residents they relax that rule when it comes to shooting crowds, where even the French authorities concede that it would be nigh on impossible to get model releases for all individuals comprising said crowd, so why bother?
Also, it’s quite acceptable to take candid portrait shots of street artists, performers, and public personalities. I took that to mean street vendors too, especially as most of them were probably peddling their wares illegally. I would have thought the Gendarmes would have been quite grateful of the exposure afforded by the camera. No pun intended. Indeed when the camera lens was pointed directly at them, most of the street vendors scurried away into the cracks and crevices of Paris’ grey streets like roaches, only to re-emerge when the coast was clear once again.
What I’m not so clear about is exactly what their minimum quotient is for defining and classifying a crowd. What’s more, it would take a keen eye, or sheer bloody coincidence to identify anyone from most shots considering the vast number of images snapped daily that are either stored privately or shared on the Interwebs.
So how did it affect the way I shot in Paris? Apart from being very careful not to be seen shooting around the officers of the Gendarme when they happened to be scouting about, I respectfully, as I always do no matter where I am, did not shoot full face portraits, unless they were shifty looking street vendors. I shot only multiples of public members, and rarely made any of them the focus of my attention. It made me fidgety for sure, and I was sort of relieved every time I put my camera away.
One day they will relax the law and they won’t care. In fact, they will probably be quite pleased that many saw fit to record the everyday street life of France with such passion, as most us photographers have when we shoot anything. They might actually consider it an honour that so many went to so much trouble to think of any of them in such high regard. There’s no telling some people though.