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Trending: Street Photographer Demonized For Shooting ... In Public

By David Schonauer   Wednesday August 21, 2019


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A county fair is a public place.

And for street photographers, a fair holds the promise of visual rewards — color, motion, and a variety people enjoying themselves in a variety of ways. That is why photographer Joshua Rosenthal went recently to the Ventura County Fair in Ventura, California.

Rosenthal wandered through the fairgrounds shooting candid pictures of people, then went home. The next day a awoke to find that he’d become the target of terrible accusations on social media.

“Some parents and fair attendees interpreted his photography in less than savory ways, with some labeling him a pedophile,” noted the Light Stalking website recently, one of many photo sites that have reported on Rosenthal’s predicament.

In the way of social media, some of the accusations were vicious. One person who’d been at the fair shooting video happened to record Rosenthal taking pictures. Stills from the video appeared in a Facebook post along with a warning:

“HEY MOMS AND DADS, BEWARE OF THIS P.O.S. [Piece of Sh*t] AT THE FAIR. He’s going around taking pictures of (in this case) little girls, in dresses. You can see him walk by and snap a picture of a little girl. I didn’t know I had capture him doing it until I got home and looked at the video I shot.”

The post received over 500 reactions, over 1,000 comments, and nearly 2,000 shares shortly after it was published, noted PetaPixel recently. “This is a trafficking tactic to save photos and send women or a woman to make them trust her and have them follow them out the fair or parks,” read one comment.

“It’s also a film camera not digital, and looks like he’s carrying another point and shoot camera to. He prabably develops prints himself. Possibly a perv. Undercover cops should follow him,” read another.

“This is so sickening! These type of people need to be killed period!!!” said another.

The local Ventura police department also posted an advisory (since deleted) on its Facebook page, along with tips on “keeping kids safe in a crowded place,” noted PetaPixel.

“Of course, Joshua felt terrible about the whole incident,” noted DIY Photography.  At his own Facebook page, Rosenthal wrote, “No- one here seems to be assuming responsibility. No- one wants to talk to me about what I did. People are just making accusations with no facts.”

Rosenthal described himself to PetaPixel as “a street photographer who has been making images of details a la [Michelle] Groskropf and [Jeff] Mermalstein.” (See his portfolio here and on Instagram.) He notes that he does not ask permission when he shoots people “because the photos speak more to the moment. One can’t capture life when it’s being posed.”

As SLR Lounge noted, photographers have a right to take pictures in public places, and like Rosenthal many street photographers prefer to not ask for permission before they photograph someone. But, added the website, in today’s world that can have consequences.

“Look, I get it, if someone were to point a camera at me, I’d get a little suspicious. If they pointed it at my kid, we might even have problems,” wrote Sean Lewis at the website. Lewis says it’s important to ask for permission even if you don’t have to.

Rosenthal told PetaPixel that he would be contacting the ACLU. “This is more about the First Amendment and doxing than it is about me,” he said. “I’m not trying to get hurt but I’m more concerned with the rights and safety of other photographers as well as the fear I have instilled in these parents.”

Rosenthal’s story speaks to one of the dark aspects of social media, where an unfettered accusation can quickly turn into mob vigilantism. Sadly, it also speaks to a growing social fragility as we feel less and less secure in our public places. Today, if we see something, authorities ask us to say something. And people will. 

3 Comments

  1. Jorge Arenas commented on: August 21, 2019 at 11:58 p.m.
    To me the one making the accusations should be sued for defamation. With most crimes, intent to do harm has to be proven. Exercising ones’s constitutional right to self expression should not be violated. That being said, the photographer should’ve approached the parents to inform them of the reason why their child was selected for the photo. The photographer knows that he cannot sell that photo without the paren’s permisdion.
  1. Peter Hammer commented on: August 22, 2019 at 3:42 a.m.
    What about the guy who was taking videos and complaining about somebody doing exactly the same as he was but shooting stills. A total hypocrite. I'd be taking action for libel against the people and websites reporting this crap. It's defamatory comments with no substance. Perhaps a nice legal case where these people were fined a few $1000s would make them realise that their actions are not acceptable.
  1. D. Lindemann commented on: August 22, 2019 at 6:22 p.m.
    Yes! Why isn't the guy who shot the video also being ostracized? Give me a break. It's true that Rosenthal forgot what the world is like today, he should've known better. But where were the parents? The time to get involved was when you saw what was happening. If you didn't notice it or weren't there, you're right, no photo should have been taken of your child. This is a weird world and most of us are on edge most of the time. As a photographer Rosenthal should know more than anyone what can happen when he snaps an unrequested "selfie" of someone else (especially kids). If the parents don't consent you'd better stick to willing adults from now on. There are no guarantees that you'll even be able to pull that off without getting slugged. In a few situations I've had people try to grab my camera, threaten me if I didn't leave, scream at me and call the cops. Street photography can be risky. Be smart, be courteous, and have good running shoes.

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