Improper Photography. What a chillingly lovely and delicate phrase, “Improper Photography“.
Update: This thread appears to have awoken recently with several new commenters adding their thoughts to the Comment section below. Feel free to add yours as well.
I had run across a headline on one the many online news feeds that I read, “Webster Man Arrested for Improper Photography”.
My first though was, ‘oh, my students do that all the time!’ But no. It is a legal term and it is a state jail felony in Texas.
The story basically goes that a guy was arrested in Webster, Texas on a charge of Improper Photography or Visual Recording. He was reportedly seen photographing preteen girls playing soccer. Webster Police Chief Ray Smiley was quoted as saying, “The photographs were from the knee to the neck”, and noted that none of the girls’ faces was pictured.
The article goes on to say that police seized “a digital camera, 16 memory cards, an iPod, six USB flash drives, a computer and a collection of pornographic pictures, DVDs and magazines”. All items apparently legal in and of themselves.
The crime here is that he “is accused of photographing the children without consent with the intent to arouse and gratify a sexual desire“.
Certainly, the state has a need for statutes to protect victims of abuse, and in fact has an obligation to protect people, but the wording of the statute is what I find chilling.
§ 21.15. IMPROPER PHOTOGRAPHY OR VISUAL RECORDING.
(a) In this section, “promote” has the meaning assigned by Section 43.21.
(b) A person commits an offense if the person:
- (1) photographs or by videotape or other electronic means visually records another:
- (A) without the other person’s consent; and
- (B) with intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person; or
- (2) knowing the character and content of the photograph or recording, promotes a photograph or visual recording described by Subdivision (1).
(c) An offense under this section is a state jail felony.
(d) If conduct that constitutes an offense under this section also constitutes an offense under any other law, the actor may be prosecuted under this section or the other law.
Now there is a seriously high ‘creepo ‘ factor operating here in this case. I’m not disputing that the charges might be warranted.
But I am also creeped out by what appears to be a legally prohibited thought crime. “intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person” That’s like kind of really broad, isn’t it?
I shoot lots of photographs of all kinds of subjects including street photography and pix of people on those streets, and in other places in the world. For example, I like to shoot people in museums looking at ‘art‘. A subset of these show what many would consider ‘inappropriate behavior‘.
Forbidden flash in the museum. Now, how is anyone else to know my ‘intent‘ ? Maybe I really like museum ‘flashing’ 😛
Bad Behavior about to happen in the museum.
I saw lots of people acting oddly in the context of the seriousness of the museum venue. This kid was just one of the many people I photographed that day. I found their actions mildly funny, in the ‘ha-ha’ sense.
But, what if I’d cropped it…
This kind of fits the description of the objectionable ‘Improper Photography’ cited above. Again, who is to decide my intent? I certainly don’t want some overly-anxious helicopter parent, or passerby, or museum guard, etc. to decide my legal fate for taking a quick grab shot; one out of hundreds.
I recently wrote a post about a bad use of Adobe Photoshop in a lingerie catalog,
Victoria’s Secret Catalog Lingerie Model Cruelly Mangled in Bad Photoshop Mistake Disaster.
Technically, several of the images might fit as a violation of the statue being that the models didn’t give me consent to rephotograph them even though they most likely did consent to the original photographer. Even the scans of the catalog fall under ‘other electronic means visually records’. I posted them, so maybe someone else gets off on it? Sheesh.
Too bloody poorly written a statute is what I’m saying. Legislators! Get your heads out of the corporate lobbyist trough long enough to get some oxygen and craft a better law!
Disclaimer: None of my photographs were taken, recorded or scanned electronically or otherwise in, or even near, the state of Texas. Oh, and my intent does not come under this wobbly ordinance either.
Update: Feb. 1, 2010 Teen accused of improper photography
(scroll to bottom of article, before the comments there)
A 17-year-old Lake Travis High School student has been charged with improper photography after nearly 150 close-up photos of females’ bodies were found on his cell phone, according to an arrest affidavit filed Monday .
All 39 females were clothed in the photos, but they appeared to be taken without their consent, the affidavit says.
Anthony Marco Gigliotti was reported Jan. 6 when a student saw him photograph a girl from behind during class, the document says.
According to an affidavit, Gigliotti told an assistant principal that he took the photos because sex education was lacking at the school.
Again, the state has a need and obligation to protect citizens.