If a Man Photographs Your Kid with Santa Should We Arrest Him?

Hi Readers — Here’s the latest story of a guy, a camera, a warm little Santa scene at the mall…and an arrest. Apparently Scott Rensberger, an award-winning news photographer who has covered conflicts as far away as Bosnia, was at his local mall in West Virginia with the camera he always carries with him. He snapped some pix of Santa and the choir, whereupon a couple of dads insisted he delete the photos because their kids were in them, which he did.

This already gets my goat. (Or reindeer, perhaps.) Why do dads think they are being “safe” and “smart” when they insist on no photos of their kids — in group shots, not less? What nefarious scheme do they imagine those fully clothed photos are going to be used for? Why are we so paranoid and self-righteous all the time when it comes to our kids?

Anyway, after doing some shopping,  Scott was back near Santa’s village, whereupon two of the dads from before pointed to him out to a cop. The cop approached and, according to Scott,  manhandled him. Scott tried to take his picture and ended up in a holding cell.

Enough of this kind of proactive “safety”! We are so worried that all men are perverts and that all children are about to be exploited, that we have lost our  minds.

Kids are part of the world. Taking their pictures is not taking their souls —  I though we established that a while ago. This season, when it comes to fearing for our children every second of every day, even when they’re standing a few feet away from us at the mall,  let’s do like the temperature and CHILL! — Lenore

74 Responses

  1. Whenever there’s a report about children on the BBC, they either use blurred out footage (typically a schoolyard or classroom) or shots of children’s feet. I can’t see what harm could come from simply seeing children. I could probably look out the window and see at least one child. It’s not going to send me in to some kind of frenzy or endanger the child’s privacy.

    The ironic thing is that these blurred-out shots make me feel kind of uneasy. Once they used an out-of-focus shot of a playground from behind a bush!

    Now *that* I find creepy.

  2. I don’t think that’s even allowed. It is legally ok to take pictures of children (or anyone, really) if out in public– at least that is my understanding.

    I see parents get so freaked out about posting any pictures of their kids online. I get it, but it seems unreasonable. It’s a *picture* not your actual child.

  3. If photographers couldn’t take photos of kids we’d have no history archives. Imagine the lovely shots of citizens taken by LIFE magazine etc. This is ridiculous.

  4. I used to suffer from this same paranoia. Both of my daughters are adopted and for a while there was a “scare” going around the adoptive communities I subscribed to.

    It seems that someone had a pic of their daughter copied from a blog and then used in an adoption scam. Heartbreaking for all involved, I’m sure. This kept a lot of us picture shy and internet sharing shy for a while.

    Then I realized that the chances of this happening to my kids was pretty darned small. Not to mention that, if someone were to grab random pics of children off the web for their adoption scam, it probably wouldn’t be the pictures of my daughters joyfully smearing marinara sauce on our walls.

    Really, the chances are slim that someone will steal my child’s photo or grab a camera and snap a picture for nefarious purposes. And let’s face it, my kids are pretty darned cute and inspire photo taking.

    I hate to be the one that makes them fear anyone with a camera.

    -Ben

  5. I was just at my son’s school Christmas pageant, where were forbidden to take any photos. Sigh. I wish I could have shared some images with his father, who had to work, and his grandparents.

  6. Actually, this story probably has more to do with the photographer trying to take a picture of the policeman than anything else. I’ve seen this story (and many MANY more like it) covered at another of the blogs in my feed reader. The Agitator documents the over-militarization of our police forces, among lots of other things. It’s not always SFW, and is almost always guaranteed to make your blood boil, but it’s an excellent blog. The author is an investigative journalist and has broken some big stories over the last couple of years.

  7. I can see the paranoia being warranted in some select cases. For parents who have left abusive spouses, the idea of a spouse tracking them down through a newspaper photo could be terrifying. But I don’t think this is the case for most people. We have lost our minds.

  8. I’ve heard this issue neatly summed up with the following phrase:

    “Sorry everyone, but you don’t own the photons that bounce off your face.”

    You CAN remain completely private if you REALLY want to – just hide in a box for the rest of your life. Other than that, I’m afraid people WILL see you. And you’ll see them, too. ANd who knows, you might even get something out of this whole ‘human society’ thing after all…

  9. This is sort of tangential, but I’ve also never understood the fear of putting pictures on the internet. Sure, some creep could see my picture and then decide to track me down, but the very same thing could happen if a creep sees me in person at the grocery store. If some internet predator sees my picture online, what are the odds that he’ll track down where I live, then travel pretty far (chances are pretty high that he’d be in a different state), just to do something bad to me? Wouldn’t it be much easier for him to just find someone in his own neighborhood, or maybe two towns over if he wants to reduce his chances of getting caught?

    And why should I be worried if some stranger knows where I live? All my neighbors know where I live. Any stranger who drives down the street while I’m going in or out of my house knows where I live. Plenty of people know where I live, so why should I be more afraid because of where someone got that info? I mean, I don’t post my address, but I don’t hide what town I’m from either.

  10. It’s not just people photographing kids who are getting harassed by the authorities. Carlos Miller, a renowned news photographer from Florida, maintains a blog about photographers, both professional and amateur (even tourists with cameras) who are being hassled and arrested by police under terrorism laws. See carlosmiller.com for those stories.

    It’s exactly the same kind of mindless hysteria that causes situations like the one described in this story.

    I’m a professional photographer. I earn my living by making photographs of people. I’m all about respecting the people that I photograph – most of the time I get permission before pointing my camera at them.

    I say most of the time, because it’s just not always possible, especially in public situations. A reporter covering a sporting event or parade or even just doing a “man on the street” piece can’t possibly get explicit permission from every single person that passes through the field of view of the camera.

    I also find it very ironic that the people who are so paranoid about the guy openly using his camera in a public place (as opposed to hiding and going unseen with a camera, as many private investigators and paparazzi do) have an annoying tendency to be those who are most in favor of “security cameras” in those same public places.

    They are insulted by the reporter or artist or tourist or dad-with-a-camera who is innocently snapping away, making no effort to conceal that they’re using a camera, while at the same time being surreptitiously filmed and monitored by nameless, faceless “authorities” makes them feel “safer”.

  11. Maybe one of the kids was in the witness relocation program….

  12. @dirtyhooker i can see the situation you’re talking about being an issue, but in that case, simply approach the photographer and ask for the pics to be deleted. the dads did that and the photographer complied. an explanation wasn’t even required, i’ll bet.

    since we know for a fact that known people are more likely to hurt our kids than unknown people are (but “babysitter danger” and “creepy uncle/aunt danger” or even “favorite uncle/aunt danger” just don’t have the same ring as “stranger danger”), should we halt all family photos?

    anyway, what’s weirder- the fact that we pay for our kids to go sit on some guy’s lap when we don’t know him at all (sure he passed a background check, but what if he’s never been caught?) or the dads freaking out because some guy took a picture at a public venue of fully clothed children with a bunch of other fully clothed people? i’m not santa bashing. if santa claus photos are one of your traditions, more power to you. it just seems incongruous to me.

  13. I agree that this whole thing is beyond ridiculous. That said, I have a hard time believing he didn’t know the rules about photographing cops (what he told the cop he tried to photograph)–this is something a pro photojournalist should know. I keep a photographer’s bill of rights in my camera bag, and I think every photographer, amateur or pro, should print a copy and do the same. It’s easy to find a copy with a quick Google search.

  14. I don’t let the YMCA aftercare program where my son is use his picture in their advertising. You want him to model? PAY ME! I pay you enough for aftercare.

    I’ve been stalked so I’m weird about pictures and privacy. I generally try to not put myself in a photographer’s way. However, a photographer taking shots of kids will get a release signed should he/she want to use any of those pictures for profit or art. The cops were just out of bounds on this one.

  15. I have fond memories as a kid of being at a blood drive with my parents and I had give blood bumper stickers stuck on me head to toe. A news photographer was there and thought I was insanely cute, and I ended up in the paper. Name and all! So not only did my parents let the paper use the picture, they gave the photographer the extra info he didn’t have to start with. And amazingly enough, I was not kidnapped, stalked, or killed as a result. But then, it’s a “different world” now, right? A world where everyone on the internet and reading a newspaper is more likely to look at a picture of a little kid doing something cute and immediately go hunt down the child and hurt them than say “aww, what a cute picture” and go on with their day.

    I worry a lot more about what all this paranoia on the part of the parents will do to the kids than what a random stranger seeing their picture will do to them.

  16. I’m thinking anyone that paranoid about people seeing their children should probably steer clear of the mall. Especially this time of year. Now that’s a place where your soul could actually get stolen. Or at least destroyed. One small purchase at a time.

    But truly, it seems the whole mess could have been avoided if there had been an actual conversation instead of just panicked acts. The dads asked for the pics to be deleted. THey were. Why the continued assault on the photographer? What grounds did the cop have for arrest? The cop could have just talked to him and it would have been all wrapped up. Talking to each other could help us avoid a lot of misunderstandings. And alleviate a lot of fears too.

  17. Got another for ya Lenore…..(Got it from fark.com)

    http://www.tauntongazette.com/news/x1903566059/Taunton-second-grader-suspended-over-drawing-of-Jesus

    apparently even a crucifix is a no-no.

    Oh Jesus, what’s gonna happen if my son doodles Baphomets or Pentograms in kindergarten? AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    =oP

  18. Seems to me that if I was going to take pictures for the purpose of whatever bad purpose you can use photos of clothed people at the mall for, I would use a really small camera and shoot from the hip.
    I can’t understand the implied criminalization of the (big) camera. Terrorists don’t actually take pictures of their targets and if they did they would do it surreptitiously with a tiny camera. There is no x-ray vision on cameras to make ordinary pictures into porn and if there were, almost nobody would use it.
    Also, most of the people who have confronted me about taking pictures have been overprotective moms – although overprotective-macho dads are the ones who threaten to assault me.
    Ironically, people pay me to take photos of their kids. Smart parents ask me for a copy. Dumb parents ask me to delete.

  19. I am mostly a huge fan of just about every idea promoted on this website, but I have to say, I think we need to be a little more understanding of the fathers who wanted the photos deleted. Most likely, they are just paranoid, but there may be some real reason for their fear. For example…

    1. I’m a licensed foster parent, and we were instructed repeatedly in our trainings *not* to allow any photos of our foster kids to be made public. For some of these kiddos, there are inappropriate family members trying to track them down, and finding a photo in a newspaper might give them some clues as to whereabouts. At the very least, foster parents don’t want to break the rules.

    2. There are some divorce situations where one parent gets sole custody of a child but the other parent tries to kidnap the child. Again, such a parent may become overprotective and not want any photos out there that could give hints to their whereabouts.

    As far as professional journalists go, photos of public figures can run without permission, but photos of common folks are supposed to only run with permission from the subject or their parent or guardian. That said, especially with all the budget cuts at newspapers, that doesn’t always happen.

  20. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with politely asking somebody not to take pics of your kids. I’ve done it – I don’t mind people taking a picture or two, or even several pictures in a crowd scene, but obviously taking lots of pictures of my nieces without asking me is just weird – it’s just common courtesy to *ask*, isn’t it?

    But there’s no need to call the cops in unless the guy is being a twit about it, is it? You ask, they delete (or promise to do so after developing), end of problem.

  21. How many years have we had school yearbooks with all those photos and names available for anybody to look at? Anyone who wanted to could track those kids down. I don’t remember ever hearing a word about that danger at anytime in my life. Oh, and let’s stop all photos in the public newspaper. And all the kids pictures on school websites…

    These irrational fears are going to be fun to read about in psychology and sociology books in the future.

  22. Wow, Michelle. Quite aside from the fact that this is obviously a religious reference and not random creepy violence, they’re suspending kids over pictures? WTF? Where’s the common sense anymore?

  23. Privacy is dead. I’m sure there are pictures of me all over the Internet — people posting group shots on Facebook and MySpace, even shots of me in the background of strangers’ photo. If you have any kind of online presence at all — and even if you don’t — people can find you.

  24. I have a friend who made her blog private to “protect” the images of her nieces and nephews. Never mind that she has maybe ten readers. Good grief.

  25. @skippy

    It also doesn’t stop those 10 readers from copying the pics and giving them to other people.

  26. I just had this sort of conversation with a friend yesterday. She is generally a very free range type, but refuses to put pictures on line. A stranger came up to her at Niagara Falls and asked to take a picture with her son (blond little 5 year old, cute). She said no, and couldn’t figure out why an apparently Japanese tourist would even ask.

    Later, someone told her, “there are only like 25 über-blond, blue eyed boys left in the world,” insinuating that he’s at greater risk for being kidnapped and sold into the sex trade (not that this is what that particular man had in mind). She then said, “red-headed girls are on that short list, too” while nodding to my own red-headed girl.

    I mentioned the whole “at greater risk from people we actually know,” and she agreed, but still holds on to that belief, that putting pictures on line leads to greater risk. .

    And now I’m left with this general feeling of uneasy concern, even though I know the odds are with me.

  27. There is absolutley no way anyone can be sure their picture isn’t taken on a daily basis. Cell phones have cameras and people use them a lot! Most of the time we are totally unaware, so I see nothing wrong with this photographer who was openly taking pictures.

  28. @Uly – it’s generally courtesy to ask after taking the picture. It’s not possible to get an unposed shot if the subject knows the camera is there.

    It’s also common courtesy to delete a picture if asked (assuming the request is reasonable). What we don’t know is how that conversation went. The photographer may not have deleted the pictures entirely willingly, the fathers in question may also have increased the tension. In either case, increased tension may have warranted the police/security notification.

    The real “at fault” here is the officer who mishandled the situation, again assuming there was no other reason to do so… how you, as a photographer, treat the situation determines how you are handled 90%+ of the time.

  29. yeah so for my kid’s Holiday Pageant, I’m allowed to take pictures (yay!) but may only post them to the internet with the express WRITTEN consent of each parent of each child in the photo… for real? what are they going to do, arrest me? (legally, they can’t). i really like our school otherwise so i won’t rock the boat on this one (although i find it a really crazy rule) but c’mon.

    For photographers who need their rights on hand, this is a handy little wallet card: http://www.krages.com/ThePhotographersRight.pdf

  30. Personally, I think it’s magical thinking. Successfully hassling people into deleting photos of their kids make parents feel like they are protecting their beloved ones. Nevermind that Amazon know what they read, Google knows what they do on the net and that the state has pretty good profiles, down to fingerprints and in many cases DNA. That’s my theory and I stick with it.

  31. @Kimmer – When I took two of my kids on a trip to Korea, many people were fascinated by my son’s blond hair. Complete strangers would approach us in a shopping center or a train station and touch his head, and several even asked if they could take his picture (or be in a photo with him on their lap). We thought it was fun. They just didn’t see many blond kids I guess. When it happened people were very polite and not at all creepy.

    By the way, we saw several instances of people keeping an eye on what complete strangers’ kids were doing, and if a kid was playing too near an escalator or something, a stranger would correct the child, or grab him and gently take him to his mother. It was great to see people all trusting one another and grateful to one another for watching out for their kids. Every culture should have healthy attitudes like these, instead of assuming something sick is going to happen the moment someone looks at your child.

  32. I live in a city that has a world renowned photography school. There are students with cameras EVERYWHERE taking pictures of EVERYTHING and EVERYBODY, including my 2 girls. When I observe this occurring I admit to asking the photographer what they are doing and what the pictures will be used for…admittedly it’s usually just curiosity on my part but also because I’m vaguely paranoid. I’ve never received an answer that makes me worried. And I’ve never made anyone delete the pictures. Usually I end up getting a business card from the person and forming an email relationship with him/her. And I usually get some amazing photos of my girls in the process.

  33. While the mall’s owners can ask the photog
    tonkeave the premises, the fathers have no
    legal right to demand he delete the images of their in-plain-public-view kids, as there’s no expectation of privacy applicable. Evidently the photog tried to be accomidating and was detained for his trouble.

    He might have been better off telling those dads
    to f**k themselves and inviting them to call the cops, since it wound up there anyway.

    One can never fully overstate the stupidity and self-righteousness of the average stranger on the street.

  34. Just an example of how little privacy we have: Someone just sent me a text message, and it was clearly a wrong number. Not a creepy one, just some guy asking his “bro” for a ride to a nearby city to go look at a car. I was bored, so I did a reverse lookup to see who this guy is. Now I have his name and address. I’m not going to do anything with this information. I just wanted to see if I’d find anything. If you’ve ever dialed a wrong number, someone can know where you live.

  35. There is nothing illegal about what he did. He also deleted the photos when the fathers requested he do so, and even let them look to make sure they had been deleted.

    There are security cameras all over the mall, and in each store. By the time those parents and their kids leave the mall, their pictures have probably been taken over 100 times.

    People are too paranoid.

  36. Not to mention, the guy taking the pics of those kids sitting on Santa’s knee owns the copyright to those pictures. What’s to stop him, or any employee of the company, to make thousands of copies and spread them all over the web? LOL

  37. Ha! Now I see children leaving home with sunglasses the size of saucepans on, and a scarf hiding their faces as they cross the street, in the most genuine Victoria Beckham style.
    Next thing, everyone, little burkas with Mickey Mouse patterns.

  38. More disturbing than this tendency of parents to be so overprotective of their kids’ images is the assumption that every adult male with any sort of interest in children must be a pervert.

    Does every male in our society have to be perceived as a predator in order to “protect” children? I think that we ultimately hurt children with this attitude, because we deny them normal, healthy interactions with adult males.

    For example, my husband would be a great Girl Scouts volunteer – far better than I’d ever be because he was a Boy Scout and knows camping and whatnot – but I don’t think he’d ever be at ease in that situation because of the potential for someone to think he’s weird for hanging out with a bunch of little girls. Does that make sense? It isn’t that he’d ever do anything – more that people would assume that something was wrong with him if he were to want to be a Troop Leader. So he won’t put himself in that situation to begin with – even though he’s a wonderful father and loves spending time with our girls.

    Imagine the uproar if a single guy without kids wants to be a kindergarten teacher, or volunteer in the church nursery.

    It’s very strange, and I believe it shows a lack of respect for men that is pervasive in our culture – that they’re inept with children, or that they can’t control themselves sexually.

    Under the guise of “protecting” the children, we’re discriminating against half the population!

  39. I take pictures for the elementary school yearbook all year long at various events. If a parent looks at me odd, I just explain I’m with the PTA and taking the pics for the yearbook. No one has asked me to delete pics or not include their kids – they’re far more excited that their kid might show up in the book.

    This fear-mongering is just ridiculous. While I sure as hell wouldn’t like it, I’d rather a pedophile be getting his jollies off pics of my kid than the actual kid, you know?

    Just…argh! Overreactions and terroristic beliefs. Driving me nuts.

    An English friend of mine was only able to take a quick cell phone shot of her grandchildren in a school pageant this week because photographing children is NOT ALLOWED. So much for documenting a child’s life in pictures. It’s SHAMEFUL and ridiculously overblown. Prosecute the folks who are doing bad things. Leave the parents and grandparents and professionals alone.

  40. When I was about 10, my younger sister and I were out front of our apartment building playing with a hose because it was high summer and hot out. A local newspaper photographer snapped some shots of us, came up to ask our names, and we wound up in the next week’s edition of the paper, names in the caption and everything. Such a travesty – two girls in their bathing suits enjoying summertime fun plastered up in the local paper where everyone (including our fellow church members) could see! At the time (about ’84) everyone who recognized us in the photo was excited for us – “How neat! You got to be in the paper!”. I don’t recall a single person fearing for our safety, nor do I remember the paper specifically asking our parents for permission to use our images – the photographer asked US.

  41. I’m not going to condemn the dads for asking the photographer to delete the shots of their kids, because I have no way of knowing whether one of the unusual scenarios outlined in other people’s comments (foster kids, witness protection, custody battle, abusive other parent, etc.) that would justify such a request may have applied here. But …

    (a) if such a situation does obtain, what are you doing taking your kids to the MALL (full of security cameras with who-knows-who at the other end) to get their pictures (copyright in and control of which belongs to the photographer) taken (with a digital camera that could for all you know be Internet-enabled) with SANTA (a random male stranger who may or may not be any sort of as-yet-unidentified weirdo)?*

    (b) the photographer, it appears, was asked to delete the photos and did so. WTF is up with reporting him to the police?

    (c) the police also overreacted; at the very most they should have said “We’d appreciate it if you’d leave your camera at home next time”. OMG.

    I don’t understand the hysteria about publishing (clothed, ordinary, innuendo-free) photos of kids. My kid’s photo has been in the local Jewish paper, in the community centre’s newsletter, all over my LiveJournal and my Facebook page and her dad’s Facebook page, on the website for DH’s friend’s comic shop, e-mailed far and wide by her adoring grandma, and heaven alone knows where else, and so far there’s been a notable dearth of unpleasant consequences…

    *I’m not a big fan of the whole photo-of-kid-on-Santa’s-lap phenomenon, mostly just because I’ve seen far too many such photos in which the poor kid is red-faced and howling or looks absolutely terrified, and I feel about that the same way I feel about parents who force their frightened kids onto amusement-park rides.

  42. kradcliffe unless there is a child in the group with a genuine threat against them the school was being stupid.

    We video tape our performances. Upload them to Teachertube*, and embed them on our website. Sometimes I have to do some quick edits around a child with a genuine threat (usually situations with one parent fleeing from an abusive relationship.) But we have approval from parents to post pictures/video/audio of all 705 students this year.

    I am uploading the video from our rhythm clubs first performance tomorrow. (Edited today waiting for the music teacher’s OK). I’ll post the link.

    *Teacher Tube is not blocked by the student level filters. Youtube is blocked. So we use Teacher Tube, so the kids can see the video at school

  43. When I was 6 a newspaper photographer took a picture of a friend and myself at a candle light vigil for the Iran Hostages. Mom my gave the photographer my name, my parents names and our address, all of which were printed in the paper with the picture. Nearly 30 years later, miraculously, I’m still here. :) No weirdos took me from my home. We were honored and I was on the front page of the paper with Ronald Reagan, who had just been elected president. In fact, the picture ran in papers all over the region.

  44. @ Lisa – I think that you bring up some good points to consider. Personally, I can barely manage the photos I take of my own kids, so I cannot imagine why I would want to take random pictures of other peoples kids too. I also think that a respectable professional photographer would not take issue with asking permission to photograph someones kids -plus if they are photographing for a “story” wouldn’t they want to know the names, etc… Gee, the parents might actually like to get a copy of the photo or find out where the picture will be published so they can share it with their family and friends. True, it is not illegal to photograph someones child (as we learned from the case with Jack McClellan who photographed kids for his pedophilia site) but just like those old fashioned free range childhood values of yester year… I think that
    courtesy seems to be dying in our culture and to ask first before you just go around snapping photos would be nice for a change.

  45. I was at a middle school play last week and a sign boldly stated that video taping the performance was strictly prohibited. So the gloating parents who had children in the play couldn’t even bring home a memento to watch for years to come!

    What about a working spouse who couldn’t make it? Good grief.

    It’s just too bad.

  46. Even on this blog I see some crazy sense of entitlement in some of these messages. You don’t want anyone to see or potentially photograph your kid in public because they’re being stalked by terrorist jihadists working for your ex wife? Keep them at home. This notion of “asking politely” (yeah, right. I believe you) and “complying” with some random Joe’s wishes (go screw yourself) are simply the result of control freaks and paranoia run wild.

    The fathers need to be beaten with a nice limber switch until they get over themselves. The policeman needs to be fired and perhaps sterilized, sued, and buried in a shallow ravine. And all of it needs to be done while the kids are asleep so that they never quite realize what FREAKS their parents are.

    You want privacy? Stay somewhere private.

  47. I was at Disneyland and saw a 4 year old in a stroller (beside the point). He had fallen asleep and had a green sucker stuck to his chin complete with green lips and cheeks. Adorable, I pulled out my camera and took the picture. His mom turned around and demanded that I delete the picture immediately and made me show her my camera to prove it was gone.
    She scoffed as she wheeled away she didn’t want it on the internet for perverts to see it.

  48. @Val, if you succumb to stupidity, you’ll only get more of it inflicted upon you. My response often depends upon the way in which I’m accosted. If aggressively and rudely, I respond in kind. If I wanted posed, shitty pictures, I’d ask permission to take them, and that’s just what I’d get.

    In a similar situation, I’d have told the idiot that a person in public, regardless of age, has no privacy expectation and can be photographed at any time; and that s/he was welcome to summon the police. If asked for my ID by the cops, I’d give it willingly and keep things civil with the law. I know my rights and am willing to stand up for them. Certainly no one has the right to demand image deletion, or to demand one’s film. They can try to take it, and get charged with assault, theft, or harassment.

    I had a guy in my own neighborhood who approached me aggressively while I shot images of the pool area where there were no people present. He got huffy when I refused to answer his questions until he stated his name and the authority under which he presumed to question me. (Homeowners’ Association Poobah). At that point I simply gave him a card, told him he could go to my website to see what I’m about, and resumed my shooting. Turns out he thought I was photographing evidence for a lawsuit that’s pending against the homeowners’ association.

    I always keep business cards handy, which is at least a small sign that one is serious and not a whacko. and it conveys an openness about one’s activities that, combined with one’s willingness to show ID to any law enforcement that might get involved, diffuses most situations.

  49. I took my kids to the local children’s museum a couple of months ago. They were off playing in some exhibit; I was sitting on a bench. I had my camera, and was looking through photos on the viewer on the back and sort of playing with it. This attendant came up to me with a very – VERY – suspicious air and said, “You’re not supposed to be in here unless you have children playing in here.” I told her I did, indeed, have children playing in there and refrained from chewing her out from assuming the nefarious intentions of a 49-year old woman photographing fully-clothed children in a science museum .

  50. A new neighbor moved in around the corner a few years ago. He had a wife, no kids. A different neighbor boy (about age 12) was walking his dog and this neighbor said they looked cute together and asked if he could take their picture. When he went inside to get his camera, the boy and his dog hurried home.

    Fast forward about a year. We now know this man is not a professional photographer. No explanation for the photo request. I drive by toward my house and he is standing near a tree at the corner of two streets photographing children in the yard at a neighbor’s birthday party across the street.

    I completely with you that we are way too paranoid about child safety in this world, but I also think we need to be aware and not naive. Perhaps this man just loves photographing children. However, his methods are not right. In my opinion, he should contact the parents of the children directly. The 12 year old walking the dog, the parents of the 10 year old having a party in his yard. Sneaking around with a camera is just plain creepy.

    Hiding or standing at great distance from your subject as a photographer is just plain suspicious.

  51. “Hiding or standing at great distance from your subject as a photographer is just plain suspicious.”

    Actually it’s one of the best ways to get a good candid shot. The sort of shot that many photographers spend thousands of shutter presses (not to mention thousands of dollars) trying to get, and that the rest of us admire for a fleeting second when we see great examples of it.

    And their intention generally is merely to capture life. The life we lead that is so fleeting and brief. The life that disappears so quickly and we wonder where it all went. Sitting on the stoop on a sunny afternoon. Or walking through the snow to the store. Or a birthday party. Or walking the dog. All these mundane, everyday things that fill our lives – and they can fade without a record.

    It’s not that he couldn’t be a pedophile – but so could the guy (or gal) who just sits inside their house looking at pics on the computer. But that doesn’t mean we should make everyone have their browsing intentions approved every time they go online.

  52. On a more positive note, this last weekend I went to a local government presentation of a new environmental conservation area. Many children were there with parents, helping plant trees. I was taken a number of photos of the project including people who were wandering about. A woman walking by me delightfully said, “Make sure you take some of the children. We are very happy there are more children joining in the tree planting”.
    A photo doesn’t make a child unsafe. Closing down photographing doesn’t stop a child abuser working behind closed doors and over the internet. Abuse of public power will serve to make children scared and untrusting of authority figures.

  53. I don’t understand the fear people have of having their photo on the internet. It won’t hurt your child!

    I have great photos of when I was a kid in school pageant. I am in these photos with all my friends from kindergarten etc. It seems like children that are growing up now won’t have photos of their friends and special school days….

    I take photos of children all the time. Sometimes from a distance and sometimes close up. I tell the parent their todler is so cute, can I take a photo? And they always beam with pride! (This is in China, where helicopter parenting has not reached yet.)

  54. No i don’t it’s normal
    thanks for this article

  55. This is 100% crazy. I shudder when I think about the many times I took pictures of my little kids playing in the bathtub and then took those pictures to the developer and then shared those pictures with grandparents. Who knows how many laws I was breaking!

    The pendulum has swung so far over to the crazy side – where a man photographing Santa and kids is being persecuted – I can only hope it’ll eventually go back to the sane side very soon. This is purely nuts.

    Rose Thornton

    http://www.uglywomansguide.com/index.php/2009/12/i-married-santa/

  56. I must be far too trusting, because my first inclination is to think the guy notjunecleaver is talking about is lonely and wishes he and his wife had had children. Of course he could be a creep, but I would think that if that were the case he wouldn’t have asked to take the picture of the boy and the dog in case he told someone about it. Who knows what else he photographs, up close or from a distance?

    I mean, you never know. But I take candid pictures of people on the street all the time – photographing people is what interests me. Generally I avoid children because I’m afraid of some parent freaking out, but still. I’m not creating some weird kind of urban street life porno collection. I just love my city and the people in it.

  57. @Michele was it a school play readers theater type production or was it a “real” play that might be done professionally? If it was a play that might be done professionally the prohibition probably wasn’t about kid safety. It was part of their license to use the play.

    Schools can’t just preform “Annie” or other professional plays, they have to pay the copyright holders to perform the play and there are restrictions on the license.

    Many of the plays at elementary level come from curriculum purchased for the music or reading departments and those publishers rarely have restrictions about video and audio.

    So this might have been a fair use VS Copyright holders issue not free range issue.

  58. Is it *always* the Dads who think they’re “smart” and “safe” by demanding there be no photos of their children? Sounds to me this may have more to do with a power play than any feelings of paranoia. (Why do you get to have pictures of my kids when I forgot my camera? You’re a professional so you’re going to make money off my kid. Not if I can’t get a cut!) and since we have very little definition these days on what makes a “good Dad”, these fathers where ensuring they get their Good Dad award for the day.

  59. @Kimberly, no this was definitely not a “real” professional play as far as I am aware. It was not a name brand play, for lack of a better word. Like Annie, Beauty & the Beast, Wizard of Oz etc.

    Seems crazy that even if it were, a doting parent still could not record it on their video cam:(

  60. @Michele: Especially since there’s really no way to stop people from recording this stuff if they want to. Cameras are getting so small, with camcorders in phones getting better and better, that we’ll simply never know when people are recording us.

  61. True, true dirty hooker!

    Like a previous poster stated, if you don’t want your kids photo’d, best off just keeping them home.

  62. An update to the “child suspended for picture of Jesus story” – it looks like there was more to it:

    http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/12/16/taunton_officials_dispute_reports_on_jesus_sketch/

    For the link-phobic, officials are claiming that the boy was not suspended, and that there was no issue with the drawing but with the fact that the boy identified the dead figure as himself – which resulted in the teacher alerting the principle and staff psychologist to have him assessed for abuse or suicide risk.

  63. @ RS I think the school may have acted appropriately given the new information. There may have been other indicators of problems or it might be a new teacher who went to a higher up saying is this something I need to be concerned with.

    There are kids in my class that draw war drawing all the time, they are upbeat kids, no agression issues – so I have no problem with it.

    Another student usually free draws fantasy type stuff. He drew a picture with both his brothers dead. I talked to his mentor and our support people.

    The boy is G&T his siblings both have developmental disorders. His parents aren’t coping well (honestly I think Mom may be MR or something similar). A good deal falls on this 9 yo’s shoulders. We are a community and try to support the family. The 9 yo usually goes to after school clubs that provide a place to be a kid and not be in charge of his siblings. Those ended just before Thanksgiving and restart in January.

  64. [...] If a Man Photographs Your Kid with Santa Should We Arrest Him? Hi Readers — Here’s the latest story of a guy, a camera, a warm little Santa scene at the mall…and an [...] [...]

  65. Last spring we were at a strawberry festival in our town. The local paper was covering it and asked if they could take a few pics of my kids eating strawberry shortcake bc they were so cute(they are!) My husband and I happily obliged and even gave their names. The next day my kids were in the paper(and the website). Boy was I proud that of all the kids there mine were the ones they chose :) I don’t see the big deal. if you’re out in public u never know when u could be photographed.

  66. As far as videotaping plays and copyright, my kids were in a production of Annie Jr and we were told that we could not videotape the performance due to copyright issues, but we could videotape rehearsals. So we have 2 dress rehearsals on video.

    I can see where videotaping might be banned because of distraction, annoyance, and such, too. If you have had situations where EVERYONE is trying to videotape and trying to get a good angle, etc., it could cause problems and maybe the easiest solution is to ban it. If the production in question allowed photos and just banned video, I would guess it was either a copyright issue or something else and not picture paranoia.

    My son was just on public TV, interviewed, with his name, even, for a choir he is in. And they put it on the INTERNET. Oh, the horror.

  67. [...] then today, i came across this blog post. i wasn’t aware of this blog before, but will definitely be following it from here on [...]

  68. There are many reasons besides unfounded paranoia that people might not want pictures taken of their kids. (The Amish object for religious reasons, though it’s unlikely the kids in this case were Amish.) But people shouldn’t have to give a reason; photographers should respect requests to delete photos. Where this case gets bizarre is the police involvement, which is symptomatic of the sort of concessions of civil liberties now accepted for “security.” It’s overparenting scaled up to the entire society.

  69. Geez, makes me think of how Michael Jackson used to cover his kids up from head to toe with scarves and blankets. Talk about a sheltered existence!

    Our local newspaper photographers usually carry their press ID with them at all times, and most of our local law inforcement have made it a point to have a visual (if not name) recognition of many of them. My husband supervises the 911 center for one of the cities that is covered by this paper, and since many of the reporters call his office for stats and the local goings-on, he goes out of his way to get to know them and their photographers. So I’d say, didn’t he have his ID, or something like that, to show the cop? It might have made the situation less confrontational, and given the dads less reason to feel invaided by having their kids picture taken AND the cop would have no reasonable excuse to harrass the photographer unless he exhibited some additional kind of suspious behavior.

    And the unknown Santa situation would bother me way more than someone in plain sight taking pictures of my child. Yes, they do background checks, and no, that doesn’t mean that the guy isn’t a pedophile in a Santa suit, which is why I always insisted on staying within a few feet during the time my kid was in his lap, so you’d have to be blind not to notice anything within that proximity.

    I do agreed with most of the postings here in reference to the “when in a public place you have no reasonable expectation of privacy” application. How can you expect anything more? Hire a security detail to follow you and your family? I like the burka suggestion, its probably what my response would be during the next conversation about the subject.

  70. I don’t think people should be obligated to delete their photos. Mostly because I never use digital cameras; I only shoot film. I can’t delete them, and I’m not turning my film over to some overprotective dad because it’s my personal property. Since it’s not possible for me to delete pictures, I don’t think anyone else should have to either. Furthermore, if you do not take additional pictures after deleting pictures from your memory card, it is 100% possible to ‘undelete’ them with software. “Deleting” pictures isn’t even what people think it is.

  71. Chaz: You aren’t required to “delete” pictures simply because someone doesn’t like having their picture taken in public. Not even the police can force you to do so, and for them to even suggest it is improper and probably illegal, since once you take a picture it becomes your property. The only person who can compel you to “delete” pictures or destroy film is a judge, and I’ve never even heard of a judge ordering such a thing (except perhaps in cases of child pornography, where your film becomes confiscated evidence).

    At least not in America. I for one like the fact that we value the freedom to take pictures in public places if you wish more than some nebulous right to “privacy” in the mall / parks / city streets. Even the concept sounds ridiculous when you say it outloud, IMHO! ;)

  72. @Lisa: if you are in a middle of a nasty divorce, or if you have a foster child who is at risk of being abducted, then you can’t really subscribe to the Free-Range philosophy for that child, which assumes that the danger of abduction is atronomically small. That’s something for us to keep in mind, lest we are tempted to criticize other parents for being “helicopter parents”: sometimes their concern is entirely appropriate.

    With the rise of the Internet, the global information community, and powerful computers, privacy is being redefined, and we’re all still trying to figure it out. For instance, it turns out that just by knowing one’s birthdate, gender, and zip code, one can be identified with 78% probability. That wasn’t really possible before. I wouldn’t be surprised if, someday soon, I would be able to search for my face anywhere on the Internet, even in the background of the snapshots of a Japanese tourist. Is that a bad thing? I think we’re all trying to figure that out, and so people are going to get a little crazy about it; maybe we’ll have to wait for the next generation to come along and decide what privacy means in the 21st century, while we cling to outdated beliefs.

  73. nice share you have here, keep up the good work !

  74. Have you ever thought about publishing an e-book or guest authoring on other websites? I have a blog centered on the same information you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information. I know my subscribers would enjoy your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an e mail.

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