Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Photographic Survey - Wart Or History?

"The time has come," the Walrus said, "to talk of many things."

Thursday, on Shades Of The Departed, will be dedicated to many things,
and nothing in particular.

Many Things Thursday

In last week's edition of Many Things Thursday, I discussed a project commenced by the Dundee Photographic Society to carry out a comprehensive photographic survey of that Scottish city. The purpose was to illustrate life in the city in 1903, a permanent record for generations to come. I challenged my readers to do a photographic survey of where they live/lived for posterity.

I received some very interesting and enthusiastic comments and emails, along with some very pertinent questions. In today's Many Things Thursday, I'd like to explore some of those questions and remarks.


Terry Thornton of Hill Country wrote:

MAVEN, I do like this idea! Are you proposing a look at your community through "rose-colored" glasses or, are you going to show warts and all?

I view my role in the survey as that of local historian. It isn't my place to decide what is documented by whether or not I find it pleasing, but rather whether or not it fits the criteria I have established for my survey. Here is a perfect example of what some people might consider a wart, but is an integral part of my community's daily civic life (my survey criteria). It sits in town on the main road and is a reminder of our town's origin.

I also believe it has historical significance. The town of Preston was built around the mill. Although it has definitely gone to the grass, or here in Washington, the blackberries; it is part of the town's history.

The Familiar Sign Outside The Old
Preston Mill Buildings

Gone To The Grass

Rusting and Rotting

I suspect the warts Terry has questioned have more to do with a line of Edsels in the backyard (my father's favorite collection), or an old refrigerator on the front porch than they have to do with my rotting mill. So in each survey you will have to ask yourself, "Does it meet the survey criteria?" If it does, then wart status is left to history.


Donna of What's Past Is Prologue remarked:

I love looking at "then - now" photos (as you could tell in my recent post on the Bavarian town. But if no one takes a "now" photo it can never become a "then" photo in the future!

Donna could not be more correct and I will give you two perfect examples of why a Photographic Survey is so important to posterity and future generations.


The Church In Index, Montana
As It Was In 1918

The Church In Index, Montana

I was fortunate to be able to take the "Now" photograph just weeks before the Church was torn down. My mother-in-law was born in Index, Montana, and her father was the minister in this Church. We were given an old board from the Church and have framed a piece of the board with the two photographs for each of our children.

We have a "then" and "now" photograph for posterity and our family history. Without the 1918 photograph there would be no impact for the 2005 photograph. Take a "today" photograph "today."


The One That Got Away

Our New Soccer Park

I have no photograph of the old red Mill building that occupied this space before it was torn down to make way for the new soccer park. That is a terrible shame. I drove past it every day for the last sixteen-years and was so short sighted; I failed to document something so familiar.

Perhaps being so familiar is the problem; I just expected it to always be there. But, what's familiar today may be gone tomorrow, that's why a Photographic Survey is so important. Take a "today" photograph "today," before it's gone "tomorrow."


Terry Thornton of Hill Country asked another very pertinent question:

I've wished for the courage to undertake such a photographic record of some of the rural roads in the Hill Country --- but haven't had the courage to start photographing houses and structures. What do you know about such? Do you think privately owned buildings/houses can be photographed and published (photos taken only from the public road-ways, of course) without a release from the owners?


Here are some private homes in Preston that are a part of my Photographic Survey. The photographs were taken from public roads and streets.

Some Old Mill Houses
Along The Raging River

The Historic Lovegren

Note: I am not a licensed attorney, this is not legal advice. If you have a specific question about taking a photograph, please consult an attorney.

There are two distinct issues here; taking photographs (trespass - criminal) and publishing photographs (civil - invasion of privacy, false light).

For the most part, if you can see it, you can photograph it. If you're on public property you can photograph anything you like, including private property. (There are some exceptions - sensitive government buildings.) Don't trespass to get a photograph, it isn't worth it. Don't use a telephoto lens to photograph someone inside their home (you have an expectation of privacy in your own home).

Once you have the photograph can you publish that photograph? Yes, in most cases. You can lose an invasion of privacy lawsuit if your photographs reveal private facts about a person that are offensive when the person had a reasonable expectation of privacy. A reasonable expectation of privacy is a legal term with a legal meaning.

This is a very brief overview of an important legal matter, so I will direct you to some in depth information regarding these two issues.

Legal Rights of Photographers” (151K PDF) by Andrew Kantor who researched this for an article in USA Today.

Bert P. Krages, an attorney in Portland, Ore., and author of the Legal Handbook for Photographers, has a short but excellent PDF document called The Photographer's Right.

From The Missouri Bar Association is the Journalists' Right Of Privacy Primer, by Mark Sableman.


Use common sense when taking photographs. Here in Washington we have seen people questioned for taking photographs of our Ferry System. Parents may become uncomfortable if you are taking photographs of children in playgrounds. While legal, you need to be sensitive to these concerns. Hope to see your Photographic Survey soon!

Neither the Patriot Act nor the Homeland Security Act have any provisions that restrict photography.


Index Church. Photograph. ca. 1918. Digital image. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2005

Index Church. Photograph. 2005. Digital image. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2005

Preston Photographs. Photograph. 2008. Digital image. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2008


Blogger Lisa / Smallest Leaf said...

Some very good thoughts and great illustrations (via photograph) to go with them, footnoteMaven.

I have always been drawn to before and after photographs, and love to compare today's world with the way it once was.

My recent "before and after post" entitled
Međimurje: Meeting place of rivers and cultures was made possible through the generosity of a photographer in the Croatian hometown of my ancestors. I had the vintage photos and he kindly sent me some modern images to go along with them.

Thanks for sharing some good ideas and suggesting such a worthwhile challenge!

Small-leaved Shamrock
A light that shines again
100 Years in America

May 16, 2008 at 2:23 AM  
Blogger Lidian said...

Thank you fM for addressing this. I was wondering about this very issue last fall, when I was playing around with a blog of photographs of old bits of Toronto...I wasn't sure whether it would be all right for me to photograph private houses, some of which are wonderful - and store signs. I know that people have done this, but I did wonder about the legal/moral ramifications.

Maybe I will revive this over the summer. There are some amazing retro bits of the city, not many but some.

BTW, you live in a beautiful place!

May 16, 2008 at 7:16 AM  

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