Paris street photography in 1800s.. illegal?
June 14, 2019 6:59 AM   Subscribe

In the street photography book "Bystander" there is a passing reference to a ban on street/public photography in Paris in the 1800s, resulting in a relative gap of work between Nègre and Atget.. having difficulty finding more info about this law. Any insight?
posted by starman to Law & Government (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
From what I understand, the current right regarding this is Droit à l'image. Maybe that will help?
posted by msbrauer at 7:53 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]

The Right To One's Own Likeness in French Law has a lengthy discussion (i.e., too lengthy for me to read, but perhaps not for you).
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:50 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]

The book says "a ban on street photography was listed by the prefect of police only in 1890." It might have just been a local ordinance or enforcement by police. But the Right to Likeness seems pretty relevant.
This paper talks about the issue and mentions similar cases such as Nice, France.
posted by starman at 10:47 AM on June 14

*lifted not listed
posted by starman at 3:16 PM on June 15

This paper on Paris photography in the 19th century (in French) does not mention a ban. I'm a little doubtful in fact: not only street photography before the 1890s could hardly have been a problem due to technological limits (on the other hand, photographers were a nuisance in the Louvre and were banned in 1866), but there's no shortage of street photographs of Paris in the 1860-1890s (those by Charles Marville in the 1860-1870s (also), the Commune insurrection in 1871, or that great Nadar picture of 1886 etc.).

The right of likeness has indeed a long history in France but does not appear to have been an issue for street photography until the 1950-60s, and much of the problem was with professional street photographers harassing passerbys in tourist areas.
posted by elgilito at 2:10 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]

I did some digging since the Nadar photo is matted in a circle like an early Kodak, which wasn't around until 1888.. indeed it was taken by Nadar's son Paul in 1890 (he was a representative for Kodak).

Still, you're right that a ban seems odd, and even if there was one it probably wasn't city-wide. It's possible tripods were becoming a nuisance and there was some kind of "ban" by the city in the tourist areas.
posted by starman at 9:32 AM on June 18

I dug a little bit in the Bulletin de la Société française de photographie and here's what I found:

- During the session of June 1875 of the Société, photographers complained that they needed a permission from the local police station if they wanted to photograph a monument in Paris. The permission was granted for a single day, which they found impractical, and they wanted it to last longer.

- In fact, as explained in the August 1875 session, restrictions about photography concerned the entire public space (in Paris at least). The reason given was that there were too many photographers, and public photography was restricted due to the application of the general laws about occupation of public space (something that the members of the Société agreed with). An author from 1906 claims that the problem was that flocks of curious passers by would always gather to see a photographer operate. In most cases, the permission had to be obtained from the Police. After meeting with members of the Société, the Préfecture agreed to make the permissions easier to obtain. For City parks, permission was granted by the Chief Engineer of the Parks service. For State parks, permission was granted by the Ministry of Public works.

- As noted in April 1887, such restrictions existed in other towns and cities. The Mont Saint-Michel had been under a full ban, which was lifted in 1887 after a petition of the Société photographique de Nantes. In Paris, permissions were still necessary for City parks (and were easy to get from the Public Works service), for streets (which took longer to get from the Préfecture), but were no longer necessary for all French State parks. There were also specific permissions for national monuments (from the Ministry of Education and Fine arts, or from the curators themselves). Generally, getting a permission was easy, provided that the photographer knew who to contact and how.

The restrictions on street photography were lifted in 1896 (I couldn't find the exact date). In 1911, in the pages of Le Figaro newspaper, a street photographer defended this "Liberté de l'objectif". A few days later, Edouard Stebbing, a studio photographer, answered that this new freedom was catastrophic and had resulted in an "invasion" of low-cost and low-brow "pirates" and "parasites" who were killing professional photographers.

The law of 5 April 1884 on the organisation of municipalities (and a police regulation about street vendors from 25 juillet 1862) was used in 1927 in Paris (by Prefect Jean Chiappe), and after 1945 in Southern tourist towns, to ban the activities of "photofilmeurs", who were professional street photographers (tourists complained about being filmed and photographed without their consent, and photo studios complained about competition) (see Clark, 2017 for details). In 1949, a street photographer sued the city of Montauban and won, making street photography and other street-based businesses fully legal again. This is not strictly related to the restrictions used in Paris in the 1800s, but, as we've seen with Stebbing, it was still part of on ongoing struggle between professional studio photographers and amateur/pro-amateur (street) photographers.

As an aside, the issue of freedom of panorama and the strict application of authors' rights to monuments under French law was already controversial among photographers in 1855!
posted by elgilito at 5:23 PM on June 18 [3 favorites]

Wow. I'm blown away. Thank you!
posted by starman at 6:59 PM on June 18

That was really an interesting rabbit hole... The (always) fascinating thing is to discover that many issues discussed by photographers more than 100 years ago remain relevant and controversial today: freedom of panorama, consent, authors' rights, and of course the dreaded race to the bottom. I can't resist quoting Stebbing's rant against street photographers:

The province, in turn, was invaded by a cloud of parasites, photographers in name only, who, like pirates, fell on cities, villages, hamlets to photograph people on the street for free, and then under this false pretext took the opportunity to sell them frames at ten times their value containing horrible images that they dare call photographs. As a result, artistic photography is in the most appalling marasmus, cries of despair and misery are rising from all over France and, in the face of this desolate spectacle, we had to think of the most urgent, to create our mutuality association, in order to found a retirement home for our unfortunate and dying colleagues.
posted by elgilito at 3:30 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]

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