Fifty million people visited Chicago in 2014. And they probably took about 500 million photos of this. This is the Millennium Park sculpture – or Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor. The sculpture is beautiful and engaging and functions perfectly in its public space at the center of everything fun in Chicago downtown. It’s so popular and perfectly placed that Cloud Gate is never alone, and if you snap a photo here, strangers are inevitably part of the shot. Heck, the sculpture is even reflective, giving you twice the chance. This past March, down in Arkansas, the governor delivered an 11th-hour veto to what was called “the street photography bill.” Arkansas is in such great shape that its legislature has time to draft and pass bills like Senate Bill 79 (I don’t know why anti-regulatory lawmakers make so many laws either) which prohibits taking crowd shot photographs and, among other things, posting them online without permission of everyone in the photograph. Yes, you’ve got it - this was not only impactful for photojournalists and artists. If you posted on Facebook a photo of your son hitting his first pee wee homer, and happened to catch in your photo the bleacher row of yelling Dads who never played sports themselves, any of the yelling Dads could sue you if you had not obtained permission. Likewise for crowd shots at the zoo or amusement park - or on W. Florissant Avenue in Ferguson last August or on Vesey Street in Manhattan in September 2001.
I am on record as being conflicted about photographing strangers. See my blog post from January 31. When we studied the Great Depression in school, I resented the New Deal photographers who took the train West to photograph the poor. But on the other hand, Mathew Brady did not get permission from the dead at Gettysburg to mount an exhibition that changed the public perception of war forever. On still another hand, I certainly prefer ownership of my own likeness. If I were famous I would probably try, in vain, to control my image as much as possible, and I have some sympathy for notable folks who have every runny nose and
chubby thigh scrolling across our screens. I don’t like the way we punish successful people that way. On still one more hand, I wonder if privacy issues – an American rural obsession – aren’t issues for the under 40 set. Young people seem to have no trouble sharing themselves and their images endlessly without regret. I have no solution. But as along as the energy firing our digital age holds out, we have to rethink sharing not only intellectual property, but the basic human image on the street.
I call this photograph A Face in the Cloud. I was one of the 48 million people who photographed
the streets of Chicago in 2013.
Copyright RC 2015