It’s often not possible to be sitting in class at university without a screen in front of you, of some kind. Whether it be laptop, phone or iPad, our attention seems to be constantly shared between our devices and our teachers. According to Chakraborty (2006), “Mobile phones have an intrinsic social impact by the way the technologies
emphasize portability and constant communication. The portable nature of this
communication medium means that they are often used in public spaces”.
In primary school and early high school, if we were to have been seen with a phone in class it would have, without question, been confiscated and detention would have been inevitable. In the past 10 years, I believe there is no doubt that our attitudes to phone usage in public spaces has changed, as has our usage itself.
Today, whilst sitting in class, I took a photo of the room. I wanted to depict this notion that we are more often than not focusing on the screen in front of our eyes, rather than the academic in front of us. This is it:
Perhaps, to an extent, it could be said that the whiteboard has become an “ambient screen”. That is to say, we are no longer completely engaging with the content it presents to us, but rather acknowledging its background presence as we continue to exist within the confines of the screen before us.
I could go on about this, but instead I would like to look at the physical and ethical processes undertaken during the curation of this photo. Technically, what I have done is completely in keeping with Arts Law Centre of Australia’s “Street Photographer’s Rights”. According to this guide, “there are no publicity or personality rights in Australia, and there is no right to privacy that protects a person’s image”.
However, a person’s ethics are perhaps much more valuable when deciding how to go about taking a photo, and this something I had to both consider and justify. Firstly, the people in this photo do not know that I have photographed them, nor do they know they are featured on my blog post. This did concern me. If it were me being photographed I would probably like to be informed of the intentions of the photographer as well as the purpose. However, I justify this by arguing that if I had told them before hand, I would not have taken a genuine, un-staged photograph.
Secondly, the fact that the students in the photograph are only shown from the back means they would be much harder to identify – which made me also feel more comfortable with the idea of not asking permission. Out of context, it would be almost impossible identity the subject, the class or even the University where this photo was taken.
And finally, according to Photojojo, “anyone in a public place can take pictures of anything they want… being open to the public makes it public space”. I find this final point slightly ambiguous. Yes, university is technically considered a public space. People are free to come and go as they please, and do not have to be a student to enter the grounds. There’s a great interview here between Dr Chris Neff and Associate Professor Kurt Iveson, where Ivenson describes public spaces as “a space where we are likely to encounter strangers, people you know that are not our kind of intimate associates”. However it is interesting to consider what we truly deem as a public space in this sense – the classroom really isn’t open to any stranger to enter, though it would still be quite possible for them to do so.
In conclusion, any photograph taken by someone in a public space should not be done so without deliberate contemplation of moral and ethical ideas. It is certainly something that I am personally aware of, however amidst a rapid technological revolution, I believe this sense of awareness is becoming much less prevalent.