Pokemon no, you can’t take my photo.


Photo source: my own, also published on Facebook. 

Let’s talk about screens in public places, and screens we thought were private becoming well – not so private. What I mean when I say this are the screens you see day-to-day and may or may not notice, such as televisions in food courts, in malls, hospital waiting rooms and anywhere else these ambient screens can reach an audience willing to watch. These screens are called ambient screens – much similar to the meaning of ‘ambient lighting’ which is designed to bring comfort and a ‘feel’ to a room. The ambient screens are always there, ready for spontaneous viewers to glance at what they are selling or showing at the time. Anna Mccarthy (2001) suggests that people are more willing to look at these screens in public places of ‘waiting’ as it subsides boredom for a period of time.

Private screens refer to the screens we generally have on us at all times – our phones. It would be usual to assume that the content we have on our phones belongs to us, therefore making it private. However, increasingly we as a society are willing to share more and more of our photos, information and other details online through social media apps such as Snapchat and Pokémon Go, and what’s the common theme between these two apps? Photography. The ethics behind public photography of other people are shady in Australia – in a somewhat grey area of the law compared to other countries where camera use is strictly prohibited. Not too long ago, it was rare to see the Wollongong lighthouse because it was so covered with people running around, shouting that, “Pickachu is just over there!” Or, “The lure has run out, let’s go!” This was the beginning of Pokémon Go, the augmented reality game where you can bring your camera up, swipe your finger and catch a ‘Pokémon’ in real time. This quick rise of the game, which is now one of the world’s most downloaded apps, left it also in some grey areas of the law and ethics. For example, the photo I took above – I didn’t ask each and every person there if I could take their photo, because to them it would have simply looked like I was playing the game instead of taking a photo of the plethora of game-goers in the usually quiet Wollongong Harbour.

In regards to whether it’s legal to be taking photos of people through this game or playing this game, an Australian judge has stated that, “a person in our society does not have a right to not be photographed.” (Arts Law, 2016) The grey area here is with children, as most parents often disapprove of their children being photographed. In this case, it is up to the photographer to resolve the issue and explain their rights or compromise. One of the only ways in Australia that someone can get you into trouble for publishing their photo is through the Privacy Act (1988). This is because a person’s image can also be classified as someone’s ‘personal information.’ I consider the photo I have taken of people surrounding Wollongong Harbour playing the latest pop culture craze to be behavioural ethnography, and somewhat ethical as I wasn’t photographing a single person nor was I making comment on any particular person. This was ethnographic photography, as my intent was to capture the act that these people were engaging in by congregating around the landmarks of Wollongong. I was intrigued by the way that so many different people of different ages, cultures and genders were drawn together like this by something as simple as an app.



Arts Law. (2016). Arts Law : Information Sheet : Street photographer’s rights. [online] Available at: http://www.artslaw.com.au/info-sheets/info-sheet/street-photographers-rights/ [Accessed 19 Sep. 2016].

Hoey, B. (2013). What is Ethnography? :: Homepage of Brian A. Hoey, Ph.D., Anthropology. [online] Brianhoey.com. Available at: http://www.brianhoey.com/General%20Site/general_defn-ethnography.htm [Accessed 22 Sep. 2016].

McCarthy, A. (2001). Ambient television. Durham: Duke University Press



One thought on “Pokemon no, you can’t take my photo.

  1. taylabosley says:

    I enjoyed you point on intent in photography. If your intent is to capture an interesting social phenomenon like Pokemon Go in your example, then the photography is ethical, because it is the event that you are capturing rather than one person.
    But what would happen if you took a photo of a single person playing the game? Would it still fall under the banner of ‘social phenomenon’? Or would it be a creep shot of a member of the public using their private screen?
    Also what about people playing the game itself, and taking photos?
    As it shows in this article here: http://www.pocket-lint.com/news/138248-pokemon-go-how-to-take-amazing-pokemon-photos
    It is possible for people to take photos of their Pokemon in the augment reality of the game. But if you unwittingly take a photo with someone else in it? Just because there was not intent for the photo, is it still ethical to take it? Or even upload it to social media under the tagline or a ‘Pokemon Catch’?.
    You are right, the Australian photography and privacy laws become murky when the issue of ethics is introduced.
    At my blog: https://taylabosley.wordpress.com/2016/09/10/can-i-take-your-photo/
    I discuss how although all these situations would be legal, their ethics tend to be undefined.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s