A few years ago I was photographing surfers off the Northern California coast. My Jeep was parked at water’s edge, way out on a jetty. I had a Canon 400MM fast telephoto lens, which is large and white like you see at NFL football games. A big lens, and very obvious. If you don’t know anything about surfing, you need to know that surfing is good when there are waves but no people, and surfing is no good when there are no waves or too many people.
I didn’t know any of the surfers, but at the end of the day I brought over my LCD player and showed them the shots. I collected some email addresses so I could send them pictures of themselves. Some had been surfing for many years, yet never had a photo of themselves on a wave. We talked about surfing and photos, how the surfer magazines cover the events, but more importantly how they expose secret surf spots to a huge audience that subsequently shows up and crowds out the “real” surfers. “That’s your Jeep?” one of them asked me. “I almost waxed it. It’s good you came over”.
Privacy is important, even if it’s not a “guaranteed right” by legal standards. Sometimes we want privacy, even in our public lives. Yes, I had a right to shoot photos of surfers and publish them in a magazine along with a map and description of how to get to that great secret spot. But that wouldn’t make me any friends among the surfers. In their eyes, I would be exploiting them and their lives for my own gain. A shitty way to behave.
And that is why my car windshield would have been waxed. So I could experience that shitty feeling in my own life. And, I was told, if I ever show up at a surf spot where they don’t already know I’m cool, I should beware the seemingly friendly surfer walking up to me and my Big Lens with a smile and an outstretched hand. Chances are good the hand will be coated with surf wax, and the fingers will divert away from handshake pose at the last second, to swipe across the front of my lens. Surf wax, in case you didn’t know, if very very hard to clean off glass (especially a high-end photographic lens).
Privacy is like courtesy - it’s required for quality of life, yet not legislated. We owe it to each other. Although we can’t always afford to guarantee it, we should always try.
Which is why Google is pissing people of (again). Google’s StreetViews program exploits people’s public lives, by publishing it for the world to see. The poor social skills of technologists lead them to all sorts of uncomfortable geeky situations, and it seems Google is making that mistake again. People picking their noses, visiting alternative book stores, getting lectured by traffic cops, all published by Google for the world to
ridicule see. Oh Google, you’re geeky immaturity is getting you in trouble again.
Street View vans roving around us, pointing cameras at us, so Google can exploit our public private lives. Thank god we have surf wax, eh?