Gaps in the family photo album

8 years ago, we went to a weekend conference with multiple churches involved. We rented out the entire resort so the only guests were those of us there for the event. Our son, Elijah, had an epiphany that weekend and asked us to baptize him. Word spread quickly throughout the camp that he would be baptized that afternoon in the swimming pool and many people came to watch. So there we were gathered around the pool for the momentous occasion and as I lifted my camera to my face to make a record for Elijah’s history, the lifeguard frantically approached “no, no you can’t do that!”


“You can’t take pictures”

“Are you serious? No one’s even swimming. We’ve rented out this whole place – there’s no one here but us.”

It goes without saying that I took the photos I wanted. My son was not going to be robbed of a record of an extremely important decision because a teenager didn’t understand the difference between pornography and family album snapshots.

And so we find ourselves in this frantic, hyper world where people can literally tremble if you pull out a camera. There are multiple stories to this effect online and this 2009 article from the Guardian paints a very accurate picture of the situation in the UK and the very sad position that parents find themselves in. The position of either relenting and sadly watching their little star in the school nativity, knowing that their memory will be the only surviving piece of the happy occasion or covertly taking the photos anyway, running the risk of getting kicked out.

When we went to Disney last year, I wanted to take photos of the family in the pool and so I cautiously approached the lifeguard to ask, “am I allowed to take photos?” She looked perplexed. “Yea of course,” was her reply. I realized that my few years of living in the UK has clouded my judgement of what is sensible and if that can happen to even me -with the strongest resolve of anyone I know- than certainly anyone can find themselves in the position of not thinking with their brains, but rather, with their nerves.

Last year at Jack’s Christmas Nativity, the headmistress began the event by announcing that we may take photos only of our children and that we were restricted from putting the images on Facebook. With all due respect, who does she think she is? I mean really…does she think she has the power of the police? Because even they don’t have the power to stop you from putting photos of your fully clothed children on Facebook. It drives me utterly insane, the way that people think with their nerves and not with their brains. And they don’t think ahead.

What will the world look like in 50 years when we have full grown adults who don’t have surviving photo memories of their seaside holidays, their lead role in the school play, the moment they were baptized. How can we move forward as healthy adults if we don’t have a record of where we came from & no surviving memories?

I understand all the reasons people say we should protect children from being photographed at, say, the pool. I understand that people are afraid of pedophiles (who, by the way, are an extremely small minority). I understand that people have huge irrational fears about extremely small possibilities. More power to ’em. I wouldn’t recommend taking your camera into a hot and steamy environment anyway. But should the general public suffer because of the few baddies in the world?

On the flip side of this outrageous heavy handed legislation of local governments and private sectors, we have those very same governments and private buildings (aka shopping centers) installing cameras in every public area, following you as you go into the shop, come out of the shop, walk down the street, pull out your wedgie, pick your nose. They photograph your car, your house, your body, your children. They don’t prosecute paparazzi who are taking unwanted photos in public places, yet we can be questioned and told to cease doing the same with our own children in those very same places. Google Earth has a picture of your house in their database at this very moment.

I can see the ways in which Big Brother protects citizens from crime and helps piece together events leading up to one. But what I can’t accept is the flagrant hypocrisy that says they can take our picture to protect our future, but we can’t photograph our own children to protect their past.

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  • I just had a very similar conversation with my boys’ teacher today regarding how our society has become so “safety conscious” and afraid of someone somehow getting hurt, sued, offended, etc. that we have completely lost sight of common sense.  Great post!

  • Stephanie Curwen

    Well said! 

  • Karla Pitts

    Excellent, Elizabeth!   Thank for speaking so clearly about this.  I could not agree more.  And I have been confronted by security at an open air mall for photographing in front of a movie theater (in the US).  

  • Bernadette

    Great post!  And very valid points. I think you should forward this on to the headmistress.

  • Jude Toone

    Thankfully, the headteacher at my children’s school is entirely of your thinking. I do understand the request not to put pictures of other peoples kids online. But then, isn’t that covered by manners and common courtesy anyway?! Apparently the only situation where the head would rethink is if there is a child in foster care or adopted that needs to be protected, but that he would try to make sure that everyone could get pictures. 

    It does make me sad that I’ve very rarely been able to get pics of my girls while they’ve been learning to swim. A few ‘covert’ ones (I hadn’t realised I shouldn’t take pictures and had a waterproof camera in the pool with me, I put it away once asked – secure in the knowledge I’d already got some shots!) and some taken on holiday in France. 

  • Angie

    Love this article!!  I think it is a wake up call to those of us in the US who are gradually letting small freedoms be taken from us and we are not even kicking and screaming.  We forget that our friends across the pond are already enduring what we don’t think is possible here….. 

  • Janina Million

    You would probably like reading the blog of Lenore Skenazy especially interesting is all the posts and links to posts about “worst-first” thinking and how we live in a society of paranoia and fear-mongering. She has also written a book. I would love to know what you think, you seem to be a sort-of free range parent-type.

  • Liz

    Well written Elizabeth. I agree with you.  I lived in the UK for 11 years and moved back to NZ in 1997.  so much has changed there that it saddens me to see PC’s gone mad in the place I called home for so long.  We only had our youngest daughters primary prizegiving last night (her last time at primary).  I actually took a photo of all the parents arms up in the air holiding little cameras, big camera’s, and camcorders.  Their pics of the kids with teatowels tied on their heads will mostly have the backs of other parents heads in their shots, but they want that image of their wee one up on stage singing Silent night.  Good on you for taking the photo anyway.  To capture that joy on your sons face at his baptism is something you will never get again.

  • wow Elizabeth, I had no idea that the public was turning against public photography in such droves. Seems so strange to me. 

  • im i the US and a friend was practically accosted by the faculty at her son’s school when she dared to photograph him in his school play “district policy” they claimed. Um, no. I dont think so.

    Here in Florida they are trying to take away our right to photograph private property from a public right of way. So if you see that AMAZING sunset and you just want to capture it? It could potentially be a felony b/c it happens to be setting over a private farm.

    Ive already determined that in some ways, i will be perfectly content to be a criminal.

  • irene.oneill

    Oh, if only everyone had your balanced perspective

  • I’m so glad you posted this.  I think that the rules that are forced upon us as parents with cameras (with our without our photographer hats on) are becoming ridiculous.  We took my older boys to their first hockey game a while back and I took my little SLR (we’re talking the smallest Canon makes, it wasn’t my “big-un”) as I wanted to have photos of them at their first game. They were so happy and I wanted to record those memories for them.  The arena police came over and told me that I had to give them my camera. This wasn’t even NHL, this was a small, local team and we were sitting in the family section behind a huge net.  She told me that unless I had a press pass I couldn’t have a camera with a removable lens in there. Doesn’t matter that I don’t own a point and shoot, I was going to have to hand over my camera bag until the game was over. I know this is a different situation than what you are posting, but it was a case of “how dare you tell me I can’t record memories for my children?”. In your case, it would be much more important to record photos of your son’s baptism, and if I were you, I would have kept shooting anyway as well.  Good for you!  :)

  • Donna

    I’m in the US and when I first started reading this I had no idea why the lifeguard was telling you that you couldn’t take pictures.  I have never heard of not being able to take pictures at pools!  Like Siobhan I have been told I couldn’t take pictures at a basketball game though if I had a camera with a detachable lens.  The thing is I am a sports photographer for a local paper but I had gone to the game to see my cousin’s daughter play and had just wanted some pictures for the family!  I could not believe I wasn’t allowed to do so!  This is getting crazy!  Thank you for a great post!

  • Siouxsan

    I get all this. But I actually think we take WAY more pictures of our kids now than my mom EVER did of me!! Maybe that’s part of the issue? I mean, hardly anyone had a camera to take to school functions (short of a polaroid) when I was growing up. Or if you did, it was all 35mm film and you had to hope it was decent lighting.

  • Cai

    You are so right …. It breaks my heart that we are missing these treasured memories.
    The following link shows why we should be allowed to record these moments ;o)

    Thank you for being a wise head amongst all the PC foolery !

    Cai x

  • thank you for posting this.  i had no idea that this was really happening.  i’ve heard locally that there are building in town (Pittsburgh) that you aren’t allowed to photograph and i think even that’s a little crazy. 

  • stephanie

    I am in the US and had the very unfortunate experience of being physically attacked and spat upon for taking a picture of my friend in a public municipal park.  The craziest part is that there was no one else around…which was kind of the point because I didn’t want anyone else in the photo.  When I saw this man walking in our direction I put down my camera to wait for him to pass since I didn’t want him in the photo.  Unfortunately, he decided the fact that I had a camera at all was unacceptable.  Thankfully, my equipment survived the attack and I am not convinced that I need to carry pepper spray with me from now on!

  • Excellent, excellent article! Well said, Elizabeth (and congratulations on the awesome occasion of your sons baptism.  I hope that when my kiddos make that choice, we get some fab photos, too)

  • Riajenkins

    Well said.  I too have found it ironic that I can’t take pictures of my children in public places.  Excuse me, my child, I can take his or her picture if I want to. Protect them from pedophiles on my Facebook account that is protected.  Seriously, there are probably more pedophiles looking at the pictures from google earth that were taken outside my children’s elementary school just as school was being let out.  Yep, pictures of my children, and quite a few others as well, are posted on a website that probably has one of the highest amounts of traffic out there.  

  • It is crazy how we let a paranoid thought life rule.  I admire you for “taking it anyway.”  On another note I do cringe when I see mommies mindlessly posting “cute” pics of the six year old headbanging in his underwear.  I’m not so much worried about pedophiles (which could be a concern) as I am about that child when he’s an adult and has to deal with photos all over the world in his undies.

  • diana hampo

    i take pictures constantly but i’m so sad because facebook is replacing photo albums

  • Missyl

    Just wanted to chime in for those of you who are upset about not being about to photograph at plays.  I am totally with the writer here re: taking pics in public places – we should absolutely be able to preserve our children’s memories – but many of you are frustrated with not being able to take pictures of plays…  this isn’t just a school policy, it’s a copyright issue for the author of the play and for the publishing company.  It seems like it’s just a memory for you, but it’s distracting to the actors and illegal for copyright reasons.  I’ve been a director in the public school system and had to deal with parents who covertly take pictures of their kids in plays – along with videos – it’s completely illegal and distracting. 

  • gjt

    Distracting, maybe. Illegal for copyright reasons, get your facts straight. It is not illegal to take a photo of someone in a school play. This does not violate the copyright of the author or publisher in any way. There is a concept called fair-use, that most publishers try to obfuscate so that most are not aware of their rights with copyrighted materials.

  • Wales

    What CRAP you’re talking!

  • Wales

    A good post.
    There are many similar posts out there along the same lines, but the post itself won’t change a thing.

    We are a society of brain-washed people who have by and large, lost the ability to think for themselves. They believe any hype that the media put out there.

    If you asked parents what their view is in relation to this, they would no doubt claim the world has gone mad! But watch that very same moms face when some young dad is photographing his own daughter in the park.

  • Totally Agree with this. I take photo’s of my daughter all thime and to be quite honest I have your opinion ‘Oh no you can’t take photo’s’ ‘TRY AND STOP ME!!!’