Shooting for pleasure without shooting others down

Shooting for pleasure without shooting others down

Just shoot me.

Not with a camera. I mean, just put me out of my misery.

I am not crazy about being in photographs or videos, and my primitive methods of dodging having my picture taken involve raising a Neanderthal paw in front of my face or turning my head away, The Exorcist-style.

But I quickly find myself slammed against the limits of these techniques since we are living in camera-saturated Singapore.

Is there any point in trying to hold on to a fig leaf-size scrap of privacy?

Surveillance cameras have been installed at 4,400 HDB blocks and multi-storey carparks, said Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran in Parliament recently, adding that the Government is on track to installing them at all 10,000 HDB blocks and carparks by next year.

Camera footage has helped the police solve more than 430 cases and provided investigative leads for more than 890 cases since 2012, said Mr S. Iswaran.

Video cameras - which include body-worn cameras and in- vehicle cameras for frontline officers and police vehicles - are part of a greater effort to harness technology in fighting crime.

Perhaps being shot to death by cameras is a trade-off for not being slashed to death by a parang-wielding gangster. And in-vehicle cameras, mounted like weapons pointed and at the ready to record the latest on-the-road battle, offer some of us a way to fight back after the fact.

Take, for example, a recent video of a taxi passenger, picked up at Chai Chee, heard being rude to a cabby. The clip went viral and got the driver support from outraged viewers.

In the video, among other things, the passenger accused the driver of failing to notice him on the road even though he "wave wave wave wave wave". He called the driver a "blind bat", complained that the cab was moving too slowly, and accused the driver of trying to cheat him. Outraged netizens claimed to have found the man and revealed his details.

The adage, "Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far"? How about "speak softly and carry a big camera..."

Apart from surveillance cameras of the official and public sort, dark dome-shaped CCTV cameras continue to pop out like oversized moles on ceilings and walls of private residences, too. Spying for their unseen masters and feeding them information about our every move.

One was installed not too long ago in the corridor outside my front door and I can no longer be less than decent as I nip out to throw garbage down the common chute, hoping not to run into a neighbour. Now, thanks to the Lidless Eye of Sauron that is the CCTV camera, every time I step out, I know I will run into the neighbour electronically and on the record.

Does being watched all the time make us look and behave more decently?

We all probably have had enough footage and sound recorded of us to cobble together a 10-season reality drama. Each of us an accidental star of our own The Truman Show, the 1998 film about a man finding out that his life has been the subject of a live, 24-hour-a-day television programme, and that numerous hidden recording devices have their eyes on him.

Where CCTV footage seems to play a more passive role - hopefully, it won't be used unless a crime has been committed or a cabby shouted at - "shame photography" is a more aggressive use of the camera.

Consider the hot spot that is the reserved seat on buses and MRT trains.

When someone who looks apparently able-bodied has a shut-eye while obviously less-able- bodied folk stand nearby, you can almost hear some people metaphorically flick off the safety catch on their camera phones as they prepare to shoot the sleepyhead. Or maybe the hot spot is a parking spot reserved for the disabled.

Click, caustic caption composed, a photo posted on social media, a person virtually lynched.

Perhaps the hope is that such street justice will nudge us into behaving better. But what if the person being chased by the virtual villagers and their pitchforks turns out to be an innocent party?

What about people with "invisible disabilities"?

A report published this month on the American National Public Radio (NPR) website said it is estimated there are millions of such people in the United States. "You know, it's that invisible nature of an illness that people don't understand," Mr Wayne Connell, founder and head of the Invisible Disabilities Association, told NPR. He started the group after his wife was diagnosed with Lyme disease and multiple sclerosis.

"We'd park in disabled parking and she didn't use a wheelchair or a cane, and so people would always give us dirty looks and scream at us," he recalls. "When they see someone in a wheelchair, okay, they get that they're in a wheelchair. But what if they have chronic pain, what if they have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) - anything from cancer to peripheral neuropathy to autism?"

What do trigger-happy practitioners of shame photography require of such ill people here: N95 masks strapped over their mouths with medical certificates stuck on their foreheads?

How do we walk the fine line of shooting without collateral damage?

This question is something we can think about even if we aren't waving cameras like pitchforks, but are just pointing them at interesting street subjects and clicking away as a hobby.

There was debate online this month about photographs taken of sex workers on Singapore streets, which showed their faces clearly. Women rights group Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) criticised Italian photographer Luciano Checco as it, along with some Net surfers, raised concerns about his subjects having their privacy violated.

Aware posted on its website: "When is a cool picture not so cool? Taking and publishing photographs of sex workers without their consent can have serious consequences for their safety and well-being. Think twice before sharing."

So while taking photos of people in public places is allowed, with legal permission needed only before taking photos or videos for commercial use in private places, street photographers need to exercise good judgment before putting them where many can view them.

This sort of sensitivity is needed more than ever even as the day may come when a drone with camera may buzz by for a drive-by shooting of sorts.

In January, there were 70 applications for permits to fly drones in Singapore. This number is a six-fold increase from the average of 12 per month last year. The Ministry of Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, along with other government ministries and agencies, have started a review of the regulatory framework for drones, addressing the increasing use of unmanned aircraft, and the safety and security concerns that come with it.

There are no laws specifically targeting the use of drones to invade people's personal spaces. But it shouldn't be left up to rules and regulations.

Taking photos and videos is such a great personal pleasure. We should first decide for ourselves how we want to use cameras: As big, curious eyes to see more of this cool world of ours and to make things better? Or to shoot people down?

This article was first published on March 22, 2015.
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