#24 – Nosy neighbor?

Frenchwoman Spring-cleaning her cottage. [Alamy image ref. B3ENYP]

The question “Does this image need a Property Release” has raised it’s head a few times again during the past week on the Alamy Forum with numerous opinions being expressed on both sides of the argument… although, in law, there is probably only one.


However, it may depend on which side of the fence – or should I say frontier – you are living. I’m not going to attempt to define the French privacy laws, but simply explain how I feel about situations when I’m taking a photograph over here.


In the example above which was taken in very rural central France – and which has been reproduced three times to date in the UK – I photographed a neighbour’s daughter going about the annual Spring-cleaning of her holiday cottage. Whilst I do know that the privacy laws in France by reputation are said to be as strict as those in star-studded California, I do not know that by fact. But hearsay has made me overly cautious… to the point where I continually engage with people in the street and owners of property in my hopefully engaging Franglais. 

When I take a photo I explain who I am (a reluctant half-rosbif – always stressing I’m also half-Polish and that my father gained French WW2 medals… and of course I always support “Les Bleus” in rugby and football). I also say that I love photographing the French way of life… and if the person then shows genuine interest and can’t stop talking about their woes, facing retirement at 60 (zut alors!), the Common Market, oh, and getting in a quick snipe about Jean d’Arc being burnt at the stake (to which I show added sympathy with a comment about how the awful English didn’t even pay for the firewood!). That usually breaks any remaining tension, or doubt, after which I casually admit that my photos may be sent to a really great library (never mention the high-powered word “agency”) in the UK for use in promoting the feeling of “vive la france” especially across the uneducated English-speaking world!


And it seems to work… I haven’t yet received a writ (touche le bois) and the only images Alamy have ever asked me to remove were as a result of The National Trust brouhaha which I think pales into insignificance when one sees and understands the implications of, for example, original NASA images of spacecraft or astronauts as well as the Eiffel Tower specifically photographed at night being licensed openly without permission on you know where.

So what I do as a loose plan of action is try to be in a public place for my initial shots… and then slowly gain access to the private side of the fence by invite so that any photographs I then take are with certain willingness and perhaps the implied permission of the owner. I know nothing has been signed – and that memory plays conveniently forgetful tricks if and when redress is sought – but I do what I do with a feeling of bonhomie, sharing the pleasures of the person’s life and labours… and not infrequently a glass of red they’ve grown and bottled themselves.

Of course none of the above advice will be a reliable defence if I find myself up in front of a Tribunal, but it stands me in good stead when finding a candid photographic situation turning into a direct contact one which can result in either backing-off quickly… or advancing with a hand outstretched for a friendly handshake.

The woman in the above image was a Parisian and not openly friendly towards me (which is typical of many if not most city dwellers), but her mother, my paysan neighbour, was the opposite… and whilst the daughter ducked back into the doorway to avoid being seen – and then reappeared which was when I clicked the shutter – her mother continued to chat to me whilst laughing at the comical situation of being caught with all their goods and chattels spread about in the garden.

When you think about it, this is a rarely seen scene… usually only witnessed when cleaning up after a burst or a flood. Whilst it may get you into trouble by pointing a camera at your neighbour, you may be able to talk your way around the confrontation… so my final advice is be nosy… shoot first, ask or answer questions later!

Licensed by Alamy under my “a la france” pseudonym to a UK consumer magazine with a print run up to 50,000 as an inside 1/8 page image a total of three times during 2009/10 for around $275… the first usage being timed for the 14th of July… the day of great celebration in France originally commemorating the Storming of the Bastille in Paris in 1789

Perhaps the publication that has used this cameo scene regard it as typical of French country  life desired by English second home owners… and they would not be far wrong. In a strange twist of unwritten opinion, whilst the French hardly ever allow strangers into their homes – it is said that they are not very proud of them – this image shows that the housewife is very conscientious about maintaining hers because she is rigourously cleaning it. Whilst she may not have wanted to be seen doing it – and even less wanted to be photographed doing it – my image of her is not derogatory in any way… which is a very important deciding factor when publishing.
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