Do You Do, or Do You Ask?

I believe in manners, following the rules, and that there is some kind of ultimate fairness in the world that means cheaters don’t prosper (even if I can’t see it…). So I can be a bit of a wimp sometimes. But have you heard the saying “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission?” It means do what you need to do, and then apologize. You may have ruffled some feathers, but at least you’ll have done what you needed to. By asking permission you may be stopped before you can get anywhere.

One year my dad’s work hosted an employee appreciation day at the CNE. (The kind of thing where employees and their families get discounted tickets, and they have themed events scattered around the fairgrounds) My father’s shared philosophy has always included advice like “walk in like you own the place and no one will ask you any questions.” On CNE day, he drove into the fairgrounds and parked on the lawn right behind the band shell. At the end of the day our family of six piled back into the van and headed home. Not one person asked him what he was doing, if he belonged there, or even to move the vehicle. This still appalls my sense of fairness, but it also proves his point. The worst-case scenario is that maybe our van could have been towed. The actual best-case scenario was a primo parking space in the middle of the city. In between, we could have been asked to leave (embarrassing), or ticketed (costly), but we weren’t.  If my dad had asked to park on the band shell lawn, he certainly would have been told no.

Say you need one photograph in an area that requires a permit. I don’t condone illegal behaviour, but I can also see how it’s much easier to just go and take the shot when there’s a good chance you won’t be stopped, and if you are stopped, you’ll likely just be asked to leave. It’s definitely important to assess what’s at stake before taking a risk. For example, are you willing to have your files confiscated for the chance at the perfect shot? Is the parking spot worth a ticket?

Like I said, I’m a bit of a coward – I tend to be the one who asks permission and gets stopped at the gates. But what about you, do you do or do you ask?


Image Sources: Van: CZmarlin Man: US National Archives Crowd: Alessio Damato

1 Comment

  1. I think this is kind of an interesting question. I usually ask and I usually try to do so beforehand and more often than not it’s okay. Otherwise, if I do get stopped I tend to play up the “…but I’m an clueless art student” bit, which I suppose is helped by the fact that I am young, petite, and female (work with what you got right?).

    But with the proliferation if iphones and DSLR’s, this gets a little problematic. I did an outdoor shoot using a rudimentary backdrop and a 4×5 camera and soon enough people were taking photos of me, or worse still, of my subjects and my set up. I guess I can’t lay claim to it, especially when taking portraits with a white backdrop is kind of, well, photography itself and entirely unoriginal. But I felt as if me and my work were a spectacle to these people to be photographed at will and then uploaded to whatever social media they were into. They certainly didn’t ask and when I asked them to at least stop taking photos of me (can I lay claim to my mini studio? I assumed not), they shrugged their shoulders and kept doing it.

    Feeling too shy at the time to say anything, I just let it go but I walked away furious. Just because I am a photographer doesn’t mean you can photograph me, right? (As an aside, I got permission from all my sitters, signatures and all, because it feels that openness and fortitude is the right way to go).

    Sorry if I’m totally ranting here, but in that case permission from me, at the very least, would have felt like the decent thing to do. Surreptitiously sneaking around and behaving like you’re text messaging (when you clearly are not) is just not okay. Brazenly shooting with your DSLR and acting like you can’t hear me is even worse.


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