« Olympus ZD 14-35mm and 35-100mm f/2 Zoom Lenses | Main | What's Nex »

Monday, 10 May 2010


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

That's interesting Mike. Where would YOU draw the line? If a photographer working a gang story got a tip that a gang murder was going to take place, and photographed it without participating (or calling the police), would that be OK? Is there a line to be drawn somewhere here, or just a lot of grey area to argue over?

I donated immediately after reading this. This could have far reaching effects if the photoNazi's get away with this sort of injustice.

"Is there a line to be drawn somewhere here, or just a lot of grey area to argue over?"

A fair question, but to me this is VERY "gray area."

Documentary photographers can't be held accountable for whatever they're documenting, just as news photographers aren't responsible for the events they're photographing. Of course if he colluded with them in advance then I concede things get considerably grayer.


I am speechless.

Threatening someone with a year in jail because of some paint on a wall that they didn't place there. Meanwhile, investment bankers bring down a country's finances and collect bonuses.

I think that what we think of as reality may just be an episode of the twilight zone. One the reasons for progress in society was to remove capriciousness in criminal prosecution. What's going wrong?

I'm conflicted. On the one hand, photojournalists should be able to document events, good, bad, indifferent, legal or not. But this wasn't really an "event" was it? It was a deliberate act of vandalism that he had a hand in scheduling. And also, part of being a photojournalist is dealing with the consequences of what it takes to get the shoot. Just because you can do something doesn't mean it'll be pain-free.

The problem is that these days everybody is a journalist or a photographer. Digital technology has essentially erased the once existing barrier.

In California, to my knowledge, bloggers are considered journalists, and this alone shows you a fluid line.

As such, who is a photographer? People who make money with it? People who have a camera? People with a flickr account?

The whole story to me smells more like a DA who has to prove something, hence the back and forth with the charges.

"When Is 'Documenting' a Crime?
When it can be reasonably determined to aid or abet the criminal act, in this case vandalism.

I don't know anything about this. Neither do you. But just imagine a slightly different circumstance in which your local police caught a group of kids expressing themselves on the side of your house. One of the kids, caught with a camera rather than a paint can, claims he was simply documenting the other kids trashing your home.

Now how do you feel?

Well in the story he admits he knew a crime was going to take place, but "stayed neutral" meaning he didn't encourage it or participate any way. Is that enough? Do we need to specify which crimes it's OK to do this with and which it's not?

Here's an article on this from a source with which I'm not at all familiar, so take it with a grain of salt :


An interesting quote from the article :
"For the record, I maintain neutrality in my work. I do not encourage, nor do I help plan or anything even remotely close to that. People keep asking if I knew [the taggers] would be there. Of course I knew. I don’t know how that translates into me being guilty of the crime of vandalism. Does a photojournalist with a magazine blindly drive around at night hoping that he stumbles on a story? No, he conducts research and receives tips on where a story might occur."

I think it's also obvious that a photographer doesn't stand completely outside what he's photographing in cases like this. (I think.) And being there to photograph a crime is a pretty huge loophole if it's allowed for acts that you knew about beforehand ("I wasn't part of the drug deal officer, I was just a photographer. See, I've got my camera right here.")

So where do I draw the line? I think somewhere beyond graffiti, but not very far past it. But I'm still having trouble deciding.

What David said...

Interesting case, to say the least. Please keep us updated Mike!

While to me it is obvious that the freedom of expression is endangered, if photographers are made responsible for illegal acts they photograph, I do think the other side of the coin is a valid way of looking at that problem too, in some extreme situations.

I stumbled across this video about a photo of a tortured black man, and the question of the responsibility of the onlooker.


I really think there is no simple answer to the question when it is morally right to simply document, and when we should not.
I' rather err on the side of "it's ok to document", though.


"Lara met the two graffiti artists at an abandoned building in South Central Los Angeles to photograph the pair as they worked on the illegal mural."

"Of course if he colluded with them in advance then I concede things get considerably grayer. Mike"

Well...is scheduling the appointment colluding?

"Artist" or no - defacing property that belongs to someone else, or to the public is not a nice thing to do. The fact that it was an abandoned building doesn't mean that it is free to deface in the name of "art"; would imploding the building as a social statement qualify as "performance art" which would make it O.K.?

Sorry, no sale here on this one. It's O.K. to do the crime as long as you're prepared to do the time, I suppose. But to make an appointment to watch someone else break the law under the guise of "documenting" the illegal act doesn't give one a free pass.

Mr. Lara did the deed, let him now pay his fine.

Mike, you and I will have to disagree on this one.

He wasn't arrested for photography - he was arrested for being one of three guys who were cooperating in putting up illegal graffiti. He wasn't doing it for a news report; he was doing it apparently either to make money or enhance his reputation as a documentarian.

Just because a person is an artist doesn't mean that he can't simultaneously be a criminal. We don't prosecute the person for the artist aspect, we do for the criminal aspect. I don't really think you can argue that artists are so exalted that they are above the law...

Most serious graffiti writers accept that what they are doing is illegal, and some writers would claim that if it isn't illegal, it's not really "legitimate" graffiti -- it's simply outdoor art. They accept that what they're doing can lead to arrest, and most of the top ones, including Shepard Fairey, have been arrested, and without a lot of whining.

Finally, I own a building in LA which I won't identify further except to say that it is used for a business purpose which I suspect almost everyone here would approve of; and it has a wall which is often a target for really crappy graffiti writers, including TVR (Toonerville Rifa, a faction of a long-established and extremely violent street gang) marking its territory. Gang graffiti ain't art, it's vandalism meant to intimidate. We have to pay hundreds of dollars a year to a city organization which comes out and erases the graffiti (and does an excellent job of it.) For us, graffiti has nothing to do with the First Amendment -- it has to do with vandals screwing up our building.


"If a photographer working a gang story got a tip that a gang murder was going to take place, and photographed it without participating (or calling the police), would that be OK?"

I recall just such a thing happening in Japan 20 years ago or so. The press had learned that a yakuza-related murder would take place and had reporters and cameras there when it occurred. There was a big controversy about that, but to the best of my recollection, none of the reporters were prosecuted.

Of course, not being prosecuted and being OK are two different things.

Almost as depressing as the story itself is the ignorance displayed in several of the comments under the linked article.

I wonder how many would find it a gray area were it their house or business that was tagged, but this does raise an interesting point.

Now, I agree that if a photographer just happens upon some taggers doing their work, and takes pictures, it is obvious that said photographer did not commit a crime.

If they rode along with the taggers and knew what was up, well, conspiracy is a valid charge I'm afraid.

It's amazing how the people who want to criticize Lara jump to the, "Yeah, but what if he knew a murder was gonna happen, eh? What then, smarty pants?" argument. The two equate how? Sometimes people can be very strange. This seems to be one of those times.

The guy is being put on trial for taking pictures of graffiti artists doing graffiti?

And people wonder whether we've gone mad or not?

I... I actually am at a loss for words.

Donated. Having been in similar situations (nonviolent crimes, and I'm just there documenting), I hope he gets off.

Let us not meander philosophically here. Cut to the chase.
Let us ask the opinion of the taxpayers of Los Angeles who will ultimately pay for the cleanup/removal of the offending graffiti.
Perhaps, in a spirit of bonhomie, they are also willing to pay his legal fees.



"But just imagine a slightly different circumstance in which your local police caught a group of kids expressing themselves on the side of your house. One of the kids, caught with a camera rather than a paint can, claims he was simply documenting the other kids trashing your home. Now how do you feel?"

Depends on how good the art is, of course.


Quote from PDN:

Lara met the two graffiti artists at an abandoned building in South Central Los Angeles to photograph the pair as they worked on the illegal mural.

It seems to me he had advance notice (and perhaps collaborated with, ie. arranged a time to meet) of what he knew to be illegal activity. That's aiding and abetting.
How is this any different than someone arranging to meet with an arsonist, rapist, terrorist; just so they can get a photograph? We don't know all the facts, but *I* believe he had prior knowledge. That makes him an accessory.

Depends on how good the art is, of course.


Speaking of Bansky, he *may* have dome some work here in Chicago recently.

Your joke at the end of the post falls flat.

Not funny.

John Krill
Photographer in southern California

… if he was an accredited journalist, it’s guaranteed calls would have been made to editors and then the news org’s attorneys, and it would have never reached this stage. Sadly we live in a day and age where traditional media is dying on the vine and more and more people are going it alone to tell stories and assuming ever greater risk without the resources to defend themselves in situations like this… -Banksy

That’s the heart and soul of the matter concerning Jonas Lara. Personally, I can only see him being "guilty" (of anything other than taking photos) if they somehow prove that he was actively participating as a lookout. Unfortunately, the state of law (and justice) in this country has been one big lying joke going on a good decade now.

While we're at it, let's arrest every single photographer who ever took a photograph of anyone doing illegal drugs. And every single photojournalist who's ever taken photographs of war crimes. That also includes embedded American journalists (talk of aiding and abetting), who have witnessed and/or documented war crimes and atrocities (including those committed by American soldiers) should be brought before an international court of law for war crimes themselves!

It just gets creepier and creepier. Now there's talk about not reading Miranda rights to terrorism suspects. Guess who might fit in that category? Photographers!

"Lara has appealed for help with the case to rights organization like the ACLU, but Lara says the organizations have told him they do not get involved in criminal cases."

Actually getting involved in criminal cases is what the ACLU does. Most likely they just feel this case is a loser for all the reasons outlined by other commenters.

"It's amazing how the people who want to criticize Lara jump to the, "Yeah, but what if he knew a murder was gonna happen, eh? What then, smarty pants?" argument. The two equate how? Sometimes people can be very strange. This seems to be one of those times."

Stephen - The two don't equate directly (and no one has had the tone implied by "smarty pants"). No one is saying that every crime is equivalent. But the situations do equate in this way :

-- Photographer knows crime is going to occur beforehand - when and where
-- Photographer takes photos of crime
-- Photographer does not report crime to authorities

It's the same no matter what the crime in that way; But the question is, what crimes is this OK for? I'd argue that it's not very many. The example of murder is simply to illustrate a situation where most people (I assume) would not be OK with the photographers actions.

If you think the photographer should always be charged with a crime, well, that's certainly a valid point of view. If you think that the photographer should never be charged with a crime, I find that less supportable. The murder example illustrates why.

And to those who talk about journalists who witness violent acts, or street photography of drug users, etc.; I'd argue that the prior knowledge of the crime makes a huge difference here. This isn't a photographer stumbling across a crime, not wanting to be involved, and documenting it. This is someone participating - passively, but participating - in the crime. That's why the charge involves abetting, not vandalism itself.

I still wonder about charging the photographer with a crime for something non-violent, the didn't directly harm anyone. I'm starting to think he should still be charged, because in his shoes, I'd feel my actions were wrong. Would I feel differently if he was a journalist acting to inform the public about these kinds of practices? Unfortunately, I think I have to answer "maybe"...

If I were on the jury I would vote to convict. This was a joint venture between the photographer and the "artists" entered into for the mutual benefit of each. The photographer gets material for his project, and the "artists" get recognition.

Taking pictures of what you come across is one thing, coordinating with a criminal for mutual benefit from a crime (be it the crime of vandalism or the crime of murder) is another.

Mike, regarding your quote "Depends on how good the art is, of course."... If Picasso painted my house without permission, I'd have him arrested.

To call these vandals "artists"? Yeah, right. Can you give me your address? I have some cans of spray paint I need to "empty" before I recycle them...

Hmmm - an interesting philosophical question IMHO.

The case at hand is easy to solve me thinks: let the owner of the building decide whether they need to have the spray removed, then estimate the costs or better: get any real offers for removing it, and let the sprayers - and maybe partly the photograph - pay for it. Maybe try to find out why the building is abandoned, and if there's any additional crime onto the society with letting buildings fall apart and rot without doing anything, so yes, maybe charge and prosecute the owner as well.

But the question still remains an interesting one: when is documenting actually a crime?

In my moral book - which is written nowhere except somewhere inside where one can have a feeling for what's right or wrong (should those terms exist), there are laws which have higher orders or ranks than others. "Don't kill" for instance is such a law, and watching others kill someone without trying to help the victim would be a crime. No arguing about "Didn't have the time since I had to document this" would suffer for net even trying to have helped to avoid the killing.

Or take any accident; they happen daily, and about everywhere in the world. It's a grotesque thought to hold a camera in the face of someone you could have helped, isn't it?

That being said, help can only get that far of course; it's a thin line here. If you'd endanger yourself with trying to help, things get difficult. If someone jumps off the nearest skyscraper there's not much you can do of course.

But to see someone laying in his or her blood, and not trying to help, or event to hold a camera in his or her face instead, that would be a serious crime in my understanding.

Just my 2 (Euro) cents...


He deserves a fair trial. It's up to the court to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he is in fact guilty of aiding and abetting. I'm no lawyer, but according to Wikipedia that means he needs to be guilty of participating in the crime in some way. If they can prove that he was a lookout, or that he helped to choose the location, they may have a case.

I don't share the opinions that some seem to have that just because he met them there he's somehow complicit in the crime. We don't have enough data to know just what "met" means in this context. You could walk by a crime in progress and meet the offenders.

Consider the following possible scenarios:

  1. You happen upon a pair tagging a building, you stop for a moment and watch, then move on without reporting the crime. Are you aiding and abetting?
  2. You happen upon a pair tagging a building. You decide to take out your camera and quickly snap a photo, then move on. Are you guilty of aiding and abetting?
  3. You happen upon a pair tagging a building. You take out your camera and begin taking photos, staying through the rest of the event. You have no communication with the pair. Are you aiding and abetting?
  4. You hear that a group is going to tag a building and decide to go check it out with your camera. You photograph the event. Are you aiding and abetting?

Remember that in order to be guilty of aiding and abetting, "it is necessary that a defendant 'in some sort associate himself with the venture, that he participate in it as in something that he wishes to bring about, that he seek by his action to make it succeed." (Supreme Court via wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aiding_and_abetting). So the question here is whether Lara's intent with his camera was to get the
tagger's to succeed or not. Perhaps it was, or perhaps he wanted to photograph the event and whatever conclusion it led to.

It looks like an interesting case, and one that will need to be played out in court.

The only issue at hand is whether this person, one of three apprehended, should charged with the others. Everything else that's been discussed is relevant to his guilt or innocence, which is what a trial is for. If I am ever charged with a crime, I hope I will have a real trial, and not one conducted in opinion columns with the jury using bits and pieces of random evidence as the facts of the case.

That said, from what I understand, this person went with the other two, or perhaps met them on the scene, for the purpose of participating in a crime. That seems to me to justify his being charged. With a good defense, his arguments of innocence may prevail at trial. I don't have (1) a complete knowledge of the facts, and (2) knowledge of and training in the law, so I can't judge the case. I hope the judge and jury can.

Maybe it would have been a wiser choice for this photographer to have disassociated himself from known criminals.


I'm not a lawyer, but it seems to me that a succession of half a dozen charges made and dropped for a single arrest makes the case look weak.

"Now how do you feel?"

Exactly the same, I think, as long as the guys with the spray cans are treated appropriately and justice is served. In my country, we believe in presumption of innocence. And it's not a crime to take pictures, anyway. Trespassing or loitering, OK, charge the kid with that. In fact, the kid with the camera probably did me a favor by recording evidence.

And why not send the message that taking pictures is a more acceptable activity than tagging?

Stan B. makes some good points. A very interesting point about more and more photojournalists having to go it alone. Actually, I don't think an "accredited" journo would have even rated phone calls to her news org's attorneys, but because credentials give authorities some assurance about motives and role. The flip side is that in a world of freelancers, anyone with a camera can claim journalistic or artistic intent (not that ambiguity alone justifies criminal charges).

I too was wondering whether some of the odd presumptions some commmenters hold are supposed to apply to other documentary photography contexts, especially the presumption that photography encourages criminal behavior. I would have thought that most people understand photographs to be potential evidence.

Also shocked that some people equate spray painting with rape, murder and wanton destruction with explosives. WTF?

Situation 1: A news crew from local TV station("professional journalists") is set up for an unrelated story, and while waiting, records a group vandalizing a building from a large distance away through a very long lens. They may or may not call the cops.
Situation 2: A private citizen with camera looks out window of office or home, and sees vandalism, and snaps some shots, but doesn't report crime.
Situation 3: A photographer hangs out with the teeenage proto-criminals(taggers), and meets them at/follows them to the location of vandalism, shoots photos of them(up close) during vandalism. Naturally, he doesn't call the cops on himself.
The very-next step in my progression is when the criminals video-record themselves doing the crime. Overall, it's somewhat gray, but I can't shake my notion that the 'photographing' is not the crime.

Fascinating. Cultural differences abound. Here's a transcript of a story on the ABC radio (in Oz) "Melbourne graffiti classic painted over"
Not that everyone in Melbourne is in favour of graffiti, by any means. I consider tagging to be stupid, but then, I'm of a different age (and age group). But I do enjoy the "outdoor art" along the railway cuttings, here in Melbourne -- the world mecca of graffiti (!).

There does seem to be quite a difference between property crimes, and those against people. What if the police had been notified in advance by Jonas Lara? My guess is they wouldn't have even turned up, unless it was an especially quiet time.

I don't understand the slippery slope arguments. It is not murder these people were doing. Graffiti is their art. Jonas Lara is documenting a subculture that consider themselves artists. People who murder don't consider that to be anything other than murder - there is no other subtext. If Jonas HAD been documenting something that did have such an extreme, then we would have that conversation again. If you don't consider that expression art, then paint it over. Don't equate it with a more serious crime.

My brother dabbled a bit on grafitti; even so, I'm firm on calling grafitti just what it is, namely vandalism.
And pretending to "just document" the vandals... Sorry, too thin a veil. Especially as the city trashers take pride on being advertised.
And Mike, do remember that 99% of the people that come here are photographers; even so, many can't find an excuse for the so-called „photographer” (mr. Lara). More: many of those that jump to defend him are only acting on a photographers' gang spirit, much like some robbers would aid and defend one of their own.

Donated. On account of me suspecting it really was art and not just tagging, to have been worthy of being "documented".
Overall though I agree with the comments made earlier by Ray and John Camp regarding the price you pay for serious photo journalism.
I suppose the way Mr. Lara now deals with this case and it's outcome will have a lot to say.
Please keep us posted. Controversial texts make life interesting.

The article says "Lara met the two graffiti artists at an abandoned building in South Central Los Angeles to photograph the pair as they worked on the illegal mural."

Does this mean he just stumbled upon them there; "got lucky" as it were?

Or does it mean he knew when and where the illegal activity was going to occur, arranged to meet them there, and didn't inform any authorities about it? I'm not sure what my obligations are in general if I am in that position, but I could understand it if I have a legal obligation to inform authorities.

The authorities probably need to sort out whether he was or was not an associate who came along to record the activity, like you see some criminal groups have one person come along and video the crime. I could understand them being suspicious that maybe he was.

I see the police in the U.K. are still at it, and not a spray can in sight


Paul Mc Cann

Maybe a better title for this article would be "When is documenting a crime a crime?".

Or a more long windedly but even more accurately: "Is documenting a crime that is being perpetrated as you watch and at which your presence arranged in advanced with the criminal a crime?".

You could have a lot of fun arguing about whether graffiti is art or crime (or both!), whether this photographer really did aid and abet this crime, and if so what kind of sentence would be appropriate, but do I have any sympathy with a guy who makes an arrangement with a known criminal to attend something which he is well aware is a crime being committed? Err...... no.

Well what about those 'Human Fly' folks that climb buildings without permission? Or the B.A.S.E. jumper who illegally parachuted from a tall building in Seattle a few years back. Someone always seems to know in advance it's going to happen. Have those photographers been arrested and charged? A lot of the time it seems a photographer is there to document the parachutist's launch from the structure.

1. We now live in a world in which visual stories get more attention and are easier digested & understood than written ones.
2. When it is in fact forbidden to 'write' such stories about anything illegal, unpleasant or offensive, a very dark underworld is created of which no ordinary citizen can have even a beginning of a realistic notion.
3. When it is in fact forbidden to 'write' such stories [...], an image of our world is created that is false and a lie - an image that is, that would only befit an advertising campaign.
4. Given our collective intense 'hunger' for images that tell us something, we should all understand and appreciate that image makers simply have to be present at the scene to be able to make their (our!) images. Unlike writing reporters - although they also will need to be present at the scenes they write about at least some of the time to be at all believable.
5. God help us if the law decides which images may be made and wich not.

One thing that hasn't been mentioned at least in the comments I've read thus far is that the documentation of graffiti encourages graffiti by extending its reach and fixing an otherwise ephemeral art form in print, and I would suspect that that is the real reason the prosecutor would go after the photographer documenting the work. In that sense, the photographer is "aiding and abetting," but I don't know that that could be the legal, material sense of "aiding and abetting," so they have to charge that he was acting as a lookout or something along those lines.

In some countries there are laws against documenting crimes like terrorism, where the documentation itself could be seen as an encouragement to similar crimes that depend on publicity. Since we don't have too many laws like that (one example would be the New York "Son of Sam" law that makes it illegal for convicted criminals to profit from books or movies about their crimes), and it doesn't seem like there is a relevant law about graffiti in this case, maybe the prosecutor is trying to bend the law to address this issue.

Instead of talking about philosophical questions like what to do if he knew there would be a murder committed, let's take a look at something else:

"The police held Lara for eight hours before telling him he was being charged with felony vandalism. He was held for 26 hours in total.

Two weeks after being bailed out by his wife, Lara was arraigned and the charge of felony vandalism was downgraded to a misdemeanor. At a pretrial hearing Gottesman told Lara that rather than vandalism, he was now being charged with damaging a fence at the scene. Then the charge was later switched again, this time to the misdemeanor of aiding and abetting. Prosecutors now claim Lara was acting as a lookout for the two graffiti artists."

First it's felony vandalism, then misdemeanor, then damaging a fence, then aiding and abetting misdemeanor. I call crap. They are apparently desperate for something to stick to him.

In other words, they don't really have anything on him and are just being pig-headed, as policemen and prosecutors are sometimes known to be after they make a mistake.

After he's acquitted, what then? I am not a lawyer, but I think he has pretty big chances of being acquitted. How are they going to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he was a lookout? The guy only has to produce the photos to show that he couldn't have been looking out for the police. Will they switch charges again?

I guess this guy should be doing a few years by now http://www.artcoup.com/

In the debate about great TV shows somebody recommended a UK comedy called Alan Partridge. Totally agree with the poster, it's one of the best things to have been on TV.

Copper to Alan: I know when I' being lied to Alan and I don't like it.

Alan: With all due respect, if you hang about with criminals all day ya gonna get lied to!

I guess if you take up the life of a documentary photographer you're going to see many things that others don't see. You're going to get lied to, confessed to. You're going to get shot at, embraced, punched, kicked, mistrusted and trusted. Seen as a collaborator, a hawk, a dove, an exploiter, a participant and a witness. This is one of those known known's, is it not?

"The bottom line is that it all boiled down to the age-old "Kill the Messenger" syndrome. Like Cornell Capa said about the whole affair, I had only two choices: I could either record it, or walk away"

Bruce Haley.

Here's to those that don't walk away

"Maybe it would have been a wiser choice for this photographer to have disassociated himself from known criminals."

Except in this case the "known criminals" are also "known artists" and the photographer's project is to document artists.

All these people siding with the authorities...no wonder we are moving from a liberal society to an authoritarian one.

The only time I ever saw graffiti I minded was when it was on a ROAD SIGN on the Brooklyn-Queens Expwy. I thought that was going a little far--people need to see the road signs. Otherwise I'm seldom offended by folk art, even guerrilla folk art.

Here's a less loaded question: in the model railroading community, you can actually buy decals of graffiti to apply to model railroad cars. Some claim it is correct and proper to do so because the goal is to make the most realistic models possible--they go to great lengths to be faithful to "the prototype," even modeling characteristic dirt and rust and changing details to be true to actual real boxcars. Others deplore graffiti in the real world, and refuse to "honor" it by modeling it on their scale cars.

Should model railroaders include graffiti on their model boxcars?


I'm with Erlik. Photographing is not a crime, and BS attempts criminalize it does none of us any good.


Mike wrote, "The only time I ever saw graffiti I minded was when it was on a ROAD SIGN on the Brooklyn-Queens Expwy.... Otherwise I'm seldom offended by folk art, even guerrilla folk art."

Interesting. So... if someone spray-painted the word "F*CK" on the front of your house in 5-foot-high letters because they considered that "guerrilla art," you wouldn't mind? You paint over it, they do it again that night, you still don't mind? Next day and next night, same thing happens, you still don't mind?

Or do you only "not mind" unsolicited graffiti when it's on someone else's (or everyone else's/public) property?

Graffiti is vandalism, not art; I have to agree with John Hart's comments on this one!

The Invader travels the world leaving ceramic mosaics of space invaders on city walls.


The guy who shot the Invader when he came to my city should have the book thrown at him. Not running it through Noise Ninja is a true crime. They're dotted around the the city and they're much loved and totally illegal


"Photographing is not a crime, and BS attempts criminalize it does none of us any good."
Well, they aren't charging him with photographing. And no, I'm not just trying to argue semantics. If you don't think what he did qualifies as aiding and abetting, then that's fine. Given what I've read about the case, I may agree with you. (And it sounds like he's been getting the run-around.)

But I also don't think that this is an attack on photographers or photography. I think this is more of an attack on someone trying to profit from a crime, and not reporting it. But I'm STILL struggling with whether this particular crime warrants any attention - it seems to be right about where I think the line should be drawn.

To go the other way with the analogies (opposite of the murder analogy), what if someone told Lara that he was going to run a stop sign, and Lara had been there to film it? (Or time it, or write about it, etc.) I don't think too many people would find it OK to prosecute him for it.

And as for you not finding graffiti objectionable, Mike, I'd guess that you're in the minority. I think the NYC subways and the effort to keep them graffiti free are a good example.

I do find graffiti objectionable. The 99% of it that isn't art, anyway. I find bad photographs objectionable too. And bad art. And bad theater. I find lots of stuff objectionable. But I also find transparent attempts to criminalize photography for no good reason objectionable. They're threatening this man with a year in jail. Do you really think that's reasonable? Are the taggers themselves going to get a year in jail? Should they?



I reside and pay taxes in Los Angeles, and I've donated to the Mr. Jonas's defense fund.


You contrast the making of news reports with activities intended to make money or enhance one's reputation. Do the people involved in producing legitimate/traditional news reports work for free? Are journalists unconcerned about their reputations? I don't really see a compelling distinction here.

Stan B.'s argument is quite to the point, re: war crimes, drugs and such, like prostitution, for instance.

But, since I don't quite believe everyone here who has already convicted Lara would line up to call for prosecution of any photographer who ever shot these situations, that means we have a very interesting disconnect at work here - and I'd submit that it has to do with the "crime" being "documented".

Most people (myself included) don't really appreciate graffiti, and for the good reason that there's a ratio of Banksies-to-crap of approximately one to one billion. But, more importantly - and many posts here have revolved exactly around this - the "what if it were yours" pseudo-argument comes into play, whereas (I'd expect, for most readers) with prostitution, war crimes and illegal drugs, it can't. Graffiti is a defacing of property, and boy, do we care deeply about property. More than we do about hookers or foreign corpses anyway.

At any rate, conflating the photographers with the "criminals" is a spurious argument if there ever was one.

And yes, "if it were" my house, I'd try to get the "artists" charged. But I'd never file a complaint against a guy who "documented" their work. That is simply nuts.

"All these people siding with the authorities...no wonder we are moving from a liberal society to an authoritarian one."

The thing is I am not looking at him as a Photographer, I am seeing this as what it is, a case of vandalism. That said, I am not really against the idea of graffiti or street art, and like quite a bit of what I see. It's just think there are known risks in the form and most people doing it know it and accept the risk!

This has very little if anything to do with photographers rights. The sky is STILL not falling people.

I come across a lot of graffiti when exploring abandoned buildings, and it tends to be much more elaborate and artistic than the average gang tag because being out of the way gives them more time to work. On the other hand, gangs want to show they control high-traffic areas, I don't think they tend to care too much about abandonments. Also, many abandoned buildings have been left unmaintained and been ravaged by the elements to the point that graffiti is the least of the owner's concerns if they ever want to use the building for anything again.

I don't know all the details of this location, but a couple of things I noticed in the article were that going through a fence was involved in getting to the location, and that the taggers were noticed by police helicopter. This suggests to me that the location was in fact out of the way, and left to rot by the owners because there wasn't private security onsite that caught the guys or notified police. About as far from the "gangbangers tagging your house" moral panic scenario as you can get.

"Photographing is not a crime, and BS attempts criminalize it does none of us any good."

Photographing as such may not be a crime (I use the word "may" because I don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of the laws related to photography) but it certainly seems possible to break other laws while in the process of photographing. For example, if I broke into someone's house and started taking pictures of the interior, and got arrested, my pleas that I was an "architectural photographer" building a portfolio would fall on deaf ears. I would be charged with breaking and entering at the very least. Similarly, I don't have the right to mount a hidden camera in a women's locker room just because I'm interested in nude photography.

I can come up with more examples like this but I think you get my point: Being involved in the act of photography doesn't automatically absolve some of any other illegal acts they may commit. We can debate ad infinitum whether Mr. Lara did in fact commit illegal acts but the only debate that matters is the one that takes place in a court of law. Right or wrong, his actions got him there and if he and his lawyer can mount a good enough defense his actions will get him out. Let's see what actually happens and why.

Graffiti is vandalism, not art

Now it's my turn to agree with Mike. :) Only, I'd lower the percentage to 90%, in accordance with Sturgeon's Law. :))))

Yes, 90% of graffiti is garbage: kids desperately trying to confirm their existence -- or the membership in a group that confirms their existence -- by any means they can. The modern equivalent of "Marcus Didius Falco was here". :)

I've also seen terrific graffiti, though. Banksy is just one example. He is funny, witty, often politically scathing and correct in his assessments. That's not vandalism, for sure.

"So... if someone spray-painted the word "F*CK" on the front of your house in 5-foot-high letters...you wouldn't mind?"

No, I'd want him arrested. And I'd thank the fellow who took a picture of him doing it...and I *wouldn't* want that fellow arrested.

Let's stay clear about what we're talking about here.


"Should model railroaders include graffiti on their model boxcars?"

They should do whatever they want -- knock themselves out making their model as realistic as possible, or build an ideal world that doesn't include stuff they hate, or do a layout that's really about all the incredibly cool graffiti. It's their model.

This doesn't, for me, impinge at all on any questions about real graffiti; where very often real people are having their property vandalized and have to spend time and money fixing it.

Embrace the power of "and".

Some graffiti is certainly art (the percentage varies a lot by city and neighborhood, I think); by some definitions all of it is.

Nearly all graffiti is vandalism (painted on somebody else's property without their permission).

"where very often real people are having their property vandalized and have to spend time and money fixing it."

Pardon me, but neither of those things has been established. Perhaps the building is an eyesore and has been cited for negligence or been condemned; perhaps it's owned by investors who have never seen it or some corporation which is "squatting" on the real estate in case its value ever goes up; perhaps it's never going to be cleaned up one way or another.

I don't have a lot of facts here, but neither do you. In any case, we're not talking about the vandalism/graffiti art. We're talking about the guy who TOOK PICTURES of the vandalism/graffiti art.


I can't believe it!

I'm writing you from Argentina. This episode reminds me of one I experienced in our country during the military regime, back in the early 80s, when together with a friend I took photos of a building of supposed "strategic" importance and we both were arrested and taken to the police station, films seized, etc.
To make a long story short, we had big luck, we knew an army general and they let us make a call, so he took us out. I don't want to imagine what would have happened otherwise in those dark years...

Respectfully: this Jonas Lara-case is completely crazy and absurd!!!

How sad.

BTW, graffitis can be a beautiful form of art and Buenos Aires is full of it - or do you prefer a world a la Truman Show...?

First, apologies all around for the god awful sentence structure at the end of my first comment.

But are all those hell bent on getting their pound of flesh from Jonas Lara also up for convicting and incarcerating the military photographer who documented the My Lai massacre- as it occurred? You've seen the pictures, you've read the story... gonna let him get away with it?

If you follow the link below and go shot 11 on the set of pictures entitled Gangs, you'll see tributes written on a wall to people killed, presumably down to gang violences etc. There's no shot of anybody actually writing on the wall but had Boogie, the photographer captured somebody doing just that and then be arrested for it would just be ludicrous to me.


How the hell can you to take a set of pictures based around graffiti and the people who create it, without showing its creation? If the answer is you can't, how on earth are photographers meant to document anything that's subversive in a true in-depth way without being arrested?

Gosh. This almost reminds me of the brouhaha regarding Jill Greenberg's End Times. To paraphrase Charles Schulz, there are four things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, children, and graffiti.

"I'm with Erlik. Photographing is not a crime, and BS attempts criminalize it does none of us any good.


I know this thread is mercifully dying but I'm nonetheless compelled to try to sharpen my point.

I agree that photography, per se, is not a criminal act. But there are two issues that may obliterate such simplicity.

1. It appears, according to the news story, that the photographer previously conspired to photograph a criminal act. This may be construed to have encouraged the vandals but, in any case, I'm quite confident that this makes him an accessory to the crime. It doesn't matter if he "documented" the act with a camera, pen and paper, an audio recorder, or an easel and canvas. He's an accessory to a criminal act.

2. Robert Noble, John Camp, and several others, hit a true nail here; context is not the issue. It's romantic to interpret "graffiti" as colorful guerrilla art made by talented poor kids. That's rare, Mike. The cast majority of graffiti I see here in Chicago is entirely analogous to male dog pee spots on walls and hydrants. Territorial markings and expressions of social hatred and resentment left by feral idle boys and young men. But even if the median quality was that of a Matisse painting it's still vandalism.

Photographing the graffiti the day after it was finished is "documenting". Photographing the act of vandalism is complicity which, if this was the accurate case, should be deeply punished commensurately with the vandals.

Nearly all graffiti is vandalism (painted on somebody else's property without their permission).

I would welcome some of Banksy's graffiti, done with my permission or not. :)

Is the CEO of BP going to get a year in jail
for "spray painting" the gulf?

So Mike how would you feel if the photographer in front of your house knew beforehand what the painter was going to paint and where?



Have a good look around the web under -- Section 44 and Photography -- some wonderful YouTube videos produced by the Guardian Newspaper in the UK about *lack of* photographers rights!

Quite ironic really that PDN's story stems from Los Angeles!

Also, can we keep in mind that just because graffiti can be art, does not mean that the act of defacing someone else's property, i.e. vandalism, is intrinsic to that art form. Graffiti can be done on surfaces that the artist owns or has obtained permission to use, and by that simple expedient becomes perfectly legal. A trip to the courthouse to find the owner of record, a phone call and an offer to create a mural on their building, and an offer to repaint/remove after they're done, just a little legwork and some calls, and no one gets arrested, no trial, no MFA in jeopardy. People arguing that 'graffiti is a victim-less crime' (I paraphrase) miss the point that in addition to graffiti, by the choice of venue (which wasn't really a function of the work) the artists deprived the legitimate owner of some use and/or value of his property. I wonder if photographers would be so nonchalant about someone using an image without permission, which is likely a lesser theft of value.

gerry, I am following this thread quite a time and I am glad that you add a strong voice on Mike's side (and some others' and mine). As someone mentioned earlier, we care so much about property, much more than about prostitutes or the life of foreigners. Btw., the notion of foreigners becomes pretty weird in the context of an online discussion.
However, I already knew there is a lot potential amongst the average TOP reader to condemn Mr. Lara. Notably the arguments are always the same, always come from the same kind of people and always show a lot of selective momentum in dealing with questions of personal freedom. That is, only those who possess are allowed to express themselves, and in this educated and artsy context especially only those who have gone through an officially accepted art education are allowed. Only the Leica-M9-Man with his own gallery representation may show his work, which is then considered as art by nature - to put it exaggerated.
And yes these people would prefer a trueman show world, and rather go to some poorer region to photograph graffiti there. Thats their imperialistic and chauvinist understanding of the world as they want it to be.

Another notable thing is that they seem to be unimpressed or rather affirmative of the degree of the penalty, seeing nothing wrong in sending a man one year to prison for photographing tag sprayers! Hello?! I see that (as gerry knows from experience and I think from anticipation of things to come) as a threat to what the American constitution should guarantee the people. Briefly, a threat to democracy and freedom. There is a mentality going around that is relentless in demanding law and order, from east to west as it seems.

Just to make clear what I was talking about: the photographer and the sprayers. Because, though there might be a difference between spraying and shooting it, I detect a sick tendency where wealthy and socially well positioned people demand harsh actions against any even potential threat to the safety of (not even their) property. This is becoming an obsession, and gerry knows well where these things lead to.

This is scary stuff. Perhaps that's why so many of these comments have such an angry tone.

"Quite ironic really that PDN's story stems from Los Angeles!"

Also quite ironic: quoting Jonas Lara:

"Part of the artist portrait series was featured in an exhibition put together by the Cultural Affairs Department of Los Angeles."


"Thats their imperialistic and chauvinist understanding of the world as they want it to be."

Wow, and I thought I could be an anti-graffiti liberal. If only the government would provide galleries to all these taggers the world would be safe for individual artistic expression.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007