Dominic Lawson: Camera phones aren't just for peep shows

Though unnerved by a world without privacy, I admit camera phones bring more benefit than harm

Share

There is a Facebook site called Seeing Japanese Tourists Taking Photos of the Most Pointless Things. It has almost half a million followers. This is an ever-widening circle of voyeuristic absurdity: vast numbers of people staring at photographs taken by other people who enjoy stalking Japanese tourists fixated by the need to register their own image of something which is of no obvious interest.

It's a bit like this with the row over the publication of camera-phone snaps of Prince Harry playing strip billiards with some friends and (very recent) female acquaintances in a Las Vegas hotel suite. None of it matters much at all, but public opinion polls are now being taken over the issue: for what it's worth, YouGov in last weekend's Sunday Times recorded that 68 per cent thought it "acceptable for Prince Harry to behave in this way" and 61 per cent thought it was wrong of The Sun "to publish actual pictures of Prince Harry".

There remains the faint possibility that The Sun did not publish "actual pictures" of the third in line to the throne. So fuzzy were they that it would be almost impossible to realise who the naked man was, unless you had not already been told. If they had been produced by the artist Alison Jackson, who specialises in contrived photos of lookalikes of members of the Royal Family, I would have said that she had failed on this occasion.

But I suppose that's part of the pleasure of it for the voyeuristic tendency: the grainier the shot, the more it creates the sense that the viewer is benefiting from an illicit thrill. Nor should we at the posher end of the media be too snooty about The Sun's commercial decision to publish. If news is defined as "the information that someone somewhere doesn't want printed", then for picture-driven publications the same dictum can apply to the visual image.

After Harry's mother was killed through the actions of a drunk driver attempting to evade the incessant attentions of bounty-hunting professional photographers, the popular press – more terrified of being blamed by readers for her death than out of any concern for the feelings of the individuals concerned –declared they would not make her sons' lives as intolerable as hers had become. However, the advent of the camera phone, combined with the development of the internet, has, in any case, rendered the paparazzi irrelevant: or, rather, we are all paparazzi now.

Well, not quite all. I am one of those whose mobile phone does not contain a camera; I have always identified with the man in The New Yorker cartoon, circa 2003, clutching his mobile phone and saying: "Hold on a minute: I think I've just taken a photo of my ear again." But the vast majority of mobile-phone users do have ones with cameras, and – like so many Japanese tourists – they're not afraid to use them, however silly they might look. Actually, like those Japanese, they don't think they look silly: that is why almost all the athletes who paraded at the closing ceremony of the London Olympic Games were busy taking photos of the audience on their mobile phones. It looked ridiculous and slightly undignified to me, but then I am about 30 years older than they are.

Prince Harry is of their generation, and, assuming he was sober enough to notice, it still might not have seemed odd to him that some of the guests in his hotel suite were taking photos of each other in various states of undress. This is relevant to the issue of press regulation: the code of practice of the Press Complaints Commission – which the Palace invoked when asking the press not to publish the photos – states that: "It is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private without their consent." Yet the Facebook generation of which Prince Harry is a fully participating member (Las Vegas is hardly Balmoral) seems to regard that consent as almost implicit.

As much as a world without privacy unnerves me and as livid as I would be if one of my own children's naked form were displayed across the front page of The Sun for the public's entertainment, I reluctantly admit that, overall, this aspect of photographic technology has brought more benefit than harm.

This has been made especially clear during the recent rebellions against tyrannical governments in the Middle East. The murderous activities of the Iranian regime's armed thugs in 2009 as they repressed demonstrations (including the shooting of Neda Agha-Soltan) have been made visible to the outside world, when conventional journalism has not been able to bear witness.

The same technology has also held the law-enforcement authorities in democracies to account. The initial newspaper reports of the death of Ian Tomlinson, during the protests surrounding the G20 summit in London, took the police line that the Met's only role had been to try to save the stricken Tomlinson's life while being pelted with bottles. It was not until the press got hold of a mobile-telephone clip of the scene, taken by a visiting American, that we discovered that Tomlinson had been attacked by a Metropolitan Police officer, and that there had been no "barrage of missiles" at the scene.

So thank goodness for the Japanese electronics industry, which developed the camera phone without a thought in the world other than to make its customers happy.

d.lawson@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour's Jeremy Corbyn arrives to take part in a Labour party leadership final debate, at the Sage in Gateshead, England, Thursday, Sept. 3  

Jeremy Corbyn is here to stay and the Labour Party is never going to look the same again

Andrew Grice
Serena Williams  

As Stella Creasy and Serena Williams know, a woman's achievements are still judged on appearance

Holly Baxter
The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea