How Not To Be Seen

Had a good weekend. Went to a con, met some people I'd met previously in person, others I'd only previously met online, and a bunch I'd never met before at all. Took a bunch of pictures, not as good a set as I took at the previous con I attended but okay nonetheless, and posted them online on Monday, my first full day back, which I took off work to recover, both in terms of sleep schedule and health, since I've been a bit under the weather for the last week or so. Had a blast, and looking forward to the next one, whenever I can afford to attend another one.

I'm going to be a bit vague here about the specifics of the con, not that it's any huge secret. Suffice to say it's a group of people brought together by an online game, and this was the year's big meet, spearheaded by the people who create the game and held more or less in their backyard. People always take lots of pictures at con and post links to them on the site's forum afterwards, and I've done it for both cons I've attended so far.

An hour or so after posting the link to my pictures, I logged in at the main site and promptly saw that I had a private message. The person said that they didn't want their image online and asked that I either remove their picture or obscure their face somehow, though they didn't specify which picture, and I really wasn't sure who this person was. For convenience's sake, I'm going to refer to this individual by the name of CameraShy.

I didn't really know which picture CameraShy was referring to, though once I went through the list again I had a hunch which it might be. Some people were posing to have their picture taken, and I was standing right there, so I took a picture too. I put a blurb of some sort under each picture, because it helps enliven the pictures. There's lots and lots of albums full of pictures after each con, and writing a little about each one is more entertaining and helps distinguish my photos a little bit from the others. Under this particular picture, I had accurately recounted:

Actual conversation: "Oh, you want to take a picture too?" "Sure." "I'm not going to look over at you." "That's okay." It was friendlier than it sounds.

Using private messages, I asked if that was the photo, and he said yes. Now, this is a picture of three people standing together, and obscuring one of the faces would be more than a little distracting. I just removed the photo and caption and let him know it was done.

The next thing I know, there's a private message for me on the forums. I head over there to check that out, and get a message from a third party who wrote "[CameraShy] demands any pictures of his face to either be cut or blurred out. thank you".

I frowned, not sure how to take this. It sounded kind of abrupt, but on a second time through it came off more as a warning, kind of a "Heads up." I simply sent back "Already done," because it was, and that was the end of that.

Then I got to thinking about all this. Here's what I get: This was a convention of people who have an internet game in common. The meet was arranged online. All previous meets have resulted in massive amounts of photographs being posted online. This is the site's largest con of the year, hosted by the game's creators. People who couldn't make it were saying months in advance that they were looking forward to the pictures.

And CameraShy attended this meet, not only not wanting his image to appear online, but expecting people to remove any images of him that did end up online.

The way this subject was approached by both individuals who contacted me, I got the distinct impression that my caption for the photo was wrong, and that the dialogue I quoted wasn't really friendly at all. I had removed the photo without much trouble, because I was aware that I had been taking a picture that was set up for someone else. Also, CameraShy was a huge part of the photo and couldn't be obscured without more or less ruining the photo. Also, I really try not to be a dick about things like this. He didn't want the photo online. Removed upon request. No problem.

I wonder, though, if he would have contacted me if his face showed up in a crowd scene. Say, if took a photo of the ceremonial beatdown of the apparently-titanium-reinforced piņata, and he was visible watching it among the crowd of fifty or so onlookers, would he have wanted his face removed from that too? Because I'll be blunt here: I wouldn't have done it.

I understand the desire for privacy and anonymity online. You'll note that I have no pictures of myself linked and certainly don't go out of my way to tell you my real name. Nevertheless, when I attended my first con, I realized that pictures of me were going to end up all over the place, and I made the conscious decision that I was okay with that price, because to attend an event like this is to knowingly appear in public and on film.

In the plainest terms possible, there is simply no reasonable expectation of not appearing online in this situation. You can hope you don't appear, and you can appeal to their generosity to remove any photos of you that do appear, but you can't expect to remain invisible online, and you sure as hell aren't in a position to "demand" anything. Use of individuals' likeness when they appear in public is an issue that there is written law on, and the bottom line is, when you're in public, expect to be seen.

Would CameraShy have wanted his image removed from a crowd scene? I don't know. I didn't post a photo like that, so I never found out. If he did want it removed from such a photo, I'd respond, "No." Again, this is a con. If you attend, you're going to be seen. I'm not altering photos to make someone else happy. If he's there and I take a picture with him in it, tough. If he wants my picture of him taken offline, that's a courtesy, not an obligation. I don't care if he's in the Witness Relocation Program and if his picture is seen by the wrong people he and his entire family will be murdered. If you truly expect your picture not to end up online, don't go somewhere where you know for a fact people are taking pictures that will end up online. I mean, that's really common sense, isn't it?

What really torqued me about the whole deal, I think, is that once I sent the private message to CameraShy telling him the photo was removed, he never sent anything back. No response, no acknowledgement, not even a simple "Thanks" for changing my photo record of the event to his whim. Once I acceded to his demand, I was beneath his notice, and that was the end of any communication. At least the concerned third party who sent the note to me on the forums put a simple "Thank you" at the end.

Dave Barry wrote a book that had a short chapter called "25 Things I Have Learned In 50 Years." The one item in the list that I have never forgotten is #21: "A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person." Perhaps around other people CameraShy is a great person, and charming, and congenial. There may be people who would inform me, "Not only is he generous and selfless, he has personally sacrificed his life on no fewer than six separate occasions so that I might live." To me, however, he was something of a dick. No please, no thank you, no courtesy, just "This is what I want, get it done," orders delivered and expected to be followed.

You may say I'm overreacting to this. I'll concede that possibility. I may be overreacting, especially considering that I promptly removed the photo as soon as the request was made and—you may find this hard to believe after reading this entry, but I swear it's true—I really don't have a big problem with removing the photo. I could call names and use his normal handle and post the photo here and ask "What're ya gonna do about it, hunh?" if I was really worked up about this. Still, one could easily perceive this entire entry as a rant against a man who didn't say "Thank you." It's more than that, but if you choose to look at it that way and accuse me of overreacting, so be it.

But nothing I've said here is wrong, and I apologize for none of it.

I'd like to wrap up with a quick message here. CameraShy—you know who you are—if you're reading this, you know how I feel about this whole situation, and while I won't post any photos taken specifically of you, you know I'm not going to go out of my way to avoid posting photos of other people or events that you happen to appear in. In spite of all of that, though, there's one simple message that I want to say to you, one last thing I want to leave you with, and you can take it however you want:

"You're welcome."

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