Even in America, Filming Graffiti Can Be A Crime

A Banksy on display at a gallery in San Fransisco.

Earlier this week, a photographer who was  facing felony charges for photographing two graffiti artists while they painted a mural accepted a plea deal.  The photographer, Jonas Lara, agreed to pay restitution for damage to the property.  In return the prosecutor reduced the charges  to a charge of disturbing the peace.  (source; source)

Siouxsie was going to blog about how crazy it is to prosecute someone for filming or photographing street artists at work.  The facts in the Lara case, as it turns out though, are messy.   The photographer and the graffiti artists trespassed onto private property, and to do so they broke a gate.   There were also some allegations that the photographer acted more like part of the crew than someone shooting a documentary.  So, while it sounds absolutely absurd that a photographer would be prosecuted for photographing graffiti artists, Siouxsie isn’t going to go there tonight.

Instead, let’s talk about the new documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop. The film is about Thierry Guetta, a filmmaker who started out trying to film a documentary about the world of street art.  Somewhere during the process of filming, Mr. Guetta adopts the moniker Mr. Brainwash and becomes a street artist himself.   The film is all about the intersection of art, law, media and madness.  How great is that?   It  is like a mash up of Bowling for Columbine, Turk 182 and This Is Spinal Tap.

Check out the trailer below.

Photo Credit:


~ by siouxsielaw on May 15, 2010.

One Response to “Even in America, Filming Graffiti Can Be A Crime”

  1. You know it’s been a while since I brushed up on photographic laws, but it seems to me that the photographer would have HAD to be doing something more than photographing a graffiti artist (in this case trespassing) in order to get arrested. As long as the photographer is in a public place, was not personally involvement with the defacement of property, did not put the graffiti artists up to the activity (or hired them to make art on property not their own) it seems like the photographer would legally be within their rights to record the activity. The ethical issues surrounding photography of potentially illegal activities are always fuzzy though, and as a result one should be smart enough to not get their camera involved. I have little patience for photographers that can’t respect that as it makes the lives of their fellow artists more difficult. In the case of graffiti, there are other ways to get the same pictures without challenging the law.

    That’s my 2 cents 🙂

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