San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair is a well-known BDSM gathering that brings together enthusiasts from across the globe, many of whom arrive decked out in full gear or no clothing whatsoever. A recent sign at the festival is causing a stir, however, as it compares photography without consent to sexual assault in what some are calling an overstretch in the least and deeply offensive in the worst. This sign follows 2016’s much less confrontational though no less controversial “Ask First” campaign that implored street photographers at the Folsom Street Fair to seek permission first before shooting photos.
The sign present at the fair reads: “Gear is not consent. Nudity is not consent. Ask first before photographing or touching someone. No means no.”
San Francisco Chronicle freelance photojournalist Nathaniel Y. Downes was one of the more prominent voices to raise concern about the sign, telling Peta Pixel: “They are saying that taking photos of people in a public place is the same as touching people inappropriately…I commented directly to their Facebook page and after receiving replies to my comment as well as ‘likes’, my comment and the replies have been deleted. I think this kind of campaign is becoming more and more popular. Most older photographers know our rights… And clearly, the organizers do as well (or they would have chosen dialog over suppression). But younger photographers and younger PR folks may not.”
One of the main issues people see with the sign is that the Folsom Street Fair takes place in public and is considered a public event. Downes says that expectations of privacy while attending a public event could be extended to other events that are not the same as the Folsom Street Fair, such as at political rallies.
“The state of dress/undress is not a part of the first amendment…This is why it is an important story. It is a slippery slope. If one fair says you cannot take photos here, then later a political rally/protest asks for the same considerations,” Downes told Peta Pixel.
Further, he chaffed at the comparison of photography to sexual assault.
The Folsom Street Fair organizing staff Executive Director Patrick Finger responded to the criticisms by highlighting that, “There are some attendees who prefer to not be the focus of a photograph,” and that obtaining permission was a simple matter of showing “respect.”