16 March 2014

Photography in KSA

I had a couple friends ask me about why I've alluded to or briefly discussed in previous posts that I am covertly taking pictures when out and about in Saudi Arabia.  So here's the deal. . . . In 2006 the Ministry of Culture and Information issued a decree that allowed the use of cameras in public places.  But, that still doesn't mean that you can just run around taking pictures of anything you'd like.

For example, you still can't take pictures of government buildings or people without their permission.  Taking pictures/videos of people without permission is considered not only an invasion of privacy, but also a violation of rights.  It is particularly taboo to take pictures of women--even if they are fully covered.  Apparently a picture of a woman without her face/hair covered can be used to blackmail her and/or bring shame on her family!  They really do take privacy and modesty seriously over here. 

And even though it is technically legal to take pictures in public areas, that doesn't even mean the local authorities/security will be aware of this law.  I've read multiple stories of people who have been stopped from taking pictures by local police who claim to not be aware of the law.  And a few stories about people who almost had their camera equipment confiscated, and others that had to show that they had deleted the pictures from their camera. 

It is definitely not culturally acceptable to walk around with a camera snapping pictures as you go.  Even the younger generation who have their phones seemingly attached to their hands aren't using the camera feature except on rare occasion.  It's something I've been looking for, but since I've been in the country I've seen maybe a handful of people taking a picture--always with their phone.  I haven't seen one 'real' camera (SLR or pocket camera) used outside of a compound over here.

So I do like taking pictures, but I also try to be very discreet and not include locals in my pictures.  I certainly wish I could walk around with my nicer camera snapping away, but I'm ok settling with taking discreet pictures on my phone so that I can respect the local culture and not draw unwanted attention to myself. 

Although, sadly the laws may change soon making it harder to take pictures and video in public places.  I ran across THIS article the other day.  I'd really hate to see anything that makes it even harder to take pictures in this country!