These days, whether you like it or not, your photogenic house may be a prime location for tourists’ photoshoots. Take “T,” for instance, who lived in one of the three picture-perfect houses with pastel trim on Rainbow Row in Savannah, Georgia. In May 2017, her home’s very Instagrammable exterior was the backdrop for a travel blogger’s carefree action shot, which included this bit in the caption:
This was about 3 seconds before the little old lady living in the green house came out and scowled at me for taking pictures in front of her home (which mind you is famous in Savannah and mentioned on all of the trolley tours). If it were me, I would have taken advantage of the tourist attention and started a mimosa stand or something!
Posing in front of photo-worthy facades, from famous landmarks to street murals, is nothing new. But with the rise of influencers on the world’s most popular photo app, snapping photos in front of or on someone’s property — when adorable porches and picturesque stoops are involved — brings up issues of privacy and etiquette. At Curbed, Alexandra Marvar explores homeownership in the age of the Instagram travel influencer.
Halpern’s brand, Live Like It’s the Weekend, asks the question: “Wouldn’t it be freaking awesome if people […] felt free to follow their passions every day, not just on the weekends?” Her curated target audience is the “creative female traveler,” her feed a litany of styled jet-setting and starry-eyed wonder. Sometimes she breaks to reflect on the personal, disclosing a struggle in a caption, reminding us that we shouldn’t assume a person is as they appear—that they may not be the look they’re giving you. For Halpern, discussing the personal details of her life—including the difficult ones—is right on brand. She shares her thoughts openly with her followers, right alongside a post plugging a jumpsuit she loves or a spa she just visited. And her followers seem to love it.
They liked the post of T’s house too (1,581 times, last I checked), but to identify a private home and evaluate the behavior of its owner to an audience of 60,000 isn’t the same as evaluating a resort stay or an outfit, things given to her or that she paid for. The act ate at me, and at T’s family. What right did she have?
Halpern has every right to snap such a picture from public property. We all do. She has every right, as the copyright owner of her photographs, to use them for commercial gain. She is perfectly welcome to use a social media caption as a platform to rally moral support from digital disciples, a feature of social media we all love. Save for some forms of name-calling, and any certain nuisance (excessive noise, blocking the sidewalk, and so on), the law allows for all of this.
But since Instagram exploded into the world in 2010, photography—travel photography in particular—has evolved faster than the law can accommodate. Where the law falls short, we have ethics—moral principles that guide our conduct in business and life. And in the application of our ethics, we have etiquette—a societal code that shows us how to be polite.