I wrote this post a while ago, but I kept it stored away in my draft folder, for the simple reason that I kept worrying someone in my local community would think I'm talking about them. Because this issue comes up often enough (this tenet of privacy is broken often enough) that I didn't want anyone to think I had them specifically in mind when I wrote it.
But given the posts that've been coming out the past couple days, I thought I'd share my personal opinion on this topic.
Often at kinky events, organizers will ask a photographer to offer his or her services to their guests. The photographer will take photos—with the consent of the individuals in the photo, of course—and in return, they ask for a small gratuity for their services. The rights to the photos always go back to the people in the picture, because the photographer knows the importance of confidentiality, especially in our community. They bank their reputations on their skills of discretion. (At least, if they're smart.)
But you'll also often have people—not professional photographers, just common laypeople with cameras on their phones—take photos of their friends and scenes. And the question becomes, who owns the rights to the pictures?
My answer is actually very short, because it's very simple: everyone in the photograph. Everyone in that picture has equal rights to the picture itself.
Which means, if you are the photo "holder," and you want to show that photo to anyone else? Everyone in the picture must consent.
I realize this gets frustrating for some. They take (or have someone else take) awesome photos of themselves Topping or bottoming, looking ravishing, feeling gorgeous. The scene is very hot—like, boner-inducing hot—and they just want to show it off to the whole damn world.
Can't do it. Not unless everyone in the photo consents.
It doesn't matter to me either how many identifiable parts are displayed in that photo. As long as any part of a person can be determined to be them personally—them, and nobody else—then they get a say in what happens to that photo.
This is often not an issue for couples in a D/s dynamic. They decide far in advance if they want their photos blasted out to the world—or not. If one of them does but one of them doesn't, it's usually pretty clear which one of them is going to get their wishes granted. Consensual non-consent, it works for photos, too.
But when a couple breaks up? Now they both have equal rights to the photos. It doesn't matter to me if the couple was together for ten years, and every single kinky photo they own is of both of them together. If one of them does not want the other passing around those pictures, the photos should not be passed around. Period. End of story.
"But they gave me consent while we were together," someone will say. Too bad. Consent has been revoked. You do not have the right to show off those pictures.
"But this picture does not show their face," someone will say. Does it show their hair? Their tattoo? That cute little necklace they had made especially for them at that boutique shop that closed down two years ago? If they can be identified in that photo in any way, then they have the rights to that photo just as much as you do, and once again: You do not get to show it off to whomever you please.
"I'm only showing it our mutual friends, not blasting it all over Fetlife," someone will say. So what? What makes you think you get to decide who sees that photo and who doesn't?
The bottom line is, photos have a nasty way of becoming a weapon in the wrong person's hands.
They are a way to out someone as kinky; that much is obvious.
They also become a way to prove someone was at a particular kink event. Well, guess what—not everyone wants everyone else to know where they've been and what they've been up to.
The worst I've seen is when vindictive exes use old photos to try to maintain a measure of control over their previous lover. Even after they've been asked to take photos down from their profiles and websites, they still keep them up…specifically because they know their exes hate it.
This, in my opinion, is a clear consent violation.
Look, if you did a scene with your partner that was so hot and sexy you just haveto show it off to the whole world, just make sure you have their consent to show it off first. Maintain a good relationship with them—even after you break up—so you can continue to have their consent to show off those pictures. If they revoke consent, it's not the end of the world.
If the photos highlighted your skill with a certain tool—whips or rope or whatnot—take new pictures, but with a different partner. Recreate the scene, or create a brand new one. You don't have to see the need to hide the old photos as a loss; you can see it as a way to improve on your photo-taking skills.
But don't continue to show those old pictures when you know you don't have consent. The pictures may be beautiful, but guess what: YOU end up looking like a douchebag.