A popular nuisance – controlling the street photographers

By the mid-1930s the street photography ‘craze’ saw increasing numbers of photographers on Sydney’s streets – all competing for the best locations and the most promising marks.

But not everyone welcomed this new industry and street photographers came to be seen as a nuisance: people complained about footpaths blocked by those posing for snaps, while others objected to being pestered on the street and having their photograph taken without permission. Commercial studios waged a campaign against the threat street photography posed to their ‘legitimate’ businesses.

However, it was the street photographers’ cards that landed them in trouble with the city council. While taking photos on the streets was not against the law, handing out cards – and the littering that ensued when the public discarded them – breached the council’s by-law 523.1 The council actively pursued street photographers, issuing fines as a deterrent. Between 1931 and 1940 there were over 2000 prosecutions brought against street photographers, with some unlucky snappers fined numerous times.2 A few places in the city were safe from council inspectors, including Circular Quay, managed by the Quay Planning Committee and the Maritime Services Board, and the Botanic Gardens, administered by the Department of Agriculture.3

In 1934 a group of street photography firms formed the Candid Photographers’ Association with the aim ‘to make street photos legal’.4 Over the next decade the association wrote numerous letters and made multiple deputations to the council, arguing that their companies created much-needed work during the Depression years and, later, jobs for returned World War II servicemen. The association also lobbied for the introduction of licensing, claiming the licence fees would be a source of revenue for the council as well as protecting both the industry and the public from unscrupulous operators.

On 2 May 1949 the council finally introduced street photography licences. In consultation with the Candid Photographers’ Association, the number of licensed locations, known as ‘sites’ or ‘stands’, was limited to 50 within the city’s boundaries. Each firm or individual operator was allocated a maximum of three licences, with the annual licence fee ranging from £15 for quiet spots to £30 for the busiest locations. Each street photographer was required to hold a permit that cost 10 shillings per annum and only one photographer was allowed to work on a stand at any one time. However, the new system did not stop unlicensed operators, known as ‘snipers’, taking their chances.

By the 1950s the number of stands in operation had declined, and in 1958 there were just 16 licensed sites left in the city.5 The last licence, held by Charles Ramsay for No 33 in Martin Place, was cancelled in 1971.6

Above: Street photographer’s licence for No 22 stand located on Pitt Street, Sydney, issued to B V Duggan in 1953. City of Sydney Archives 4612/54: Licensing – 12 months ending 31/10/55

Duggan, who had been involved in street photography since 1938, was the proprietor of Ace Photos, which operated out of No 3 Piccadilly Arcade. Due to ill health, he sold his city business to Tatler Photo’s a year after this licence was issued.


  1. By-law 523 was originally designed ‘to prevent any practice conducive to street littering’. Town Clerk’s Minute, 6 March 1941. Suggested licensing of Street Photographers. City of Sydney Archives 3367/35.
  2. Ibid.
  3. ‘Cameramen found three sanctuaries’, Sunday Telegraph, 20 September 1942, p 10
  4. ‘To make street photos legal’, Daily Telegraph, 24 July 1936, p2
  5. Letter from Town Clerk to Professional Photographers’ Association [Candid Photographers’ Association] informing them of the cancellation of street photography sites, 1 July 1958. City of Sydney Archives 3418/52
  6. Town Clerk’s Minute Paper, 22 January 1971, Street Photographers site No 33, Martin Place, Cancellation of site. City of Sydney Archives 237/71.
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Anna Cossu

Anna Cossu


Inspired by wonderful history teachers and after her own foray as a high school teacher, Anna found herself drawn to the world of museums and heritage interpretation. In a 20-year career she has worked across a diverse field including visitor interpretation, education, and curatorial. Her great passion is people and their stories and how museums can best craft an experience that reveals something intrinsic and true of those lives and communities.

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