"A photographer must always work with the greatest respect for his subject and in terms of his own point of view" (Henri Cartier-Bresson)
In the beginning of the 20th century, the 35 mm cameras revolutionized photography by making it more affordable, more convenient and faster than ever before. Furthermore, with the smaller 35 mm cameras, photography was liberated from studios and taken out on the streets. This was the birth of street and documentary photography. The photos were published in magazines and books. Photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa were some of the early pioneers in these genres. Their work is outstanding and they also documented life in the past for generations to come.
After the 2000's, we experienced a similar leap forward with the digital revolution. Today, literally everybody with a smartphone is a photographer. As a result, anyone can now follow the trails that were once reserved for the early pioneers.
The digital revolution also created new ways of sharing pictures, even right after they have been taken. Today, more pictures are taken and shared than ever before in history. One can say, that we're flooded with pictures. If you google street photography, you will find beautiful, inspiring and touching photos just one click away. However, most likely you will also find a flood of photos showing people in emberrassing situations. Is this evolution a blessing or a curse?
Over the last couple of years, in many countries including Germany, legislative changes were made in order to protect peoples privacy and are now restricting the newly acquired freedom of taking and sharing pictures in digital photography.
For instance, in Germany, the penal code (Section 201a) regulates that you may face legal consequences if you take and share a photo of an identifiable person without that persons' consent to a third party and, if that photo is “capable of doing significant damage to the reputation of the person shown in it.” As a professional photographer you can still refer to §4 in section 201a which states, that the deed is not punishable if the photographer is acting primarily out legitimate reasons such as arts, teaching and reporting or similar purposes. That being said, it will be up to judges to decide whether a street photographer has to face legal consequences or not.
In other words, these legal circumstances will force the photographers to get a declaration of consent of the photographed person(s). Hence, the law forbids classical street photography in general as you have to ask a person before you take the shot and this leads to staged street photographs.
For me, these legal restrictions cause an extra challenge, as they force me to limit my street photography when shooting in Germany. For instance, I have to capture backlit subjects which appear as silhouettes or motion blurred people to be in accordance with the law. In addition, I got myself business cards. Thus, I can easily introduce myself to people as street photographer in case someone is identifiable in one of my shots.
Is street photography in Germany legal or illegal? This sword of damocles will be over any German street photographer. The possibility of legal consequences may be reason alone that street photographers will stop taking pictures and therefore, street photography will be dead in Germany. I think, that the question if digital photography brought an end to street photography as an art form is valid.
The best advice for a street photographer would be respect and common sense. You can always interact with your subject when shooting the streets, ultimately, this is also part of that genre. If you see that your subject is not comfortable with you taking a picture, then just don't do it and move on. In addition, I would never take a photo of someone in an embarrassing situation or a vulnerable person. I also recommend to do your homework before shooting the streets and check the legal situation of the country you will travel to.