Saturday, January 30, 2010

Photography is not a crime

Bus Stop 1
Originally uploaded by Theorris

Since I bought my beloved digital single-lens reflex camera around 3 years or so ago, I've had several occasions when I've been approached by rent-a-cops (aka private security officers) telling me that I am not allowed to photograph at a particular location, or that, indeed, public photography and photographing anyone in public is not legal. My camera has also been barred from various concerts and conferences as being "too professional" (as if "professional" is a noun that can take on a degree.)

Now most of us know that photography in a public space is completely legal, and you do not have to get releases from people who appear in your photographs while they are in public simply because the courts have ruled over the years that there is absolutely no expectation of privacy when you are out in public. In other words, you can't suddenly claim privacy when you are out in the open a decidedly un-private location.

Given that I'm tired of being accused of 1) violator of people's (assumed) privacy and 2) being some sort of professional photographer, I went out and bought me a nice little Nikon point & shoot for my birthday. As the camera is smaller than my cell phone, and takes pretty decent pictures, I think I will be able to carry it most places and not have to worry about some schmoe deciding he needs to enforce his non-existent authority on me.

I still have my old camera, of course, and plan on taking plenty of pictures with it. This new wee beastie just lets me expand my photo-mania to its highest extremes.


  1. I so hear this. I have been thinking about a tiny camera for the exact same reason. It's just too annoying. Then you end up policing yourself in the panopticon, just because your camera looks slightly too big. Boo to that.

    I love your photos, btw.

  2. Yeah, I hate this as well. I really can't stand it. Sometimes it's just not worth it. People don't realize that not only can you shoot with impunity in public, you can shoot with impunity from public spaces into private spaces.

    My biggest mistake was shooting an establishing shot of the Houston VA hospital. Security confiscated my camera and my tapes (which had an hour of interview from the previous evening)... I eventually talked them out of it but they countered that the building was the 2nd largest military hospital in the US... so don't mess with the military.

  3. Thanks, Megastore.

    Yes, Condiment: don't mess with the military. There was a case last year about a guy who was innocently shooting the bay in Seattle who was accosted by the MPs suddenly because he was "close to" a military base. My first encounter with this behavior was during our glorious Olympics here in SLC. I had a friend who was harassed for taking pictures of his girlfriend by the Qwest (phone company) building in SLC. They have some really cool old phone booths built in the building. The security guard demanded his (then) $2,000 camera. My buddy called the cops. After much consternation and gnashing of teeth he got a ticket, but managed to keep his camera and the shots.

    I don't know if the judge threw out the ticket (what the hell could he be charged with?)

  4. Oh and the phone booths are built into the side of the building--on the street. Completely in public.

  5. I was recently driving though NYC to visit family. While on FDR drive, which traverses the Harlem river and goes under/around the foundation to the JFK bridge, there was a sign that said that no photos/videos could be shot while driving under said bridge, violators would be prosecuted, you are being watched, ect... I realize that would-be terrorists could use footage to plan a blow-up of the bridge, but really? One could easily conceal a camera on a car/pedestrian/backpac, ect. The whole no photos thing seems like unreasonable harassment.