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Let’s Go Over This Again… Photography Is Not A Crime!

It seems that Homeland Security has embarked on another of those “if you see something, say something” campaigns, something that has become far too popular among police agencies at all levels.

And, this being 2018, they tweeted each of the of the “warning signs”, including this gem.

Tweet from Homeland Security regarding photography as a threat

So what’s “unusual” when it comes to photography? Many people view anyone carrying a DSLR as suspicious. Even though my six-year old Rebel makes a pretty poor spy camera.

How do you determine “prolonged interest”? A good photographer will often look for different perspectives on a good subject and wait for different light, taking multiple shots along the way. Is that considered a “covert manner”?

One of the worst parts of the campaign is the infographic featuring all the “warning signs”. Homeland Security is placing photography on the same level with activities like theft, making threats, cyberattack, and collecting weapons.

Unfortunately, attempting to restrict the right to photograph in public spaces, always in the name of security, never seems to go away, especially in the DC area. Despite court rulings, Congressional hearings on the matter, and the fact that absolutely no link has ever been established between people taking pictures and terrorist acts. Even Stephen Colbert (no, the other one) found the whole idea amusing.

But you don’t think taking pictures with a smartphone exempts you from being considered “suspicious”, do you? Now would be a good time to review your rights as a photographer, regardless of your equipment.

Attorney Bert Krages has created The Photographer’s Right, a pdf summary based on information from the ACLU. He’s also written a book on the subject that also goes into the legal rights and responsibilities if you plan to sell your images.

If you want to dive deeper into the subject without paying, the ACLU themselves have an extensive online collection of articles and posts on the subject.

Of course, this information applies to the United States. I haven’t found a lot of good resources for other countries, although many western nations provide similar rights for the art of photography. Wikimedia Commons does offer a general chart about laws regarding taking and using pictures of people in many countries. The Wikipedia article on Photography and the law, covering the UK, Canada, and other countries, is also useful.

And, as you might expect, there is a great deal of controversy and uncertainty around taking pictures of law enforcement activities. Be extra cautious when practicing journalistic photography.

Fear the Camera

Please excuse me while I rant…

I found that sign displayed outside of a waterside tourist space during a recent trip and there’s nothing particularly remarkable about this list of rules. It’s the kind of stuff you might expect in any place with drinking crowds. I certainly want the “No weapons” restriction in a bar.

Then we come to the line “No Professional Cameras”.

I’m pretty sure whoever wrote that rule was thinking of a camera like the one used to make this image: a relatively big, black, single-lens reflex with interchangeable lenses. The variety of device you might expect to see in the hands of a paparazzi while stalking a Kardashian.

Except mine is not a “professional” camera.

I’ve never been paid a dime for any image I’ve made with it. I’ve never had a job that required me to use this device. I’m not a professional photographer, so this is not a “professional” camera.

Now, I’m certainly not going to complain directly to the management of this establishment about that one line. Their place, their rules.

I’m just pointing out this single, relatively minor entry in the unfortunately long list of examples of the modern day fear of photography.

Like the Metro cop who told me I couldn’t take pictures on the platform 1 and then walked past a group of kids doing exactly that with their smartphones. Or the security guards in DC who questioned me for pointing my camera at an interesting reflection in the window of a government building from a public street.

Do a quick Google search and you’ll find many, many similar stories, some with far worse consequences.

My point to this somewhat lame post is, cameras are everywhere, in the hands of just about everyone. Trying to ban or limit their use, especially by calling one particular style “professional”, is going to be an exercise in frustration. Far better to ask people to be respectful of others when making pictures. Doesn’t always work, but still better.

Ok, I’m done ranting. Thanks for reading this far.

For those interested, the ACLU has a short, simple guide to photographers’ rights. If you use a camera of any kind in public, read it.

Criminalizing Photography

For anyone who carries a camera (and in the US that’s probably most people), a short interview with the general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association.

While the discussion is largely about people who make a living from their pictures and his examples revolve around confrontations with police, much of this advice applies to all photographers, regardless of the size of the camera or the reason they want to take pictures.

It boils down to, “If you’re out in public, you can take pictures.”

Read the whole thing and stand up for your rights.

The Crime of Photography

In this morning’s Post, more examples of the conflict between photographers and security people who don’t understand that yes, they can take pictures here.

The situation is especially bad here in the DC area where we have a higher than average number of the paranoid who also don’t know what they’re talking about.

However, one specific sentence in the story pretty much says it all.

Photographers say police need to be told explicitly not to prohibit photography, because officers often don’t respond well to impromptu citizen lectures on constitutional law.

Ain’t that the truth!

Picturing Stupidity

As only he can, Stephen Colbert totally nails a photographer who was arrested for committing the terrorist act of taking pictures.

Of Amtrak trains.

For the annual Amtrak photography contest.

Priceless.

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