Well, at least we know we're free
As long as we don't take photographs in public:
It seems like photographing in public is becoming a crime.
A.Literally every day, someone is being arrested for doing nothing more than taking a photograph in a public place. It makes no sense to me. Photography is an expression of free speech.
Since 9/11, there’s been an incredible number of incidents where photographers are being interfered with and arrested for doing nothing other than taking pictures or recording video in public places.
It’s not just news photographers who should be concerned with this. I think every citizen should be concerned. Tourists taking pictures are being told by police, security guards and sometimes other citizens, “Sorry, you can’t take a picture here.” When asked why, they say, “Well, don’t you remember 9/11?”
I remember it quite well, but what does that have do to with taking a picture in public? It seems like the war on terrorism has somehow morphed into an assault on photography.
Q.What’s caused this?
A.It’s been a perfect storm. There’s 9/11, and now photojournalists who traditionally worked for newspapers are losing their jobs and becoming freelancers who may not have the backing of their news organizations. You have Occupy Wall Street, where police didn’t want some of their actions to be photographed. And now everybody with a cellphone is capable of recording very high-quality images. And everyone has the ability to upload and share them almost instantly. There is no news cycle — it’s 24/7 with unlimited bandwidth.
Q.What does a professional photographer need to know about their right to photograph?
A.If you’re out in public, you can take pictures. And you can report to your heart’s content. The problem is whether they know their rights or don’t know their rights and are willing to assert their rights.
Now, when I say that, that doesn’t mean that you can get up within two inches of a working police officer and stick your camera in their face. One of the things I prided myself on when I was a photojournalist was not affecting the situation. You want to be invisible. You get in, you get out, nobody gets hurt. You do your job, and that’s what your main responsibility is. It’s not to become the news story. Be respectful, be polite, act professional.
But even in certain cases when photographers have carried around the law and shown it to police officers and law enforcement, it hasn’t mattered.
Unfortunately, a lot of officers will say “because I said so.” It works for your mother, but it doesn’t really work for police. They have to be enforcing a certain law, and they can’t just make it up.
If you’re stopped on the street, stay calm. Be reasonable, be cooperative — as cooperative as you can. By cooperative, I don’t mean you have to show them your pictures when they ask. If you’re not getting anywhere ask to speak to a supervisor.
When all else fails, unless you’re willing to be arrested, you have to consider trying a different approach. Walk away, and see if you can get another angle. As news photographers, you’re there to break a new story, the last thing you want to do is stand around arguing with somebody while the images you want to take disappear.
For the general public, just be aware that this may happen to you. Tell them, “I’m on a public street, this is America, I can take pictures.”
We look at the images that come out of Syria and Libya where people risk their lives in order to get images out. Most of those images that we’ve seen are coming from citizens with their cellphones. They risk their lives, and we consider those efforts heroic. And yet in this country, somebody doing the very same thing is considered suspect. I have a real problem with that.
Yeah, I have a real problem with that too and so should you. They are trying to pass laws all over the country making it a crime to photograph the police -- our public servants -- in the course of their duties. That is no joke. If Americans don't understand instinctively how un-American that is, then I think we can see just how far down the authoritarian rabbit hole we already are.