26 February 2009

War on Photography

the war on photography has become a little more surreal. last year, this video short was made, and a petition garnered international headlines. the story: a UK photographer was video recording in a public square and two community support officers accosted him, treating him as if he were a terrorist because they had been recorded. in the end, the two officers walked away, but for a moment it looked as if they were relying on the badge of their office to bully the videographer into stopping.

a few months ago, UK Home Secretary Jacqui Smith stated there were no laws that would allow a sworn officer to arrest someone taking photographs in a public place, but she would not have a problem with those same officers harrassing those photographers "... in reasonable circumstances," a quote she has not adequately defined.

a few weeks ago, a new British law was put in place that allowed for the arrest of photographers taking pictures of any police officer at any time if the officer believed the photographer was doing so for terrorist activities.

last week, New Scotland Yard was inundated by professional and amateur photographers showing their contempt for the new law. More than a few press photographers were interviewed during the demonstration, pointing out the reasonable probability this law will be enforced only when the government decides it needs more security, when the photography captured is an embarrassment to the government.

While the video here is poorly-edited, the interviews near the end speak to the frustration felt by the photographers present. One, in particular, pointed out that television camera crews doing the interview were not exempt from possible arrest and prosecution.

to say it can't happen in the US is naive at best, and incredibly ill-informed at worst; it already has. websites are springing up all over the place dedicated to the same thing: free photography without hassle.

it has happened locally: birders a few years ago were threatened by boeing security because a rare bird appeared in a park near the renton plant. and, more famously, a photography student was treated as a criminal for taking photographs of the ballard locks and the surrounding countryside, something hundreds of people do each and every day.

as with the photographers at New Scotland Yard, i think i'll start wearing a lanyard with a sign that says "don't shoot me. i'm just a photographer, not a terrorist" when i go out shooting from now on...

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