Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Personal View

[The following is a response to a post on the Houston Photography Meet Up Forum that got too long to post there. It is some personal thoughts on the problems that photographers are encountering when being stopped by authorities for taking photographs. A forum member had posted a link to an article about photographers posted in the BBC News Magazine in UK titled Terriorist or Innocent Photographer ]

The interesting part of the story is the bit about the “newer, less well informed” that are doing the harassment. The upper echelon doesn’t have to accept the responsibility for making the decision as long as they can blame the underling and count on the underling lackeys to continue, without consequence, to frighten photographers from ever taking the photographs. I didn’t see any indication that the lackey in the mentioned cases had been disciplined for their wrongful actions. Still, the photographer suffered the intimidation, embarrassment and the loss of photographs.

Take a photo of the Houston “toy train, glorified bus” Metro and you are likely to be stopped and authoritatively asked to see your permit. When you go to the Metro Office you will find that no such permit exists or if it does no one can produce a copy and you end up with a yellow Post-It in your wallet saying that it is okay for you to photograph Metro. When a Houston camera club of mostly elderly white people can draw three patrol cars with lights flashing and four officers for a thirty minute confrontation for something the officers admitted was not illegal you know that something is wrong.

I believe it is simply a form of intimidation to establish a thought process. From posts I have read on this forum about people that are afraid to shoot downtown or that moved to Herman Park rather than photograph downtown it appears to be working very effectively. Soon it will become an accepted fact that you cannot photograph downtown and then they can easily make the law that you cannot photograph downtown and people will agree with and even cheer the new law as reasonable.

I will bet that I can find members of this forum that are parents that will be greatly upset, even enraged, if a stranger photographs their child in public. It is now considered a reasonable mindset that the only reason for a person to photograph a child is pedophilia. I am not a pedophile, yet one of my most memorial days of photography was sliding down the grassy banks of Buffalo Bayou with a dozen children from the housing project and taking photographs. We all had a great time as they greatly enjoyed seeing me tumble off the cardboard at the foot of the slope. I got some great photographs and not a single one is titillating or indecent. They simply capture the joy of being a child and having fun.

Everyone that wants to photograph Metro, or to photograph downtown, is not a terrorist. Everyone that photographs children is not a pedophile. Now they have passed a law in Maine that even looking at children is against the law, which got support from members on the posted photographic forum. Accepting one restriction just makes it easier to be restricted even more.

When it comes to freedom, what you do not fight for, you loose. I am concerned that there is no longer the will to fight, but rather a willingness to loose freedoms and rights as they ebb away. Vigilance and fighting is just hard work.

We have been on a course since well before 9/11 of slowly ebbing away personal rights, for all of us, not only photographers. At my age I do not worry about it too much, but for you younger photographers or just younger people in general, I am saddened at the loss of the world I have enjoyed as a photographer that you will be missing.

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