I’m participating in the Best Of 2009 Blog Challenge. Every day this month, I write something different about what’s happened this year.
For me, by far and away the most useful article this year has been this photographers’ rights guide. I keep a printed copy in my camera bag, just in case I’m stopped when I’m out and about with my camera.
Photographer’s rights are a massive issue for me. I take a lot of photos in public places, and a lot of photos that are likely to have other people’s children in them. In the last week I’ve read about photographers being stopped for taking photos of Christmas lights or sunsets at St Paul’s Cathedral, supposedly for “terrorism prevention”.
Photographers may legally be stopped and searched under Section 44 of the Prevention of Terrorism act. It’s a catch-all clause that lets the police search anyone they like, regardless of whether they have reasonable grounds to suspect that that person is involved in terrorism. Security guards often have the same attitude: the leader of Hull City Council, Liberal Democrat Carl Minns, was stopped whilst taking photos of a shopping centre: he had every legal right to do so. Question: with so many high-resolution cameraphones on the market these days, and when the police seem to be so quick to react to photographers, would a potential terrorist likely carry a light, easily-hidden cameraphone, or a big, noticeable DSLR? Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but I haven’t yet heard of anybody being stopped and searched simply for using a cameraphone. And aren’t detailed photos and area photos of any area, especially those popular with tourists, available on Google Maps and Google Street View? Why go out and risk being discovered when you could, quite simply, open your web browser?
The other stick used to beat photographers with, of course, is suspicion of paedophilia. I am a young woman, with a child of my own. I have had my non-existant criminal record checked by no fewer than four organisations for volunteering and for work, and am about to pay to be CRB-checked AGAIN through my own company. When David and I go somewhere, I usually want to take some pictures of what we’re doing. Our local council prohibits photography on leisure centre property, so I can’t take pictures of David swimming. Of the three soft play centres we’ve attended, I’ve been asked not to take pictures in one (we didn’t go back), and told that I should only be taking pictures of my own child in the second and the third. (All credit to the third play centre, the only one we visit now. The staff are fantastic, I can take as many pictures of David and whoever he’s playing with as I want, and I have never been asked to stop taking pictures by a member of staff there.) The labelling of all people who take photos of children as potential paedophiles is as ludicrous as the suggestion that everyone who takes “too many” photos in a public place is a terrorist. And again, I have never seen anyone stopped for using a cameraphone in either a soft play centre or a leisure centre: equally, the Plymouth nursery paedophile Vanessa George took her disgusting and vile pictures on a cameraphone, not an SLR.
This paranoia affects me professionally, too. Most of my work involves taking childrens’ portraits. I’m about to pay a not insignificant amount of money to show potential clients that I’m not a padeophile; I have to have express signed permission from the parents of any children I photograph to both take and use the images, until they reach the age of eighteen.
Part of the reason for the disproportionate reaction is down to Daily Mail-type public hysteria. If you believe that every person with a camera in the park is a padeophile, or every Asian a terrorist (thank you, tabloids!) then you’re not going to want them to take photos of your children or your home or the city where you work, in case something happens to you or your family. But here’s the truth: there has been one, just ONE, terrorist attack in the UK in the last ten years, before the mass public hysteria. The kind of anti-terrorism crackdowns we see today just didn’t happen during the IRA bombing campaign, and the 7th July bombings weren’t carried out with tripods and cameras. Children are still most likely to be molested by someone they know, not some random strange woman whose camera just happened to be expensive and specialised.
It’s getting harder and harder to be a photographer in this changing world, with this changing climate of public opinion. Articles like the photographer’s guide to rights are extremely helpful in clarifying the situation and helping us to retain some of our dearly-held liberties. I don’t believe that we live in an Orwellian society, but I do value the freedom to take pictures of whatever I want, and to share those pictures, without being suspected of evil and awful crimes.
If this is all too depressing for you, head over to the Daily Photo, where there’s a lovely picture of a ginger kitten to cheer you up.