Photographing within a police state -- is accommodation with authorities possible?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Poco, Dec 10, 2005.

  1. Poco

    Poco Member

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    This morning I had another run-in with the law. Apparently a teutonic looking guy on crutches with a camera looked very much like a terrorist to a passing vigilante motorist and it wasn't more than a few minutes later that I was forced to explain myself to six cops. Going into more detail would be boring.

    My question is, has anyone found a successful strategy for making these encounters go more smoothly ...like getting your name on file with cops ahead of time so they only need to call in to check on you? It takes so damned long to talk 'em down from their urge to shoot something. Any ideas? I realize there have been threads on this before, but I want to make sure I'm not missing any smart, new ideas.

    -Michael
     
  2. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    Where and what were you photographing? Just curious, but location and items being photographed seem to have bearing on how to handle the situation. I would have to say as a free lancer, I don't know that I would be good with the idea of pre registration with law enforcement because I might show up on a street corner photographing something they think is out of bounds!

    Dave
     
  3. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    michael -

    i always stop a cop that is nearby to let them know who i am and what i am doing. i don't look teutonic, but i'm a member of the olive skined brotherhood. giving them a head's up always makes things go easier, and they watch your back.


    good luck!
    -john
     
  4. Bill Mobbs

    Bill Mobbs Member

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    I agree with Dave, I don't believe we have reached a stage of captivity where we must or should report to police prior to making a photograph. OTOH, I don't think it is a good idea to photograph Federal building and the like... No point in drawing fire... So to speak.
     
  5. Poco

    Poco Member

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    Dave,

    I was on an overpass, taking a pic of a landfill -- hardly a strategic asset. The question of what I was photographing and why always comes up and then I break into a big grin and go off in rhapsodies about the light, the contrast, the form ...and their eyes soon glaze over as they realize they're dealing with a flake and they let down their guard. But there's got to be an easier way.

    John,

    I do the same, when a cop is available ahead of time. You're right that it heads off all kinds of problems.
     
  6. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Poco, I have to say you are indeed a gutsy guy, heading out to photograph strategic locations like power plants, nuclear plants, dams, defence department sites and of course landfills.

    What are a you, some sort of troublemaker.

    The police have to take enough time out their day at the donut shop harrassing double parkers, and speeders to waste six patrol cars investigating activists and potential terrorists like you, pretending to try to get the perfect shot of the local dump.

    Without this kind of police diligence can you imagine the damage that a terrorists would be able to inflict if they blew up the city landfill. Think about it man.

    It would take the environmental types 3-10 years to agree to a new site, while this one is investigated and the appropriate statues and memorials are erected to pay tribute to the loss. Every governmental agency would be tied up in knots for a decade with lawsuits and regulations while this situation was resolved to nobody's satisfaction and while the endangered salamanders were moved to a nice new swampy home.

    The entire city would be awash in garbage while all this was going on, jamming up the streets and alleyways. Rats and vermin would take over and disease would become rampant, jamming up emergency rooms and doctors offices. The entire economy of the city would probably go right into the dumper.

    So next time, think before you shoot. Maybe something nice like and old barn or perhaps a pretty lake.

    Michael
     
  7. Poco

    Poco Member

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    I'm not so sure.

    I notice a white van slowing down and then stopping while I take a photo. I finish up and make my slow way back to the car, taking note that the van has turned around and is following. I lead the van on a trip through the city taking it very slowly so citizen Duddly DoRight can keep up and complete his tail job until the cops show up. Eventually the van pulls to the side of the road as he's passed by three cop cars which finally stop me. In a flash I've got 6 cops swarming around the car, hands hovering inches from their guns.

    If you think of what was involved, it's ridiculous. Duddly must have been been in constant, breathless communication with the dispatcher on his location (which is why I was so terrified of him losing me -- who wants to start a state-wide man hunt?)

    The fact is, the "Police State" reference in my title doesn't overstate the case one bit. Remember back in the 60's when one of the signature outrages of Soviets was that you could be detained for just taking photos near missile installations? Shit, they were thinking small.
     
  8. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    You should have driven to the police station and reported the guy for tailing you.
     
  9. John Bartley

    John Bartley Member

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    Yup - or called them on the cellular and had them stop him ....
     
  10. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    Yeah when you call the police report you are being terrorized by a white van and give them the guys license plate number. Also let them know you are a photographer at the same time. You were in the process of taking a picture when this guy started acting suspicious and you are afraid for you life. You were on crutches, so it gives much credence to what is going on.
     
  11. Poco

    Poco Member

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    Actually, I drove within a couple miles of the station and that would have been brilliant. Oh well, next time ...and there's sure to be one.
     
  12. Alan Davenport

    Alan Davenport Member

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    One example might be photographing at an airport where it might be helpful to let the Port Police know beforehand so that when you are reported they will know it is you. However, it is not YET illegal to photographing public facilities, Federal buildings, etc. Though trying to be helpful, the general public has no ideal what to look for as far as terrorist activities are concerned.

    Alan
     
  13. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

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    But if you contact them beforehand, maybe they will think you're trying to dupe them into thinking you aren't being paid by the terrorists when you actually are! Maybe the police will start a file on you just in case. Maybe they will attatch a little bug to your butt and follow your every move. Maybe they will bug your phones at home and at work. Maybe they will dig into your past looking for any suspect affilliations. Maybe they will scoop you up and take you to some out of country prison in Cuba or Eastern Europe where those pesky civil rights lawyers can't get a hold of you, and where they can really work you over to get you to spill the goods.

    EEGAD...what a mess!

    Murray
     
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  15. Lee L

    Lee L Member

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    Another option is to be obvious about specifically taking photos of the guy tailing you before you head to the police station. Be obvious about taking a shot of his car with the license plates showing clearly. Walk around to the drivers' side and get a head shot. Ask him to roll down the window and hold a fill card. Treat him like the suspect, ask him for ID, then lead him to the station if he still wants to follow you.

    Lee
     
  16. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Of course you could just pull out your handy 9mm and shoot at him.



    Michael
     
  17. Flotsam

    Flotsam Member

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    I've been subject to very similar incidents while out harmlessly, boldly shooting in public but I'd like to relate a more hopeful story on the topic.

    A few weeks ago I was out photographing, and after getting all set up in a difficult position I noticed that a Police car had pulled up across the street and the officer was eyeballing me intently looking none too friendly. I guess that he was trying to think of any reason why _anyone_ would want to take a picture of a small, picturesque, historical stone church on a beautiful Fall day with large dramatic clouds and colorful foliage in the background, taking his time with a 4x5 view camera on a tripod next to a busy roadway in broad daylight, making no effort to conceal himself or his actions... unless he were somehow plotting the downfall of Western civilization.

    After a while he drove away without even bothering with the obligatory, routine photographer harrassment. Chalk one up to freedom to photograph without interference from the authorities.
     
  18. Poco

    Poco Member

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    Lee,

    The point is I should have found a way of heading it off before pulling 6 of the best and brightest off their crullers (with apologies to any APUG police officers -- I understand they were only doing their jobs).

    Anyway, I'm more and more convinced there's greater safety in using the larger formats. I've never been bothered with a 4x5 on a tripod and 20 pounds of gear strewn around me. Cops have driven right by me in that situation without tapping the brakes.
     
  19. Lee L

    Lee L Member

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    I should have put a smiley face on my last post here, but my point is that turning the tables on someone can sometimes be your most effective course of action.

    I also think it helps a lot to carry yourself with an air of confidence and self-assurance, and to be firm without being confrontational.

    I've been stopped once for photographing, in the richest enclave in Ft. Worth, TX while accompanying a friend who was doing a photo essay on rich and poor. He was shooting houses (the Tandys of Radio Shack and neighbors) and I had a telephoto on, taking pictures of downtown from a distance. We were shooting from a public street.

    The police who tried to chase us off threatened to confiscate film, etc. They backed down after we firmly asserted our rights and demonstrated that we knew what they were. It helped to mention the names of some friends, including a newspaper editor, a well-known police detective, and a friend who was clerking for the county courts. We also dropped the phrase "illegal search and seizure". That was nearly 30 years ago now, but it was the last time I was confronted for photographing. But to be honest, my first instinct would still be to start photographing someone who was watching and tailing me.

    If we don't assert and defend our rights as Tanya did, they'll erode away.

    Lee

    Oh, and it wasn't you who pulled the police from more important things, it was some paranoid who watches too much TV, doesn't understand what to take seriously, and insisted to the police that you were a dangerous photographer.
     
  20. Poco

    Poco Member

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    Lee,

    Well the good news is the Traveling Portfolio arrived today so I'll have lots of samples of "my" work to keep in the car for the next terrorist stop. You folks will just have to start another one :D
     
  21. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    I was set up on the side of an Interstate, 8x10 on a tripod at rush hour about 30 miles out of town, and the light was tearing through a hole in the clouds, driving a shaft of light across the prairie toward two cottonwoods.

    State trooper pulls up behind. I turn and all excitedly yell, "look at that light ! it's going to hit those two trees in about 30 seconds !"

    He looks at me, looks at the trees, looks at the light...

    Runs back to the cruiser, pulls out a Nikon, runs over to my Deardorff and we shoot it.

    He says two things I've never forgotten:

    "My wife just bought me a Linhof for my birthday."

    and, "I've gone up and down this road every day for ten years and I never NOTICED those two old trees ! "

    It ain't the cops, folks. Fire the commander in chief.

    .
     
  22. Anupam Basu

    Anupam Basu Member

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    Why would you use a fisheye? :D
     
  23. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    DF,

    There is a hell of alot of levels of want to be bosses between the commander in chief and the cop in the field, you might want to fire some of the go betweens before you start the rhetoric about the commander in chief..

    I myself don't seem to have a problem anywhere I shoot, and alot of it, I think comes down to the attitude shown the officer in the field.

    Dave
     
  24. Curt

    Curt Subscriber

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    It's not what you are doing but what you are perceived to be doing.

    It would be interesting to see a Social Science experiment by dressing for the shoot. First dress down, with old clothes etc.. Second dress with suit and tie. Third put on a road workers jacket or a red flag safety gear like surveyors wear and a yellow hat. Fourth security guard coat and pants with an obvious badge hanging around the neck that says "Official Fine Arts Photographer" on it.

    Anyway you get the picture, or maybe not!
     
  25. rbarker

    rbarker Member

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    I like that idea. Maybe a blue windbreaker to go with it that says Photon Police on the back
     
  26. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Or get four guys in hard hats standing around you and it would look like a city public works job.


    Michael