Michael, what sort of interaction did you have with the cops themselves?
The interaction wasn't overly antagonistic past the first few minutes. Since there were six of 'em questioning me at different times I did my "Jeez, wasn't I on a public road?" bit more than once and always got a "no, you can take pictures, but things are different after 9/11" response. I sensed some embarrassment when they said that.
Still, I was told to exit the car, they looked though all the windows, got jumpy whenever I moved, questioned all the bulges in my clothes and spotmeter hanging off my neck and even when things had cooled down considerably, said they'd like to take my information down. I said I'd be happy to give them any info they wanted if it helped the next time, since I intended to continue taking pictures. They didn't say anything to that. The whole thing lasted about 15-20 minutes.
By now I'm familiar with the routine and can't say I've ever felt unduly harrassed (beyond the obvious) or ill-treated. But it does ruin your day.
I am doing a lot of photography around the airport here in Salt Lake City. The first time I went out, I was met after 40 minutes of shooting by an airport worker driving an official airport truck out checking fences where farmers are grazing cattle. I had parked my car in front of a gate that I thought would be unused, and he was coming out.
I saw him approaching the gate, went over to meet him, and had a nice conversation. He approached me with great suspicion until I explained to him what I was doing, asked for his advice and sugggestions, and convinced him I was legitimate and generally a decent guy.
H said that he would have to report me to the tower duty officer, and he did, and suggested that I call the same number and check in.
I generally get along well with 'figures of authority'...I've worked shooting news for newspapers and magazines, shooting all kinds of police activity, riots, been around the FBI and presidential candidates and the like...etc., so I know how they like to be treated.
In a nutshell, treat them with respect and like real people, and they will treat you well in return.
I called the duty officer, explained to her what I was doing, and asked for suggestions from her.
Now my name is on a note taped above the telephone with instructions to let me photograph anywhere on airport property I'd like. I just need to check in with the duty officer on call and tell them I'm there. This avoids any conflicts with over-zealous airport or city police officers who are looking for something to make their name with.
I'm also going to do some photography of firefighting training and techniques, and of the glycol recycling that's part of airport operations as well.
The moral of the story is, try to get along with 'officials'. Most of they time they are just doing their job and would rather avoid headaches. Most of the time they can actually help you get the images you want.
Problem is, most of the time isn't ALL of the time. You need to use your best judgement and asses each instance on it's own merit.
I used to get harrassed by curious people all the time while using my view camera, and almost caused a serious multi-car accident until I made a great $10 investment in a bright orange mesh vest like the kind worn by cunstruction crews. If I pull off the interstate or busy roads, people ignore me completely and cops assume (so far) that I am supposed to be there. I now get to work in peace. And people don't run me over anymore either.
Can you provide documentation for that assertion? One officer per car is standard here because of pure economics; extra vehicles cost a lot less than extra people. And the officers I know feel a lot more vulnerable working alone, which makes them a lot more likely to be ultra-defensive.
Originally Posted by Tanya
I've seen it suggested by others who have been in this situation to take along a couple examples of your photos; a print is a lot less threatening than a large camera.
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Many years ago, in another life, I was asked to take pictures of an operation involving nuclear weapons. (yes, this is a factual account)
I had to have proper passes and had to register my intent and assignment with the local security and then I went out with a Nikon F and Telezoom lens. Next thing I know was having a bayonet in the kidneys attached to an M1. The statement to me was "drop the camera".
My reply was "of course, but you pay for it".
The answer was "well hold it and show your permit", which I did, but then they called it in and found no correspoinding permit on file, so they assumed it to be a forgery as their files were 'perfect'.
I spent the afternoon locked up under close surveillance until the cheif of security was contacted (while on vacation) and they found the permit filed under his blotter on his desk. He said it was so important he wanted to put it where it wouldn't get lost.
They drove me back to the site late in the day, much too late to finish picture taking and anyhow the operation was over. They left me off at my office right in front of the drainiage ditch that ran along the driveway.
Being so harried and carrying all that equipment finally returned to me, I stepped out of the jeep and fell about 15 feet into the muddy ditch on my back while holding the camera and case over my head to keep it from sinking with me in the mud.
The driver of the jeep saluted, and I returned it as best I could, and he wished me a 'nice day' and drove off.
Oh, the pictures I did get were just great. I'm lucky that they didn't open up the camera. They had enough sense to know that if they were wrong, there would be big trouble if I lost all of my work through their error.
And that is the only difference in the military and civilian chains of command. In the military, someone would have been held responsible if it turned into a total fiasco. I see all too many civilian events like this where no one is made to 'pay' for their egregious errors.
"Photographing within a police state -- is accommodation with authorities possible?"
Of course it's possible. Just do as the police tell you. But if there's any conflict between what you want to do and their opinion as to what should be allowed, their opinion trumps the law. That's what makes it a police state.
In our current, police-state of affairs, its best to avoid photographing anything that a terrorist might also be interested in photographing. Anything that might in someone's wildest imagination be considered a target is therefore suspect subject matter. Some obvious subjects: Infrastructure items or other structures that might contain large numbers of people; Landmarks (their destruction might demoralize us); and most other architectural subjects. Following the same line of reasoning, its best to avoid subject matter that might also be photographed by those suffering various perversions. Avoid taking pictures of children, even your own, for fear of being labelled a child-molestor.
As for me, I do driftwood, tombstones & other hopefully viewed innocuous subject matter ;-) After all, Josef Sudek survived both Nazi & Communist control of his homeland.
van Huyck Photo
"Progress is only a direction, and it's often the wrong direction"
Michael, I carry a photography business card and a portfolio box in my car. I have used both of these to demonstrate the benign nature of my presence. (I have found nothing makes people disappear faster than to ask them if they want to look at my portfolio!)
IMHO, in encounters with the police, attitude is everything. You can't make them go away but you can definitely motivate them to stick around.
Maybe there was a secret weapon manufacturing factory nearby or a military science lab where some experiments were being conducted on a captured alien from from another planet.
Otherwise, I wouldn't worry about taking pictures in public space. If you get harrassed again, the next step is to contact lawyers and/or human rights groups for asking advice on legal protection.