For the past 8 years I have done a street photography workshop in Brighton that is probably the most popular workshop I do. I'd never had a problem until 2 years ago when I was with a small group of 4 while the remaining participants were working elsewhere using techniques that I had shown them earlier. We were on Brighton Pier when 4 very big security guards confronted me and told me that they wanted all 5 of us to go with them to the security office. I asked why and was told that it was because we were taking photographs, I replied that I would if every other visitor taking photographs did the same. The atmosphere got ugly and the best thing to do was to comply with their demand and I was told that they would tell me why we had been singled out when we got there. When we did get to the office they refused to talk to us and brought in a man of about 35 who immediately pointed to me and demanded that I should be arrested and my cameras and computer at home be seized by the police. I tried to tell them that I was leading a workshop but they would not listen even when we produced the official paperwork from the workshop company that employ me to do it. The man making the accusation was an American on holiday and had seen one of the workshop participants photographing in the direction of his two young children and had jumped to the conclusion that we were a bunch of paedofiles, hence the demand to seize my computer.The pier security chief appeared and called the police who arrived and after quite a grilling they believed us and the American apologised. We still do the same workshop but we now inform the police two weeks before and tell the participants not to photograph children unless thay have spoken to parents or adults who are with them.
I spent two years photographing the communities of North and West Belfast during the troubles there and most of the photographs were of children and never had a problem, in fact I had no problems with any part of that project despite there being a lot of unpleasant things happening. I moved freely around the so called hell holes of Shankhill Road, The Falls Road and The Ardoyne and never hid the cameras or the fact that I was an Englishman.
Sadly, the world has changed in the last few years and street photography is getting very difficult and I now always think three times before I make the exposure, especially where children are concerned. I do encourage people who attend my workshop to engage people in conversation and it does work. My early street photography was all done without asking people if I could make the photograph but I now spend much more time in conversation before making photographs. The only place that I have visited and would not make photographs in the street is Cape Town in South Africa, some of the places I visited were not really very nice and I thought it was prudent to keep the camera out of sight.