Ming Thein, the Malaysian photographer who occasionally reviews gear from Micro Four Thirds to Leica, from Nikon to Medium Format, had a really interesting post on his blog this week. In fairness, he has been on a bit of a roll recently with his thought provoking post poking fun at the never-ending cycle of reviews, upgrades and new gear promoted by just about every blogger on the street. In any event, this week Ming took aim at the suspicion of photography and photographers held by the general public and security staff.
In the UK, in most places though, this suspicion doesn’t include the police, because things got so bad in terms of harassment of photographers legitimately going about their business that the home office issued guidelines to police forces to make it clear that photographers are not criminals. These days I often ask police to pose for candid portraits and they are (generally) happy to do so, which is great.
However, joe public is convinced that photographers are paedophiles, terrorists or other varieties of criminals. Sadly, joe security staff is even more convinced of that. Sadly because it makes no sense whatsoever. First of all, we are all being photographed to death 24-7 anyway, by any number of security cameras, CCTV and people with mobile phones all of the time, so why people get so excitable about photographers with “real” cameras (and a smartphone is a “real” camera, it just doesn’t look like one) I don’t really understand. Secondly, the last thing your average criminal would want to use for surveillance purposes is a camera that’s obviously being used for video or stills, such as a DSLR. That might lead to the criminal being caught. Much more easy would be the average smartphone, go-pro or google glass. But those are less obvious and less easy to enforce petty rules against, so most security staff or busybodies don’t bother. Much easier to pick on the photographer with a tripod and DSLR.
Finally, and this isn’t popular, but it is important, in the UK when in public we are all fair game for photographers. Does that mean you have to accept someone ramming a telephoto lens in your face 24-7 when going to the supermarket? Of course not.
However, there’s no need to get aggressive about requesting a photographer to delete photos or to suggest they are doing something criminal or wrong – most of us will happily avoid taking photos upon request. However, I do draw the line at morons who claim that taking a photo of a tourist attraction or landscape is a violation of their human rights if they happen to be standing in front of it. Further, it’s the same freedom to take photos of the public world relied upon by great street photographers like Cartier-Bresson that go to the freedom of expression that’s the basis of our free (but not always fair) media. Say what you like about the excesses of the press, but actually I prefer a free press to one regulated by the government. Because if you can’t take pictures of the streets, it’s only a tiny leap to preventing people from writing about what’s on the streets too.