For people who make a living shooting stills and video, the pushback from law enforcement, cheap security guards and even the general public has long been an issue. The tourist has generally been left alone when it comes to snapping and taping in public places. Professionals, however, have always been harassed, intimidated and told to turn the camera off. But in this post 9/11 world things are spiraling out of control.
Take the deliciously ironic story of Dwayne Kerzic, the man at the center of an uber-ridiculous photo-controversy. Kerzic was participating in an annual Amtrak photography contest that asks “shutterbugs” to photograph Amtrak trains and submit them for cash and notoriety. Seems harmless enough.
Well, these days nothing related to photography is harmless if you’re a cop or security guard. These guys think they can make up the rules as they go along and that’s exactly what they did. Kerzic was the victim of an overzealous pair of Amtrak officers who handcuffed him to a railing for an hour while they figured out that they should arrest him for trespassing. He was on a public platform by the way.
The Colbert Report did a funny job of telling the story but I can’t reconcile the actions of the Amtrak officers in my own mind. Maybe because I have personal experience with this kind of thing.
Digging deeper, we find out that Kerzic is a member of the NPPA – the National Press Photographers Association. That certainly made a huge difference in the way this story unfolded because we now know that Kerzic is one of us, “the media.” It is likely that he has had similar encounters with guards and cops and he probably felt his rights were being violated. I’m sure he was defiant and it didn’t sit well with the Amtrak officers. That kind of attitude will get you arrested, even if you’re right.
I have a colleague who needed a few shots of a New Jersey federal court building for an educational project she was working on. She stood across the street on a public sidewalk and snapped a few shots with a tiny little point and shoot digital pocket camera. A security guard came across the street and demanded that she answer questions and then erase the contents of the memory card. She complied. I would have gone to jail.
Last year I was working on a video for Philadelphia’s Center City District. The video was a showcase of some of the city’s nicest places to eat, sleep and play. As I was across the street shooting an exterior of a “Ritzy” hotel, I was approached by someone from hotel security demanding to see my identification. I told him to shove it and carried on with my work. He walked away.
I could go on and on with stories like this. I have many personal accounts of law enforcement and plain old “yellow coats” unnecessarily harassing photographers who were working in a public space while others work in more private sectors like adult pictures as you can see in this official site online. My point is that you can’t just stomp on people who are doing something that is constitutionally protected. A terrorist doesn’t need an exterior shot of a hotel to know how to blow the thing up. Stop the photography and you haven’t stopped a single criminal act.
Do terrorists use photography to help them carry out their heinous acts? Of course they do. They also use credit cards, cars and and phones. How about we hassle everyone with a car? What say we bust the chops of everyone talking on a cell phone? That would surely make this world a safer place, right?
Renowned nature photographer Scott Bourne from the TWIP photography blog has been selling t-shirts emblazoned with the phrase, “photography is not a crime!”