It has been a number of years since I started taking pictures. Most of what I shot way back then and now has been done in studio or with permission on private property. However, I have had a few “minor” run-ins with people who think they know more about the law than they do when it comes to public photography.
Without this turning into a huge boring legal brief, the general law of the land in the US of A is “if you can see it, you can take a picture of it.” As long as you are not on private property, you can pretty much take pictures of anything, and even the private property caveat has a few exceptions as well. But I digress….
Prior to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, I was at the Carter Center in Atlanta taking pictures of the grounds, ducks in a pond, flowers, statues – all the things readily available to be seen by anyone walking around the park-like setting. While taking pictures, two very large, uniformed, and armed Atlanta police came up to me and told me that I was not allowed to take pictures of the property, and, in fact, I had to leave. They said there was a dignitary coming for a visit, and they were doing a security sweep. I did as they said and left, not thinking a thing of it at the time.
While on an outing with a photography class, we went to Piedmont Park to do some street scenes and natural light portraits. We stopped to photograph a group of skateboarders and skaters hot-dogging and showing off. One of the boarders, a guy who can only be described as a skate punk, got pissy and angry saying we couldn’t take his picture without his permission. He even went so far as to threaten us with violence if we didn’t hand over our film (yeah, film). We left the scene and continued on our park safari.
One year at Music Midtown I was taking pictures with my very amateurish 35mm Pentax camera. I spent the day taking shots of breasts being bared, hippies playing hacky-sack, bands on stage, stars standing outside of their trailers, etc., and listening to great music. As the sun set, a Music Midtown security guard told me I was not allowed to take pictures inside the festival and I could either leave, or he would take my camera. I told him I’d been there all day taking pictures. I even had pictures of security guards escorting a drunk kid out of the festival. I was allowed in the park with my camera. He puffed up his chest and told me to leave or be led out.
These are relatively minor incidents, but all over the country people with cameras are being treated as criminals or potential terrorists. This isn’t hyperbole. Photographers are being hassled, even arrested, while taking absolutely legal photos.
Listing the incidences I have read about would take more space than you want to read. If you’re really interested in this issue, or concerned about it, click here to read how First Amendment rights are being routinely violated under the guise of “security”.
Photo is by nicky dracoulis (police cameras) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons