As we near the end of 2011one thing I look forward to in 2012 is an absence of hassles for taking photographs in public places. This year I had no less than three incidents with authorities:
• At Sun Fest, a complete stranger accused me of taking pictures of women and children. I was detained while a security person called a police officer and I was questioned. This incident is detailed in a post on Flickr (click photo at bottom).
• I was told by a security person that I could not photograph children playing in Centennial Fountain without permission from their parents.
• A sheriff deputy asked me to stop taking photographs of the county courthouse. He said I could do so from the public sidewalk, but not while on courthouse property. (is that not public property?)
With the popularity and accessibility that digital photography offers society, it seems that everyone is taking photos of someone or something. Is the ubiquity of photography causing people to be oversensitive? While this has been discussed frequently on photo sharing websites, my own observation has been that other than one’s demeanor, the ability to freely take photos of anything anywhere seems to depend on where you are. SOme cities are photo-friendly while others are downright hostile. Suburbs and mid-sized or small cities seem to be the worst places. I was in New York this summer and spent six or seven hours taking pictures in the city and was barely noticed. Other than a dirty look from a couple women, no one even acknowledged me. In the past, I have never had any problems photographing in rural towns either.
It does help to know your rights. The American Civil Liberties Union has been circulating pamphlets outlining photographers’ rights. The piece of information that I found most helpful was:
If stopped for photography, the right question to ask is, “am I free to go?” If the officer says no, then you are being detained, something that under the law an officer cannot do without reasonable suspicion that you have or are about to commit a crime or are in the process of doing so. Until you ask to leave, your being stopped is considered voluntary under the law and is legal.
Now get out and take some photographs…you have every right to!
TOP: New York City street corner 2011
ABOVE: Sun Fest incident, West Palm Beach 2011