The incompetency of our police and government in handling our security is often sought to be hidden by fear mongering. Knee jerk reactions like banning liquids in airlines, utterly stupid checks while entering malls, and the topic of this post, actively discouraging photography at all public places. Citizens and private organizations, getting these clues from our public administrators, in turn have made life hell for amateur photography enthusiasts worldwide.
Some years back, I was almost handed over to the police by some folks in our neighborhood for “suspiciously” taking photographs in streets in the night. The fact was that I had just bought a new camera, and was learning how to take photos in the night(This was the photo that I was trying to shoot).
This is different from being asked not to shoot in private places where the reasons could be of trade secrets(this particular place said they didn’t want their bar to be photographed), etc..
I am talking of instances, like when security at a mall (city centre, mumbai) once asked me not to take photos inside the premises “for security reasons”. What @#$ security reasons are that? Some dumb terrorists openly taking photos, and going back to draw elaborate bombing and shooting patterns? Have they been watching hollywood movies?
This attack on the previously simple artistic pursuit of photography is happening all over the world. Here is a photographer harassed in Britain by police. Here is a flickr thread where this is discussed, and several such incidents reported around the world. There have even been complaints about photo websites like flickr taking unilateral steps against public photography because of some unsubstantiated complaint.
A British police ad warning public about suspicious public photographers
BBC has an excellent article on this growing problem. One of the comments of this article sums up the photographers point of view:
My hobby is walking around cities taking photos of interesting places that never make it on to the postcards. Only last weekend I photographed Postman’s Park and the Gherkin (looking up from the ground). It just struck me that taking those photos could be seen as somehow dodgy – and that’s wrong. Why has an activity that thousands of people do, and take pleasure in, and become good at, become something suspicious because a terrorist took a few snaps? And let’s face it, most terrorist targets are the kind of thing that gets displayed on postcards anyway.
There is currently an online petition to the British government to clarify laws on public photography.
One outcome of these problems to photographers was the establishment of photorights.org, started by the Editorial Photographers UK (EPUK), a photo professionals discussion group, who say that this campaign was started to document and record the actions of those who through lack of comprehension, bone-headed officiousness, vested interest or malice, wish to contain and control photography.
I wonder if this issue is being discussed actively in India. Would love to see some references.