On second thought, maybe harassment is too strong a word. I was accosted and chided perhaps. But completely without provocation this morning on my way to work. Let me preface the rest of this by saying that I am a freelance photographer and I go everywhere with my camera slung arcoss my body or with the strap wrapped around my wrist, index finger on the shutter release.
There I was in a half asleep daze at 34th St subway station here in Philly. I was just standing there staring off into the nothingness that is 34th St station when a SEPTA cop [transit cop] walks up to me and says something. I was half asleep, so I didn’t hear him so I turned to face him and said “What?” [paraphrased] He repeated, “You know you’re not allowed to take pictures down here” while pointing to my camera hung across my body. I woke up pretty quickly after he said that.
I said back that I wasn’t taking photos and that I wasn’t aware that there were any rules against taking photos down there. He replied that “Techinically, SEPTA is private property and that you need to contact the press/public relations department to get a permit to be able to shoot” to which I replied that I had read otherwise and that such a regulation has never been shown to me in print. His radio was squaking away and he repeated something and then walked away. Technically, the land is owned by the City of Philadelphia and leased to SEPTA, a public agency.
To the best of my knowledge, there are NO regulations as to whether or not one is allowed to take photos on the transit system, bus communter train, or subway. I know that in NYC, the city tried to get underground photography banned, but it never got that far after some incredible public outcry, but it seems as if the NYC Transit cops have been instructed to enforce the non-law. People have been taking photos on trains for decades. It’s part of the essence of street photography.
And we all know that this stupid “rule” is to “stop terrorism” – yeah, that fucking works. Riiiiight. Are people not allowed to take photos of the White House? How about the area which is now referred to Ground Zero, ever seen a photo of that place? And what about the Liberty Bell? The Washington Monument? Those are all likely terrorist targets right? Or so we’re lead to believe by Big Brother. The only place where I have seen posted signs are the NJ/NY tunnels and bridges. Good thing there aren’t plenty of freely available photos and films of those places anyway.
What a fucking crock of fucking bull fucking shit. Fuck off transit cops. The 1/100 of a percent of people you “catch” taking photos of the dirty, dingy, disgusting subway system is doing a bang up job in keeping our streets safe. And other transit cops have seen me taking photos and they have never had a problem with it. This guy made a judgement call on someone who wasn’t breaking the “rule” [which, as far as I know, is non-existant] he was trying to enforce.
I’m not blaming the transit cop for doing what he’s been told to do, hey anyone can be a terrorist, right? But jeez. I don’t see cops handing out tickets to every single person s/he sees jaywalking [unless you happen to be in Tempe, AZ where they do ticket every jaywalker they see].
And finally, I wasn’t taking photos when the transit cop approached me. I was standing there, half asleep, staring off into the tunnel. He presumed I was taking photos through my mind’s eye I guess; as an artists should be doing I presume. But I wasn’t. By that logic, he should’ve been going up to every single person down there who could have been taking photos with their mind’s eye. Maybe they have a photographic memory? Encylopedia Brown sure did. A human eye sees better than a camera lens in most cases [certainly better than the lens I have on my D70 today] and can pull more detail than your average digital camera’s sensor can take in. There may have been eight megapixel point and shoots with twelve time optical zoom cameras tucked in people’s pockets. It seems that over 75% of cellphones come with cameras these days, those dirty digitally connected terrorists should all be numbered, no?
If he didn’t start walking away, maybe I would’ve kept going back and forth with this guy. Demanded that he show me some kind of proof that taking photos is not allowed, especially if I was simply standing there not doing anything. It’s not like this is something obviously illegal like killing someone, everyone knows that’s wrong and illegal. Everytime I hear about people getting accosted about taking photos underground, it never involves any kind of proof, just a Big Brotherish mannerism that it’s wrong for one BULLSHIT reason or another.
And while I’m at it, Fuck Bush. Fuck Cheney. Fuck Rumsfeld. Fuck Rice. Fuck Wolfowitz. Fuck Powell. Blah, blah, blah. Stupid bullshit.
Anyone out there have their own runins with cops in regards to “illegal” photography or videography? Domestic and/or abroad? Have you seen people around you get harassed for such things?