The War on Photography
An article by Scott Bourne
It’s a done deal. The war on photography is in full swing. Mindless, mind-numbing attacks on all sorts of photographers and their photography occur world wide. Even here in the USA where we are supposedly a “free” people, we’re not THAT free if we have a camera in our hand.
Whether it’s just badge-heavy cops who want to throw their weight around, or poorly-trained security forces who think that a camera means there is a terrorist nearby, it really doesn’t matter. The consequences are the same. It’s harder than ever to get the picture.
I’ve tried to fight it. I’ve written to politicians, filed civil rights lawsuits, you name it, but the bottom line is that the war is in full swing and it’s going to take extraordinary methods to win.
So I have decided to take the easy road. I don’t like it, and it might not be something everyone can or will want to do, but after a few years of this I know it works. The answer? Good old fashioned grease. I’m not talking bribes mind you, but the reality is, money is the best way to get the access you need and the best way to do it hassle free. The fact that it works also proves that almost none of this madness has anything to do with security and everything to do with power.
Want to get the best shot you can of the Seattle fireworks from the Space Needle, find a Capital Hill resident who will let you use their property for a fee. Need to go shoot pictures of airplanes at the airport? Offer to pay the airport management for access and security so your camera pointed at airplanes doesn’t end up in having you visited by the FBI.
Whether it’s special access in national parks or regular opportunity to shoot in public places, if you have a police escort, nobody will bother you. If you call your local police agency and ask who to speak to about hiring private security, you’ll be put in touch with local police unions who arrange off-duty police security for your event. So while these officers are off-duty, they still have all the power and connections of any cop and having them by your side will eliminate any pesky, nosy, busybody who has nothing better to do than to harass anyone with a “professional-looking camera.”
This works at all levels. Need early access to a park or refuge? A $50 bill given to the guy/gal who works the gate usually allows for early access. Sometimes the answer is just to rent access for a “private event” and make that event your photography.
For example, I wanted to make some stock shots of the Las Vegas strip years ago. I knew which hotel would provide me with the best shot, but the hotel policy regarding photography, combined with overzealous security guards made getting that shot impossible. My solution? I rented the suite with virtually the same view and got the shot. I also paid one of the bouncers at the hotel (er, excuse me “security people”) to come up and run interference for me. What is “impossible” under most circumstances becomes “no problem” with a few bucks placed into the right pocket.
Even if you don’t have the cash, you can save yourself some trouble by sometimes just taking an extra minute to notify authorities of your intentions. When I go to any national park, despite the fact that I have an absolute, complete right to photograph as long as I don’t go off road or cause the park to provide security and staffing for my access, I still stop in the ranger station and let them know who I am and what I am doing. It sometimes even yields free advice on where to find the best wildlife or best scenics.
I hate the fact that my country has become a place where everyone is suspicious of everyone else, but that’s the way it is. So you can either run from it or deal with it. These ideas are how I deal with it. They may not be your cup of tea but they have certainly kept me out of trouble. Hopefully they will help some of you too.