Society’s demonization of photography continues. As a photographer, I am more than a little bothered by this.
Take this example. My son’s school just sent a press release email to all parents. It read, in part:
The Halton Regional Police Service has arrested and charged a man after he was seen following and believed to be photographing two teenage girls. On February 2nd and again on February 6, 2012, just after 3:00 p.m., the two girls were walking home from school in the area of Monks Passage and Oak Meadow Road when they observed a man following them.
The man was driving a white Cadillac and appeared to be photographing them.
The girls were able to obtain the licence plate of the vehicle and subsequent police investigation led to the driver being identified.
The letter then went on to give some common-sense safety advice (play safe and play together; walk together, and so on).
What bothers me is not the way in which authorities watch over out children’s safety (I have kids too). What bothers me is the “…and believed to be photographing” part. As though that in itself is bad; the implication is that photographing is a step worse than merely following and harassing.
Photographing someone is no more illegal or wrong than looking at someone or speaking to someone. Both are perfectly legal. And both can, when done in a harassing manner, be wrong.
Yes: it is legal in Canada to photograph anyone and anything you like, in a public place. Of course there are limits: harassing is wrong. But that is the harassing – it has nothing to do with photography itself. Imagine if the press release had read:
“The Halton Regional Police Service has arrested and charged a man after he was seen following and is believed to have spoken to two teenage girls”
“The Halton Regional Police Service has arrested and charged a man after he was seen following, and is believed to have looked in the direction of, two teenage girls”
“The Halton Regional Police Service has arrested and charged a man after he was seen following, and is believed to have listened to, two teenage girls”
That would sound silly – but photography – oh, that is bad: it steals people’s souls. Worse if he was using a long lens – never mind that an iPhone has lots of megapixels too, but a long lens makes you extra evil.
I am not exaggerating. Last summer, a fellow newspaper shooter I know was interrogated by police after “he was seen photographing children with a long lens” – and two cars, not one, were sent to intercept this photojournalist, who was merely getting a “weather picture” for the Oakville Beaver, our local newspaper.
Can I suggest we use slightly less incendiary language? As a photographer who carries a camera at all times, I do not want to start being seen as a threat – thanks. Photography is not sinister and it must not be turned into anything sinister. It does no harm – and the pictures teens put up as Facebook profiles are, I am sure, more revealing and provocative than anything you could capture in the streets.
Oh, and I received the 2008 Halton Police “News Photograph of the Year” award. Which I captured with, yes, a camera.