Thursday, 17 December 2009

Taking Liberties

Photography by Nick Turpin

I've gone from being slightly irritated to being angry. It's taken most of this year for the anger to grow but  i'm finally getting to the point where i think ' What the hell is going on'?!?! What am i talking about? Photography in the UK and the ability for a person to be able to take photographs in a public place. Part of what many social observers, journalists and politicians call a free society. Something that may be under threat.

In the last few weeks, a number of photographers, film makers and journalists have run into police officers who have used terrorism legislation in a very sloppy fashion to stop, search and even arrest people. What makes things worse is the situation seems to be getting worse rather than better. Even after police officers are told by their top brass that photography in a public place is not a crime, photographers are being stopped on the grounds of national security. Whatever happened to the friendly copper just inquiring nicely:-

"Excuse me sir, can you tell me what you are doing'?
"Yes officer,  i'm taking some photographs for a project/portfolio/work/myself. "
"Oh very good sir. Thank you for your time."

Ask nicely and  you'll usually get a nice reply. Maybe that reads a bit too much like a script from Dixon of Dock Green, but it is based on my own dealings with police officers as a photographer. A post by Phil Coomes on the BBC Viewfinder website works along this very point too using a 1938 news article. There is no need to use anti terrorism stop and search powers to find out what's going on! I passionately believe that good policing is all about maintaining a good relationship with the public. Their help is often vital for helping solve crime. During the 7/7 bomb attacks in London, the police actually asked the public for any possible images/video of the bombers that may have been taken on mobile phones or video cameras. Now certain individuals in the police seem to believe that photography is only a tool for terrorism. The police should be working with photographers, using them constructively as an extra pair of eyes. Photographers are observers on life and if anyone can spot unusual behavior, or something that doesn't quite look right,  it's the humble photographer. Times that by about a factor of three if you are talking about a veteran street photographer.Those types of snappers miss nothing!

The Magnum photographer Martin Parr recently commented that he thought street photography could be banned in the U.K within the next five years. I personally think that a ban would be unworkable, especially in an age where virtually every mobile phone has a camera built into it. The British public would not tolerate a ban either. Nevertheless, the right to take photographs in public places needs to be fought for vigourously especially when the authorities start taking liberties with our liberty.


emma said...

hear hear! Not just the police but any power hungry uniformed twerps as well

Richard Flint Photography said...

Very true. I should have mentioned that a number of the incidents i linked to were started by paranoid, over zealous security staff. They called the police in. Totally uncalled for.