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Why Does Street Photography Make Us Paranoid? - A panel discussion was held Wednesday night asking this very question and we were there to see what was said
The London Street Photography Festival is taking place this month and a series of events, talks and exhibitions to champion street photographers and their issues has and will continue to be held. Wednesday 20 July 2011 was the day a panel discussion on “Why does street photography make us paranoid?” took place. It had a special focus on architecture photography and the conflict you may well encounter with private security representatives when taking such photographs.
Scene from the film.
The primer for the discussion was a film about six photographers who were sent in to the City of London to take photos of buildings managed by private security firms. The film details both the good and bad experiences they had when encountering building security representatives and the police.
The panel was chaired by one of those photographers – Grant Smith. The panellists were:
- Anna Minton, Author of 'Ground Control'
- James Welch, Liberty legal director
- Pennie Quinton, Photographer and Journalist
- Dermont Robinson, Detective Superintendant, Head of Counter Terrorism, City of London Police
- Terry Hanley, Planning and Contingency Director for Knightsbridge Guarding
The discussion was a passionate, well informed and intelligent explanation of the law, security professional guidelines and the reasons and effects of such potentially creeping restrictions in London.
Anna had a particular concern for the privatisation of public places and the potential this had to affect social cohesion and the rights of individuals; One resonant point in her book notes that in 1864 there were 140 toll bars removed by an act of parliament after a swell of people protesting against private land operator restrictions. She also suggested that while CCTV has a place to play in society, overall it does not make us feel safer. She also noted that the Olympic park at Stratford would be the biggest private park yet. I personally found it interesting that such a large social place was now not truly a public place at all and my right to use or photograph within it would be at the discretion of others. One point raised during questions was whether CCTV creates a high class environment in which we aspire to work and live – your own answers are of interest here.
James is an experienced voice of Liberty that reminds us of the importance of human rights and how we need to know when these are being taken from us by others. He also noted that the Human rights act applied in private places is still a contentious issue.
Pennie, an experienced Photographer and Journalist, has previously been detained many times in her work under various ‘legal powers’, once 3 times in a week forcing her to give up on photographing one week long event. These detentions had at various times taken hours and caused her to miss subsequent engagements and so lose out on work.
Dermont introduced us to Project Griffin which is a collaboration of business and the police to protect our cities and communities from the threat of terrorism. Griffin is an excellent framework to help all agencies work together for our protection. Dermot promoted a relaxed and friendly approach to policing which was similar to the approach reflected by the police in the film. This was generally acknowledged as much better than it used to be which everyone appreciated. The aim of Griffin was to help identify hostile reconnaissance whether by photo’s, questions to staff or just unusual behaviour. Updates to the security industry are through a trickle down approach via project Griffin. Anyone is allowed to attend project Griffin training and one NUJ member present expressed such an interest.
Terry probably had the hardest ride in the group but dealt with the questions admirably and showed how the security industry is maturing and improving. Private Security can ask you to adhere to landowners restrictions and call the police if you do not. But this is only when you are on their land, if you are on public land your are free to photograph what ever you can see. Now all private security employees need to be licensed and able to produce this licence if asked. The licence is typically obtained after a 3 to 5 day training course although no periodic refresher course is required. Re-registration and a CRB check is required every 3 years to keep the license. The security industry employees 300,000 people in the UK, a far higher number than elsewhere in Europe. The body responsible for this is the Security Industry Authority.
Inside Housmans bookshop.
The whole event was held in Housmans bookshop just round the corner from Kings Cross, it was massively oversubscribed with getting on for 100 people in a small not-for-profit bookshop for "radical interest and progressive politics". It was a meeting with a warm attentive audience who wanted to see the good progress that is starting to be made in the private security industry and how this affects photographers and others in everyday life.
Remember this event is part of the whole festival of street photography organised by the London Street Photography Festival and many more events are still available. Do look at the diary for events to interest you and exhibitions to attend.
I’m a photographer who was challenged about 9 months ago by a security guard who would neither identify himself or his employer, and was asked to delete my image or the police would be called. I’m now more assured of my rights and that less people like him will exist in the future.
Words by Stuart Fawcett – JackAllTog.