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Why Does Street Photography Make Us Paranoid?

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

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Words by Stuart Fawcett – JackAllTog.

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.

Housmans Bookshop
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.

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Andy_Cundell 7 1.1k 5 England
21 Jul 2011 3:12PM
I find this topic quite interesting, even though I am not a 'public' photographer. What really brings questions to my mind is every single 'fly on the wall' documentary of our 'Boys and Girls in blue' has a camera operator with them to film events. There are often small discretions between the 'person of interest' to the police and the camera person. The police always back up the camera operator by saying photography in a public place is not a crime. Is this a 'change the rules as they go along' or 'one rule for one and one for another' type attitude?


(nice dit by the way Stuart!)

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Shcokete 6 32
27 Jul 2011 3:57PM
How about Google Earth. They photo'd my front gate and dustbins without asking permission.
JackAllTog Plus
9 5.0k 58 United Kingdom
27 Jul 2011 4:57PM
LOL, its true David. but the same applies they don't need it. Its amazing how much you can zoom into streetview looking for open windows, or just window shopping down a high street you can't be bothered to drive down.
The police said they are not bothered about the things Google can show you.
27 Jul 2011 7:45PM
So how soon can we expect "1984" to be fully implemented in this now third world country, only as a precaution mind, in the interests of security, public order, health and safety, crime prevention etc etc etc
JackAllTog Plus
9 5.0k 58 United Kingdom
27 Jul 2011 8:13PM
I think we are all getting wiser about the encroaching restrictions and this may keep it from occurring to too great an extent, but groups like liberty who I've previously dismissed as only having specialist views will have an increasingly mainstream part to play in protecting us as individuals from those that want to control our behaviour for the good of the few.
bwman 8 8 United Kingdom
27 Jul 2011 9:08PM
A well balanced summary, but what a shame we live in such restricted times for those wishing to practise street photoghraphy. Will today's town and country life be as informatively documented, or in the diverse manner as in the times of Atget, HCB, Doisneau, The 'Eyewitness' Hungarians currently on show at the RA? Probably not. Unless of course another 'Vivian Maier', practising unnoticed now, using film or unadulterated digital truth, is discovered at the end of this century. It could be the highlight of the London Street Photography Festival 2100. I'll be watching from another place, regrettably 'sans' my Minox ML
KeithOT 12 10 United Kingdom
28 Jul 2011 11:24AM
Very interesting but with so many cheap minature cameras available for silly money & remarkable picture quality - I bought a video camera complete with an 8gb memory card & built in rechargeable battery - it is no bigger than my finger & cost 19.00. Just how easy is it for a security operative to detect something like this in use? If someone really wants to take pictures/video of almost anywhere how can tou stop them?
JackAllTog Plus
9 5.0k 58 United Kingdom
28 Jul 2011 12:01PM
The deeper point that Anna makes is that the visible security action allows investors to feel they are getting value for money and are protected, but the point that Keith makes is that he can still film covertly, this is the falacy of the visible security measures. Whether this is unintentional or not in making us pay more for security is a question that's left for discussion. As well as whether larger and larger enclaves of private land appear on which we are answerable to the landowner rather than the law of the land.
chil 11
28 Jul 2011 2:23PM

Quote:So how soon can we expect "1984" to be fully implemented in this now third world country, only as a precaution mind, in the interests of security, public order, health and safety, crime prevention etc etc etc
You forgot to include climate change Tyron2000.
Amongst other things I am a school photographer and the number of times I have been prevented from taking pictures of the children in my charge, on school trips, is amazing.
On a recent trip to France I was told photography of the excited children on the ferry was not allowed as photography was banned, the ferry being the same as an airport? This only seemed to apply to the people with big DSLR's (me) as the people using mobiles and compacts where not approached or asked to stop filming.
I used to enjoy walking about with my camera looking for interesting images, people and architecture etc., but with the way things have changed over the last ten years, sadly this is no longer possible. You are looked upon as either a peadophile or a possible terrorist.
No, the only "public" photography that seems to be allowed today is via the burgeoning CCTV systems.
I don't know how Monsieur Cartier-Bresson would have managed in today's society.
bwman 8 8 United Kingdom
28 Jul 2011 10:01PM
KeithOT's point about cheap miniature cameras is valid for those users prepared to review, edit & categorize their output for current use and form a record for tomorrow's society of how 'the street' was in those days.
With CHIL I have great sympathy that part of his school trip went unrecorded. But hang a serious piece of DSLR kit around your neck and it attracts in unnumbered minds of countless observers the unfair labels mentioned. This even though his attachment to and position in the school group was obvious.
At 75 I've grown up in the era of the great street scene photographers enjoying their work immensely. I've absorbed some of their techniques and acheived modest results to satisfy my needs, displaying to friends and family. However, since retiring 15 years ago for the anxieties/ irritations expressed in the comments, I've have done my best shooting with a Minox ML35 loaded with Tri-x or Tmax400, applying hyperfocal distance focusing and aperature as appropriate. To date no one has 'punched my lights out'. I hope my luck holds out for a few more years!
28 Jul 2011 11:10PM
I've recently returned to doing some street photography after a long absence (20 years) from the genre. I often carry an F5 or D700 fitted with an 80-200 f2.8 (no chance of hiding) and remain curiously unchallenged. On the few occasions when people have asked why I've taken photographs of them, I've told them that they look interesting and I try only to shoot people who are interesting. All, so far, have accepted that and some have actually responded positively.

People are far more used to having their photographs taken than they were in the 70s (when I began to shoot), but the big SLR (D or otherwise) still raises eyebrows amongst non-togs because they don't understand the difference between a phone cam and a 'proper' cam. I imagine that compact sales will decline for this very reason.

In response to bwman - thanks, I'd completely forgotten about Minox.
monstersnowman 12 1.7k 1 England
2 Aug 2011 12:54AM
I am one person who does overall feel safer with CCTV. It has had an instant and effective impact in my town and on the security of a business I owned that went for several years under CCTV street scrutiny without incident but on moving to an area not protected by CCTV was a constant target of burglary and damage.

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