I took this image the other day. Coming out of my gym, I saw this sticker on a light pole and right behind, badly parked, this “Public Safety” minivan and thought the contrast of the two would be interesting. Not a great picture, I agree, as I was shooting with a pocket camera, the Nikon 7900, that I always carry with me in the hope of becoming, maybe, one day, the greatest citizen journalist in the world.
As I have learned from the pros, I took different images, verticals, horizontals, close ups etc. While I was doing that, this woman, in police uniform comes out of nowhere and start asking me in a very unfriendly tone: “Sir, is there a problem here ? ”
Still under the spell of the endorphin produced by my workout, I do not think much of it and reply, nicely, after looking around me. ” No, absolutely not”. Before I had a chance to ask her what had prompted her question, she disappears back into the building, letting a glass door close gently behind her. On the door, a sign : “Security Office”. I suddenly realize the reason for her concern. The Public Security van, badly parked, belongs to her. I do not think much of it and continue taking pictures.
Half a minute later, I hear a voice again. “Sir, can I help you ?”. I look and there stands a man this time, seemingly from the great nation of India, also in simile police uniform. I am not sure how to respond to that particular question, so I glance at him as if I didn’t really understood what he said. In a more aggressive and authoritarian tone, he asked: “what are you doing ?”
Bear in mind that I am on the sidewalk , shooting towards the street, in what could not be more of a public space than the moon. I did not expect anyone to get upset. Trying to avoid a shoot out, I remain calm and think to myself I could give a free photography lesson to this man who couldn’t find any other job than a private security guard and maybe help his career. I say “come here”, gesturing to him to approach me and the post where the sticker is. Just wanted to visually show him what I was photographing to make him understand. He doesn’t move. So I explain to him, the sticker, the Security van, fear, contrast, etc.
“what are you going to do with these pictures ?!”, he says in a very annoyed tone. As much as I wanted to say” I am going to send them to the police department and show them how badly you park because I have nothing else to do with my life than chase bad drivers . ” So I politely replied. “oh, it is just for me”. I think his gun had something to do with my reaction. Still in its holder, and maybe not real, I still did not want to find out.”But what do you do with the image?!” he insisted. And so we had a long, annoying chat while passer buys looked at me as if I had just robbed a bank with my point and shoot. Finally we parted, him unconvinced and myself, ready to start a revolution.
I have been following the multiple posts of Thomas Hawk about photographer Carlos Miller arrested by the Miami police. 9/11 and the so called Patriot Act have raised the confidence levels to both regular and private security forces in this country to ridiculous highs, to a point where you cannot even take picture of a light post in the street without being harassed. This is becoming ridiculous. As Thomas Hawk says, “Photography is not a crime”. If I want to take bad pictures, let me take bad pictures. We should start, (maybe on Zoomr?), a photo group, just specialized on photos of Police and security guards at work just to encourage everyone to photograph them all the time and let them know they are being watched.
P.S.: The next day, all the postings on that light post had been taken down. I guess as a prevention measure against any other attempts from other photographers.
Interesting anecdote… in a chilling way. In a democracy, this police attitude would be labeled “abuse of power”.