Warning, this is long. If you only have the tolerance to read 140 characters or less you may want to skip to the end where you will find the TL;DR.
In the interest of self improvement I recently decided to take a digital photography course. For the last ten weeks I have been learning the ins-and-outs of digital photography. While I have always had an interest in photography and picture taking I wanted to learn more about using a camera. More specifically I have wanted to make the jump from shooting on iAuto mode to shooting in the ever intimidating Manual mode. Just a few short weeks into the class, I was already more comfortable with shooting in Manual mode, so much so that my camera is never on any other setting, ever.
One of the fun aspects of the course has been shooting weekly assignments. Every week the instructor would give assignments and each of the students were left to their own devices to fulfill the requirements. First assignment, we shot flowers. The flower assignment was easy enough. How could it be difficult, shoot some flowers and share them with the class. Next up, portraits. Again, cake assignment. Snap some pictures of people’s faces. Boom, boom, boom. Done. After finishing up the first few weeks of the course I felt pretty confident in my abilities as an amateur photog. Give me a concept to shoot and I am creative enough to come up with something that will both fulfill the assignment and give it a certain flair to make it my own.
All was well as I made my way through the course work and then came the ‘Urban/Landscape’ assignment. Undaunted by the challenge I set out to capture some images that consisted of my take on ‘Urban/Landscape.’ How difficult do you think it could be? Shoot some pictures of buildings, water fountains, city parks and the homework is done. Right?
In an effort to outdo my classmates I concentrated on finding the perfect pictures. How about bridges? I bet no one in my class would shoot bridges. So I am walking along and I found myself a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol building and I see what I feel like is a perfect shot of a railroad bridge. The light was right. The angle of the bridge crossed the frame with a city street underneath it. I snapped away. I kept taking picture after picture but none of them were turning out the way I had hoped. Something just wasn’t right about the pictures.
After I took the pictures I decided I would take a break and review them in my camera. As I made my way to the sidewalk to inspect my pictures more closely something caught my eye. On the side of a building was an old Coca-Cola ad that had been painted on the wall and to my best guess the image was decades old. The white paint was faded on the red brick facade. In that instant I decided to ditch the bridge pictures and decided I would shoot the Coke ad and after that I would set out to find more interesting city murals. As much as DC is known for blow hard politicians and government waste, my DC is also a culturally rich and diverse city. Scattered around the city are murals painted on all types of buildings. Think of it as publicly commissioned graffiti. All I had to do was capture the Coke ad and be on my way.
Not so fast.
Just as I was wrapping up my Coke shots a Capitol Hill police officer rolls up on a motorcycle. Right away, ‘Hey there. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?’ In my head I had prepared myself for this very scenario. On the series of tubes I had read story after story of photographers being harassed by police and security guard types. In my head I am prepared to reply to his questions about what I am doing and why I am taking pictures armed with a copy the photographers right in my bag. Before I could muster up the courage to resist, Officer Motor Bike is backed up with no less than nine (9) additional officers. Six more in uniform and three plain clothes officers. WTF just happened?!?
So much ‘Fuck’ was running through my head. There I was, one person, surrounded by a show of force that I would think would be more suited for a band of armed gunman rather than one person with an Olympus micro four thirds camera. They requested my ID, which I meekly gave them. They wanted to know what I was doing, obviously I was taking pictures. Now I want to be able to tell you that I stood my ground firmly and told them to suck a fat one but life just isn’t that easy. They descended on me en mass and I was grossly out numbered. They ‘had reports of someone suspicious taking pictures of things people rarely take pictures of’ and they just needed to check it out. You see it seems that some nutcase in the realm of defending our great nation against terrorist attacks thinks that someone taking pictures of bridges needs to be investigated ‘just in case.’
When my ID and name checked out to be clean Officer Motor Bike came over to me to let me know that everything was good. All he needed to do was look at my pictures. This was nearly my breaking point. After dealing with them and knowing that I didn’t have to answer any of their questions I was finally able to muster a semblance of courage and said ‘OK, You can see that I have been cooperating with you over this. Wouldn’t you agree?’ The four officers directly surrounding me all nodded in agreement. Then I said ‘In an effort to just get this over with I will show you the pictures as long as you realize that I know I have every right to not show them to you.’ I was prepared to be arrested and sent to the Capitol Hill Police booking office. The one solace in all of this is that it was not DC police giving me the shakedown. Central booking is not a place I want to ever visit. Not even as a member of a guided tour.
Fortunately the officers were cool about what I had to say because despite what I said about being prepared to be arrested all I could think about was ‘These are the feds. I am going to wind up in Guantanamo Bay being forced to eat a cock meat sandwich.’ Thanks a lot Kumar. With those thoughts in my head I conceded to their demands and showed them my pictures.
The most upsetting thing about the entire episode is that I caved under the pressure of numbers. Had it been the case that I would have had even one other person with me I may have felt more empowered to speak up and assert my rights. The truth is I was alone. No one knew where I was. Not my friends and not my family. I was alone aside from the SWAT force that showed up to thwart my picture taking. Would you stand tall? I hope so.
Now that I have shared the details of my run in please allow me to show you a picture of ‘something that people rarely take pictures of.’ Now I wish I could show you the picture that I took but I mistakenly deleted the images from my computer a few days ago. Total accident and I hate that my mistake cost me a couple of hundred pictures. However, fear not intrepid readers. The folks at google have made it easy for me to show you nearly the same image of ‘something that people rarely take pictures of’ via their handy FREE google maps service. Below I present to you a near identical image to the ones that I had shot on that fateful day. Without further ado:
All of that hoopla over me taking a picture of a bridge in Washington, DC, was a big waste. The image of the bridge is available on Google Maps Streetview. Stupid fucking feds. Now that the entire fiasco is behind me, here are my take away points.
- Next time someone harasses me about taking pictures of man made structures I will stand up for myself. How? I will tell them to look on Google Maps Street View as their precious building has more than likely already been photographed and posted online. I feel the need to tip my hat to the diligent members of the Capitol Hill Police. Without your help I would have never looked up the bridge on street view to see if I could find it after the fact.
- The photo of the bridge I took just plain sucked. If I can’t do any better than someone driving a car with an automated camera system on the roof then it is time to hang up the camera and take up a new hobby.
In the end I took some great pictures of a vineyard in rural Virginia. Truth be told, they kind of rock if I may say so myself. At the very least the folks in my class seemed to like them as well. Oh and the pictures of the Coke ad, they sucked too. The lighting was all wrong and that is why I moved onto completing my class assignment with the images I took from the vineyard.
TL;DR I am not going to give you a quick synopsis of my story. Go back and read it from the top you lazy Generation Now little fuck.
Don’t beat yourself up about caving before the purposefully intimidating use of ‘police presence’. That is what it is designed for. I think if you were aware it was going to happen you could gird your loins and scaffold your spine, but i have been in a similar experience to yours and when those guys just appear out of nowhere in those numbers, it’s pretty hard to think straight.
Thanks for pointing out The Photographer’s Rights link. Didn’t know that even existed and thanks for sharing the whole sorry tale to us.
I am now off to make a fortune selling prints of photocopies i have derived from screenshots on google maps.
Here is some additional information about the photographers rights. It is not as handy as the pdf link in the post but still more informative reading. Good luck and enjoy snapping your shutter. http://flavorwire.com/274477/flavorpills-guide-to-your-rights-as-a-photographer
Cock meat sandwich LOL… that show never failed to lift my day up!