No more running.
If you go and read those posts, you’ll find that, early on in the life of this blog, I urged a policy where rather than use the fact that photography in public places is legal to justify their photography, photographers should instead photograph in public with some sense of responsibility. And you’ll note that I took considerable heat in the comments. Fair enough. That was a bit more than three years ago. I want to make sure that people understand, as they read what follows, that I still am very much in agreement with every word I wrote in that first post titled “The Photos to Not Take”. As photographers, we have responsibilities as well as rights.
But things have moved on, and it has become abundantly clear that the right to photograph in public is under siege. Everywhere in the news, photographers are being harassed for photographing in public places, despite their legal right to do so. It’s happening here in the US, and it’s happening in the UK, and it seems a pretty safe assumption that it’s happening everywhere. Fathers are being harassed for taking photographs of their children riding the coin-pay kiddie rides in public shopping centers. No, not just harassed by rent-a-cop wannabe mall guards, but harassed by honest-to-God police who then go on to accuse the father of being a child molester.
I am the guy who was vilified for arguing that photographers have responsibilities as well as rights. And I am saying, now, that this is enough. It is past enough. It has gone from annoying, to stupid and annoying, to the point where this crap is socially corrosive. Governments everywhere are busily engaged in implementing plans to photograph every citizen in every public place all the time 24/365, and those governments are at the same time busily insisting that private citizens do not have the right to photograph public employees on the job. And that, my friends, is not the way free countries are run.
The time has come to say that we’re not going to take any more. Don’t just push back politely against the people who are painting everyone with a camera in a public place as child rapists or terrorists. No more polite pushing back. Sorry, we’re done with that. This is no longer an issue of polite behavior and going along to get along. The time has come for photographers to use the legal system to not just fight off the false accusations, but to go after the people who are doing the harassing. Go after them, and crush them, leave their lives destroyed and shattered in the way a parent who has been falsely accused of child molestation on the basis taking an innocent photo of a kid taking a perfectly normal bath gets his life shattered.
The problem, as I see it, is that all too often what happens is that some person with limited resources is the victim of this policy of harassment. This innocent person doesn’t have the dough to go after the harasser through the legal system. And no one has pockets deep enough to go after all the assholes who are doing this harassing.
But there’s a misconception, here. We don’t have to go after every single one. We just have to pick one. Pick one, crush him or her completely, along with the people who let him get away with it, in a very public way. Careers ended. Huge libel or slander lawsuits. Make it the stuff that causes politicians to lose elections. Turn it from a little encounter between a private citizen and a mall guard or beat cop into a big, whopping public scandal with cries for big, intrusive government investigations into the guard/cop’s boss, his boss’s boss, and his boss’s boss’s boss.
How to do it?
- If every photographer gives $10 bucks, that’s not going to be enough to go after every harasser with lawsuits. It will, however, be enough to go after one, and completely bury him. Make it big enough, and splashy enough, and all the rest of the stupid power-hungry cops and guards will suddenly realize that their ability to own houses, cars, and live with their families is at stake. And, it will make a difference.
- When someone engages in this sort of harassment, an effort should be made to photograph or video record the harasser, not just during the event but continuously, as long as that person is in a public space and has no expectation of privacy. Record them driving to work, with the speedometer in the frame so that if they speed there is evidence of their crime. Record them flipping the bird at a driver when they cross the street. Record them, nonstop, and sort through the recordings, and publish the most humiliating, embarrassing ones along with all the ones that contain evidence of criminal behavior. How to organize this? Twitter and thousands of photographers seems like a workable plan.
- When someone gets harassed for photographing in a location, thousands and thousands of photographers should converge on that spot and make photographs. Make a lot of fuss. Get on TV. Hold the harasser out in the light of public scrutiny.
- While you do those things, make it blatantly clear that the reason this person is being targeted is that they harassed someone beyond the bounds of their authority. And make it clear that this is what is going to happen to people who do that in the future. Maybe not every single time, but often enough that it is a very bad gamble for a guard or cop to take.
Because what I want is, the next time some mall guard or beat cop gets to thinking “Humm, there’s a photographer, I think I’ll entertain myself by going over there and giving him a hard time”, his partner says “Oh, Bob, I don’t think that’s a good idea. You remember Pete? He did that, and that bunch of crazy-ass photographers went after him tooth, claw, and nail. They sued him for everything he had, he lost his job, car and house. Those photographers, they photographed him every time he left the house. They got photos of him cheating on his wife, and his wife left him and took the kids, and if you want to discuss it with him, you can find him down at 1st and Market holding a sign that says ‘Let’s be honest, I need money for booze.’ He’s got lice, and he hasn’t taken a shower in three months. He lives under the overpass over north of town. Those photographers look like they’re artsy fartsy pushovers, but let me tell you, some of them are the meanest, most vindictive bastards you’re ever gonna meet. Just leave them the hell alone, and let’s go get a donut, whaddayasay?”
No more running. I aim to misbehave.