Tuesday, December 28, 2010

You Can't Photograph This Sign

In Gary Shteyngart's satirical "Super Sad True Love Story" published this year, an American who has been living abroad flies to JFK Airport, where passengers are greeted by heavy security — including a tank. In front of the tank a soldier plants a sign, informing them that "by reading this sign you have denied existence of the object [the tank] and implied consent."

We're not quite to that point yet, but sometimes it seems we're not that far off, either. I wrote a couple weeks ago about a police officer demanding a colleague erase a photo and trying to snatch his camera away. But even everyday photography has the potential to spark trouble.

Take a routine assignment to photograph the headquarters of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services near Baltimore, above. You can hear a recording below of what happened when I approached and said I was going to photograph the "Department of Health and Human Services" sign from the street. Photography from a public street or sidewalk is always legal. And thankfully, in this case an officer who was well-informed on the subject intervened.

Later note: Taking a picture of a sign seems a potentially pointless assignment. Yet this time it wasn't -- one of the photos was used by Time magazine.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Season's greetings

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A little background...

Not an uncommon problem: A magazine client has an important story for the week, and wants a cover image to go with it. But the photographer (me) arrives at the event they assign and finds people standing at a podium with a couple flags behind them. What to do to make this scene a little more cover-worthy?

How about a nice (blue) strobe on the beige wall next to the flags? (Just set the strobe on the floor.) Plus a light on the subject. Two small strobes from the camera bag and the resulting image (of an AT&T official, above) is a lot more interesting!

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bastion of the First Amendment?

With such a variety of protests — climate change, World AIDS Day, even Uzbek refugees — in front of the White House yesterday, it'd be nice to report that Lafayette Park and the closed stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue are a bastion of the First Amendment.

But it's not always the case. My colleague Mannie, a White House news photographer, snapped an image of a couple protesters in the street that happened to include a uniformed member of the Secret Service in the distance. The officer approached Manny, demanded he delete the photo, and then actually chased him a little ways and tried to snatch his camera away. What was the officer — who later refused to identify himself — thinking? If he'd managed to grab the camera, what would he have done with it? Hide it like the squirrels hide the nuts in Lafayette Park?

Anyway, Mannie, after demanding to know if he was under arrest, escaped and went back to his job. Later, when the incident was discussed with a sergeant with the Secret Service, the sergeant affirmed that police have no right to order people to delete photos, or to control what is photographed. He mentioned that this was a new part of their training. (I thought the concept was pretty well established in 1791, the year the Bill of Rights was ratified.)

Incidents like this have been reported around town, in places like Union Station, the Metro, downtown streets. But it was unusual to see it happen with the Secret Service, normally a highly professional, and even mellow, group — the same officers who calmly watched AIDS activists roll a coffin up the street just a half hour later.

UPDATE -- PDN Pulse has interviewed the photographer, and posted the photo the officer ordered deleted: http://bit.ly/gluUgj. And as they point out -- the photographer involved is the same whose photo of President Obama was the basis for the famous "Hope" poster!

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