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.



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