Photographer Harassment

I have been professionally photographing more than three decades and during the past two years since moving to west-central Missouri I have never seen or experienced photographer harassment as I have here. When I first moved here, I started going on short, local photo trips with some of my university colleagues and noticed while we were out, usually someone from the local community would stop us (typically my friend) and begin to aggressively question what we were doing. We could be photographing something entirely mundane, such as the side of an old weathered building, yet people around here seem compelled to take it upon themselves to function as some kind of “photo police”, as though the act of photographing public spaces is a crime. I truly don’t understand this mentality! Sadly, this is not only happening in the USA. Here’s a link to Thomas Hawk’s Digital Connection, and watch this video of this craziness in the UK!

Today while I was riding my bike to the university to teach a morning studio class, I stopped on the neighboring street to create the image below. Just a simple close-up shot of a flowering American Tulip Tree. How benign can this subject matter be? Regardless, I’m minding my own business trying to get my little point & shoot (Nikon Coolpix S210) focused when I noticed one of the locals sitting in his sedan in the middle of the street staring at me. I consider myself to be a very open, accepting person of others’ chosen lifestyles so I don’t want to sound bigoted, but this guy fit the stereotypical rendition of a “redneck”, of which there are plenty around here.

At any rate, I finished my shooting and was getting ready to get back on my bike and he yells at me wanting to know if I was just photographing the “flower”. I’ve seen this episode play out too often with my photo buddies, so I was in no mood to go down this road. I put on a stern face, mustered up my old Army master sergeant voice and challenged him by asking him “was there a problem”? He smartly rolled up his window and sped off!

What is going on here? Why is that people think they have some kind of obligation to interfere with photographers working in public spaces? Certainly there’s no national secrets to safe guard near the campus of UCM! My personal theory is they must confuse everyone with a camera as being “paparazzi” and maybe they think they’re going to save the next Princess Diana!

© 2008 Terry Ownby, Flower from an American Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera).

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