A Law Against Photographing Traffic? And Hospitals? Really?
You may remember my reporting that I was confronted by a park warden in Birmingham’s Cannon Hill Park for taking pictures of a (fully-clothed) model at around 8pm in the evening. And that I was told by a Birmingham WPC that I needed a permit to photograph the buildings in St. Paul’s Square. Well, here we are again.
Twice in one week, I have been told by my students that they have been stopped by police or security staff when taking photographs in the street for their projects. On the first occasion, a student was photographing “light trails” made by cars in the area near the new Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham when security staff pulled up in a car and asked him what he was doing and told him he was not allowed to take photographs which included the hospital. Fair enough, you might think. After all, he had the hospital in his viewfinder.
But what is wrong with that? Is there a law against photographing hospitals now? Even if we assume he was within the boundary’s of the hospital grounds (which I’m not sure is the case), what is the problem? Don’t we, the taxpayers of the West Midlands own that hospital? What exactly are they afraid of? It’s not exactly a high security politically or militarily sensitive installation. A moment ago, I did a Google image search for “Birmingham Queen Elizabeth Hospital” and it threw up 440,000 results, most of which, one assumes, are pictures of this hospital that the security guards are so keen to prevent from being photographed.
On the second occasion, another student was again photographing car light trails near Quinton on the outskirts of Birmingham, accompanied by her partner. A police car pulled up and officers (from West Midlands Police) asked her what she was doing. She told them, truthfully, that she was taking images for a photograohy course. They wanted to know what course and where it was held. I understand that my student’s partner did much of the talking as she was quite frightened. As she told me, “I’ve never had anything to do with the police before”. They must have picked up on her unease because they ended on quite a friendly tone, telling her not to look so worried. She felt obliged to give up at that point and drove away.
Again, what crime was she committing? Or even could have been contemplating committing? Did she really have to answer questions about what course she was taking the pictures for? What business was it of the police?!? Why do they need to know? Doesn’t she have the right to take photographs on a public street? The very nature of this type of photography means that the cars are rendered as mere blurs, and so the police’s reasons for concern couldn’t be based upon “data protection”, “invasion of privacy” or any other similarly spurious cover-all excuses for heavy-handed harrassment.
Remember the Eurovision Song Contest a few weeks ago, and the claims that Azerbaijan was an unsuitable host because it is an oppressive dictatorship with a history of human rights violations and persecution? One thought: The UK hosts the Olympics this summer. Are people harrassed by police for photographing cars in Azerbaijan?
Please, folks – know your rights: http://photographernotaterrorist.org/ and http://www.facebook.com/pages/Im-a-Photographer-Not-a-Terrorist/128534046017