I spoke too soon. Less than a week after I said that I’d never been stopped for taking photographs in a public space, I was stopped by the police for taking photographs in a public space.
It was rather strange. I am not used to being stopped by the police. I am not used to dealing with the police at all – I think the last time I even spoke to a policeman was ten years ago.
I was visiting London on Monday morning. A bright day, showery, I decided to walk from my hotel in Old Street to the British Museum, through Clerkenwell, stopping to look at and photograph buildings as I went.
I had stopped at St John’s Square, looking north; I noticed a building with a bright red Z on its facade, which was pleasantly offset against the dark blue sky and contrasted with a buddleia growing out of the roof. I took a picture of it – this one, actually:
A policeman came up and asked me what I was doing, so I told him I was on my way to the British Museum, taking photographs of the buildings that caught my eye on the way. He asked me why I wanted to do that – not that I think he didn’t believe me, but because he couldn’t understand anyone innocently taking pictures of buildings. I pointed out the large red Z and the plant growing near it, and how I liked the contrast of the ornamental letter and the dark sky behind. He asked if I was a professional photographer, although I don’t know if that would have made any difference – do professionals have different rights to amateur photographers? I noticed his partner, a younger woman, standing some way off. (I wonder if she was taking my picture?)
A couple of days ago, I read a DibLemming post about taking photographs in public places, and the dangers (real and otherwise) of doing so.
Then I saw Freedom & Whisky has a post about the police preventing photographers taking pictures of activity, and how Austin Mitchell MP is introducing an early day motion condemning the police stopping photographers who are lawfully taking photographs.
I take a lot of photographs, although I can’t remember being stopped from taking photographs when it was lawful for me to take pictures. (I have often been asked not to take pictures where I can see why I shouldn’t – in museums, for instance, where I might infringe an artist’s copyright.)
Here’s to success for Mitchell’s motion!