Thursday, April 17, 2008

Has the world gone mad?

I found this disturbing article on the BBC News web site about photographers being stopped by police and other officials in the course of taking photos in public places. I am a keen, although not very good photographer, and I enjoy taking pictures of all sorts of things: interesting buildings, places, particularly attractive scenes, exhibitions, conventions, displays, public events etc. One of my main hobbies is railways and I take a lot of photos of railway subjects - trains, stations and all sorts of other paraphernalia associated with the railways. Some might think that strange but is no more disruptive or sinister than me standing outside a cathedral taking pictures of its fine architecture.

There have been many stories I have read in the railway mags and have heard from other friends about photographers on railway stations being stopped from taking photos or asked to leave altogether. Now this silly and officious behaviour appears to be extending to almost any public place where people are taking photos because of a seemingly hysterical view that photographers must somehow be up to something sinister or wrong.

In the case of railway photography, there are very clear guidelines published by Network Rail and British Transport Police, which basically are a common-sense set of rules. Essentially, as long as you do not interfere with the normal and safe operation of the railway or make a nuisance of yourself, you are welcome to take photos. Still it seems that some railway staff are not aware of these guidelines although more often than not it is overly officious security guards that seem to be the main problem. There is only one occasion I can recall when I felt uncomfortable taking pictures on the railway and that was at Kings Cross due to the large number of police that were there, presumably for some event or supporters returning from or going to a football match. I felt that if I did start taking pictures, my motives would be questioned or I might be asked to leave.

In other public places I have never felt intimidated or prevented from taking photographs although sometimes it seems that someone with a camera attracts curious looks from the public. I experienced this most recently whilst taking pictures of The Forum in Norwich. But I love taking photos of the ordinary and the mundane because that is exactly what makes such an interesting photo so often in my view. In particular I like to take photos locally around Milton Keynes because so much development is taking place here I find it interesting to have a record of the changes.

It saddens me to think that as a society we are beginning to treat everyone who is doing something that we do not consider to be 'normal' as somehow a sinister threat. Even the innocent act of taking photos of the everyday can apparently now be conceived as an act of a terrorist. It really is crazy.

No comments: