There is a dangerous trend happening in the United States today; street photographers are being harassed by law enforcement, citizens, and state governments to stop taking pictures in public places. This is becoming a setback to our freedom of speech and press, and appears to be a new form of censorship.
The first instance was last week in McDowell County, WV, when an angry mob confronted, detained, and threatened Jesse and Marisha Camp, two out-of-state sibling photographers documenting their travels from California to the East Coast, for allegedly taking pictures of children.
There is audio of the encounter, in which you can tell that the Camp siblings sound shaken and scared. The Camp’s claim their innocence while the angry citizens of McDowell County surround them and demand to see their images. In the audio you can hear both siblings offering to show the mob the pictures they had taken to prove their innocence.
A state trooper later intervened by escorting the brother and sister photographers out of the region, and luckily neither of them were hurt.
In a statement, Marisha Camp said:
“My brother and I are currently on the last leg of a cross country road trip that began in California and has encompassed a number of states and communities. We love to document our travels and people we meet along the way. As a result, we were traveling through McDowell County yesterday (3/23) with cameras, telltale “you’re not from around here” accents, and out of state plates. I’m not naive in regards to insular cultures and an attendant inability to understand outsiders, but a “misunderstanding” does not, CANNOT justify being held hostage and having one’s life threatened. While I was happy to escape physically unscathed, I find it much harder to overcome the fear, the inescapable sense of vulnerability… the trauma of yesterday.”
Illegal Street Photography
Even more frightening is that street photography is becoming harder to practice in some states. For example, on March 24 the Arkansas Senate passed SB-79 which states: ‘To Enact the Personal Rights Protection Act: and to Protect the Property Rights of an Individual to the Use of the Individual’s Name, Voice, Signature, and Likeness.’
The new Arkansas State law makes it illegal to take pictures of citizens without their full consent in public places. This contradicts federal law that protects and allows photographers to take photographs and pictures in public places without having to having to have consent.
Although it’s not illegal if you get someone’s consent, it is a powerful state law that changes the freedoms that were afforded to photographers at a federal level, and censors photographers from shooting in public places.
To read more about the advocacy alert, visit American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP)
There is a counterpoint to this argument though: It is important to recognize and explain the citizens point of view, because there is concern in this day and age that some images may be used for illicit purposes, i.e., pedophiles and of a pornographic nature.
The people of McDowell were angered and quickly gained a mob mentality and became protective of their children and community because they felt threatened. They accused the Camp’s of being pedophiles because they were allegedly taking pictures of children. I find it hard to argue that people shouldn’t be afraid of photographers taking pictures of their children, because there are people out there shooting for illicit reasons.
So isn’t it worth arguing that police, lawmakers, and citizens are enacting and upholding laws that protect the rights of the people?
For instance, look at the celebrity culture where it is completely legal to capture any celebrity, at any time when they are in a public place, and basically harass them every waking minute of the day. Isn’t this something that should be stopped? And if children are being exploited in any fashion, shouldn’t their be laws stopping people from photographing them?
This is certainly a divisive issue, and both sides have different contentions I certainly understand. But is something larger happening here? I think so.
The disturbing trend of censoring citizens seems to be the start of government and media outlets making people, and in the case photographers, out to be villains.
There are always two sides of a story, and having the benefit of doubt is important when trying to balance issues on both sides. The fact is that the media has framed the world a much scarier place than it actually is, and it can turn people into menacing mobs when they feel like their community is being threatened, i.e., children being exploited, or being filmed without consent.
These sensationalized stories have only added fear into the American collective consciousness. By believing the stories we read and watch via news outlets has made us scared of the world at large. All media outlets, except a few free presses, are owned by major corporations, and are creating these stories with cherry picked facts, and white lies in order to protect their interests, i.e., money, power, etc., not yours.
As Deep Throat, a source that gave journalist Bob Woodward during the Watergate Scandal: “Follow the money,” is apropos these days as well.
It is dangerous to start making certain practices of photography illegal. For example, what if a photographer takes pictures of an event on public property that captures an important moment, or a situation that shows the world what is really happening during a major news event, or even as evidentiary footage proving a defendant had done no wrong? What if labor unions are being beaten by cops for protesting, what if someone captured what happened during when Michael Brown was killed, or what would have happened if the Eric Garner wasn’t released of him being choked to death?
It is important to be able to document life as it is without fear of being arrested or threatened. We are supposedly a free country, but our right seems to have become diluted, and that is scarier than what network news like CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, can sensationalize.
It may be a bit of a stretch to proclaim that photography is being made illegal, but when things are taken away, it usually is the start of something bigger.
If you don’t agree with my opinion, please write me and I will publish what you have to say in a future article. And if you find something you think is an instance of laws and regulations altering the freedoms of photographers, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.