[Manhattan commercial photographer Simon Lund's] troubles started when he was with his wife, Jano, clicking away at Coney Island on Memorial Day. A woman approached him and accused him of taking pictures of her young son. Lund says that if he did, he was unaware of it; he recalls that he was shooting the rides. In any event, Lund knew that it's legal to take pictures of people, even kids, in public. (For later commercial use, photographers have to get releases from the children's parents.)
The woman told him to accompany her while she found a cop. She insisted that Lund erase the picture, but Lund was using a film camera, not a digital one, and thus couldn't erase individual shots. ... A cop whom Lund couldn't fully identify, however, didn't see it that way. Lund says the cop asked him and his wife if they had children. When they said no, the officer said: "If you did, you'd understand why she is so upset." The woman was joined by other family members, and soon they were all yelling at the police to make Lund hand over his film.
"It was starting to get uglier and uglier," says Lund. "The mother of the child was getting really hostile: 'Why isn't he destroying it? How can he take pictures of my child?' " Lund says the cop then leaned over to him and said: "You should destroy your film right now, or give it to her. You've got to give up your film, or things are going to get much worse for you."
With 20/20 hindsight, Lund did a couple of things wrong — but photographing a public carnival ride wasn't one of them.
First, he gave up his film — and his rights — much too easily. He should have politely refused, with an appeal to the rule of law that both the cops and the unpleasant little mob were apparently unaware of.
Also, Lund neglected to get the officer's name, robbing himself of the opportunity to lodge an effective complaint.
I don't want to be too hard on Lund, or even on the cop; they were both in a stressful situation that probably didn't promote clear, cool thinking. But every time photographers act like pushovers, they make it more difficult for everybody else to take pictures in public. In that sense, all of us image-makers, professional and amateurs alike, have a duty that goes beyond what's most expeditious or convenient to us personally.
Bruce Schneier, meanwhile, ties the escalating battle against photographers to the fear of terrorism, and argues that the reason why people with cameras have become bogeymen is pretty silly. Consider this, he says:
The 9/11 terrorists didn't photograph anything. Nor did the London transport bombers, the Madrid bombers, or the liquid bombers arrested in 2006. Timothy McVeigh didn't photograph the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The Unabomber didn't photograph anything; neither did shoe-bomber Richard Reid. Photographs aren't being found amongst the papers of Palestinian suicide bombers. The IRA wasn't known for its photography. Even those manufactured terrorist plots that the US government likes to talk about — the Ft. Dix terrorists, the JFK airport bombers, the Miami 7, the Lackawanna 6 — no photography.
Given that real terrorists, and even wannabe terrorists, don't seem to photograph anything, why is it such pervasive conventional wisdom that terrorists photograph their targets? Why are our fears so great that we have no choice but to be suspicious of any photographer?
Because it's a movie-plot threat.
... Terrorists taking pictures is a quintessential detail in any good movie. Of course it makes sense that terrorists will take pictures of their targets. They have to do reconnaissance, don't they? We need 45 minutes of television action before the actual terrorist attack — 90 minutes if it's a movie — and a photography scene is just perfect. It's our movie-plot terrorists that are photographers, even if the real-world ones are not.