I wasn't sure whether I was going to bother writing about this or not. I've had to wait a couple of days to summon the energy and even thinking about it now I find completely exhausting. What the hey... here goes...
So, since I broke my toe I've been missing out on most kinds of exercise. And I'm alarmed to discover that I've reached the age where these things matter. I spend most days sitting at a computer, writing this book and as everyone knows, the main activity of a writer is eating biscuits. It's essential. 10 years ago... maybe even 5, I'm pretty sure I could have sat at my desk all day eating biscuits and not put any weight on. Sadly this is no longer true.
Well my toe has done its time and while I can still feel it's a little off it's better than it was and I'm happy to push it a little bit. I'm no good at exercise for the sake of it... I play football and I ride a bike because they're both pleasurable. I reckon with my normal day-to-day gadding about on a bike and a hopefully-weekly game of footy I'll get my fair share of accidental exercise and shouldn't need to force myself through anything else.
Incidentally, these musings are all very much the undercard for the main bit of the story which I won't be getting to for some time yet. You might want to make a cup of tea.
So anyway... I woke up on Wednesday with a terrible cold and have been producing record breaking levels of snot ever since and on Saturday as I stared at a blank screen, the ability to put one word after another having left me, feeling heavy, lethargic and muddle-headed I decided to take the bull by the horns and fill my lungs with some good healthy oxygen.
So I decided that a bike ride was the order of the day and that a trip into the Lea Valley - (glorious countryside/can be reached in 30 minutes/wouldn't know you were in London) - was a good idea. And seeing as I've turned into a boring old man with boring old man hobbies, I put my camera in my saddle bag as a way of giving myself an excuse to dawdle when I was out there.
So... near the start of the journey, I head through Victoria Park where I discovered there was a funfair running. I recognised many of the rides because the same fair seems to pop up in various East London parks during the summer every year. I stopped and took a couple of shots of the ferris wheel for the sake of it... one of which later became this:
A nice 10 mile ride, some photos of a canal and more of an electricity pylon later and I was heading back through Vicky Park feeling altogether healthier. I wasn't aware that I had a cold and I was feeling pretty smug about having forced the lethargic me of before to unletharge himself.
As I came by the fair it seemed a little livelier and though it certainly wasn't dark yet the light was different and I thought I'd take a few more shots. I've photographed it before now so I wasn't expecting to get anything startlingly different out of it but it delayed me a little while longer and kept me in the outdoors.
"Of course you can," said I, because, of course, they could.
"Can you just come with us, away from the noise then," said he, guiding me away and behind the rides.
"Can we ask what you're doing?"
"Fairground rides. Would you like to take a look?"
So, I handed him my camera and showed him the first few photos... all of which were shots like the one you see here. I was using a slow shutter speed and trying to capture the movement of the lights every time. Mostly failing but still, they were all pretty much of the same kind.
"How do you scroll through this?" he asked, clearly wanting to see more than I'd shown him.
I showed him how and he proceeded to whizz through.
"Okay," he said, "I'll explain why we've asked to speak to you. We were called in earlier because someone else was taking pictures of children."
"I see," said I. "Well, as you can see, that isn't what I'm doing..."
"No. I can see you're doing... um... arty stuff," he said, still scrolling through, now examining several shots taken from underneath an electricity pylon. "There's nothing wrong with this at all."
"I mean, I understand why people are concerned," I said.
Which is true. I'd hate for anyone to think I was taking a picture of their kids which is why I never pointed my camera at any. The only photos I took were of fast moving rides... the kind of rides that little kids are too little to go on in the first place. Rides which were obviously pretty photogenic in their own right. Even so, these are paranoid times and I understand why people want to be careful and I was genuinely untroubled by the fact that the three of us were having this chat.
"There's nothing wrong with anything you've got here," he said, handing me back my camera. "We're just having a friendly word. That said, my advice would be that you should leave."
"Look, we'll tell the security guards that you're not taking pictures of people but that's not all we're worried about. There are parents around and there have been incidents where parents have beaten people up because of what they think they're doing."
Now, I understood why he was giving me this advice and it made sense to me in the abstract. At the same time, it didn't tally with my experience. I was being careful of what I shot and how I shot it and I didn't have any sense of anyone being uncomfortable with it. More to the point, I didn't want to be seen having a word with a couple of policemen and then disappearing straight away with my tail between my legs. I thought that would make me look like I was doing something wrong when in actual fact they'd just established that I wasn't. We were on public property after all. Which is pretty much what I explained to them.
"I see where you're coming from," he said. "We will tell the security that you're okay but I still wouldn't hang around if I were you."
"I'll just be another 5 minutes."
"Okay," said she as we prepared to part company, "can I just take your name and your date of birth."
I gave her both and she scribbled them down in a notebook. I thought it was odd that she didn't check by asking for ID.
We went our separate ways and I pushed my bike over to another ride. There was a hard looking guy operating it, cajoling punters on to it and so on and so, mindful that he was someone I wouldn't want to be on the wrong side of, I asked him if he minded me taking any photos of the ride. He just shrugged and said it was fine. He obviously couldn't care less and seemed confused that I'd even felt the need to ask. So when the ride got going I took a few shots - all of which were uniformly dreadful.
As I wheeled myself away from that space there was a familiar tap on my shoulder.
"Mr Gorman," said Mrs Plod, "I thought we asked you to leave."
"Really?" I asked, genuinely bemused, "I thought we agreed I was going to stay for a few minutes."
"I don't think so," said she which was the first moment where I felt a tinge of annoyance because it was quite definitely how our earlier conversation had gone.
"We don't want you to take any more photos Mr Gorman," said Mr. Plod. "The security guards don't like it."
"But the guy who's running the ride doesn't mind."
"The security guards don't like it."
"But you've told them that I'm not taking pictures of people. I mean, it's not just not-kids... it's not even people."
"Yes... but the security guards don't want you taking pictures of any of their rides."
"Okay," I shrugged. "Only that's not what you said before. It was people taking pictures of kids before. I mean, there weren't even any kids on the ride."
"Are you going to leave now, Mr Gorman?" she asked.
"Yes, but I'm just trying to make it clear that..."
"Because if you don't, it will be a breach of the peace," said he, making it clear that our conversation was over.
"Yeah and I'm going but..."
And then I gave up. Because, really, what was the point? So I turned and cycled home feeling ever so slightly threatened by life. I really do understand why there might be some rational concern about a single man wandering around a fair with a camera but at the same time... it wasn't overrun with kids and I was careful never to do anything that might give anyone any reason to be worried. Unless simply being in possession of a camera is enough these days? But then fairs are photogenic places; full of character and light. People are bound to want to take photos of them, aren't they? Now, the next time the fair comes to one of my local parks I'm going to think twice about getting my camera out because the next time the police ask me I'll think, "yeah... and my names already in their book." and I really don't think I should have to feel like that.
I honestly don't mind them asking me what I'm up to... but I do mind that when they establish that I'm clearly not doing anything wrong I'm made to feel like I am.
What a big old shame Dave, it does seem an injustice and quite a price to pay for making the world safer.. not even sure it has made life safer really.. its all about perception than the reality it seems..
dont let the bastards (whoever they are..) grind you down..
Wow, that's massively paranoid of the police.
Annoying as it was, you did the right thing, since they obviously weren't being consistent or rational in any way but it's still a shame you can't take a few pictures without being harassed.
Maybe it was a terrorism thing? I've noticed Manchester getting bugfuck paranoid recently. This is despite it probably being more likely that I'll win the lottery and get hit twice by lightning while catching a meteorite in my teeth than being terrorised into bits.
I to have had a similar frustration recently at the school were my children attend and where also i am a governor and PTA chairman.
We have done several summer events that have been fun and involving for the children but risk the chance of not being able to treasure these times as no one is allowed to take photographs.
One of my requests for the recent events was to take photographs for the PTA/school website. Nope no go due to child protection laws. Ok i can see how some parents would not be happy with the www but this also applied to printing images to be sent home with the parents on the day..... I tried to offer solutions, one of which was to ask a very close friend who is a BBC cameraman. He has photographed and film the PM, US presidents, the pope and many other people of similar importance and protection. He is also checked by the CRB (police checks) bi-annually in line with his day job. As well as Kevin (friend) i also asked and received consent from circa 90% of the parents on the school and ......... no.
It is a real shame as you have really struck a very sad point in society were cannot take photos to preserve memories even though we are taking all precautions needed due to the time we live in and the culture we have of child related images.
I too understand the worries as i am a parent to 3 very young children but i also have a good level of common sense and a desire to be able to remember this precious time after all the Merlot has taken its toll.
I am not sure who said it and i am sure my mother would not approve but " dont let the b*stards grind you down". I am a long time reader of the blogs and flickr galleries and would hate to see creativeness affected by this kind of nonsense.
It's the old adage 'think of the children' which is applied as a catch-all instead of actually doing some research and thinking for them selves. it's the same reason why removing 29000 profiles from mySpace is greeted with hysteria, when the reality of danger from that forum is very, very small. Fear not rationality drives it.
Damn that sucks Dave. As a photographer myself I try to be wary of such behaviour, but unfortunately people are so scared that they tend to get the wrong end of the stick time and time again. Thankfully my age prevents me from actually being confronted (as I'm closer to the age of those likely to be targeted) but still, the time will come when I'll be in the same boat as you and I hope to god that by that time people will stop thinking that anybody with a camera is a sexual predator.
Parnoid twerps! Don't let them put you off, Dave. I think your photos are great. Only wish I had as good an eye.
Can't believe you can't even take photos at school functions. That's ridiculous! Good on you for fighting back though, Matt. And Dave for standing up for himself. If we just fall into line, things will get worse.
I'm guessing the security guys got it into their heads that you were a perv and that would ruin theor business. The fact that you are not was beside the point in the end. I wonder why the Police culdnt get you and the security people together to reassure them. Once people get the idea you were up to no good its like impossible to prove the negative, that you were not. Once the suspicion sets in thats the end of it. People will not be reassured.. there is always doubt. Very sad.
That is really sad to read, Dave, especially when innocent actions can be twisted and misconstrued as something sick - firstly for how that makes you feel and secondly as there is so much paranoia and so little common sense that it is hard to reason with. If it’s any consolation, those two photos are lovely… And I also write better with biscuits.
The problem you had with the police was that even though you all "agreed" that you would stay a few more moments, in their minds they told you to go and you should respect that & vamoose. Any discussion to the contrary is just polite behaviour & should be ignored.
What a shame. It's amazing how suspicious people seem to be if someone is taking photographs. Recently I was taking photos near the local docks (for the photography competition on your forum, as it happens). A security guard stopped me and my nine year old son, and forced my son to delete any photos which contained logos! We were on public property photographing things that are clearly on view to all. I'm sure that if my son wasn't with me he would have treated it even more seriously (my son shouted "I'm only nine", and looked like he was going to cry, which I think made him take a more "lenient" to our non-crime. Later, we were approached by another guard, but walked away quickly. Then we gave up. It's so strange. I thought photography was a pretty mainstream hobby, but I seem to be regarded with suspicion whenever I go out with my camera, especially if I'm on my own.
I've never been treated quite as badly as you were though. Quite a contrast to the previous incident you described, when you were questioned by police in an apparently pleasant way when taking pictures of Battersea Power Station.
Thats rotten and makes an innocent man feel guilty, whilst the guilty would simply walk away free to prey another day. (I am devious enough of mind to think that if I was the guilty party I would have any dodgy photos on a more descrete camera and use the arty ones as a cover and therefore not having had their name taken)
I got told off for putting a tent up in the park opposite the flat I live in, even though I explained it was a new tent, I did not have a garden, I would be using it for a festival (Rock-am-Ring) and needed to check it. "Don't leave it up overnight" the park warden said so I told her I did not want to have to get out of bed every 20 mins to look out the window to see if it had been pinched. They eventually left but I saw them drive passed a number of times whilst my friends and I had a bbq and polished off a couple of bottles of wine.
The sun was just setting when we finally/drunkenly took it down.
Keep smiling, taking the photo's and sharing both with your adoring fans.
What amazes me is that neither you nor any commentator has suggested
(a) That you shouldn't have given your name and address (the police had no reason to need it and no grounds on which to demand it)
(b) That you should have taken the police officers numbers and complained about their intimidatory behaviour. Funfairs on public land do not have the right to prohibit the taking of photos.
Unless people stand up for themselves in this sort of situation, pretty soon we will have no civil liberties left at all.
Poor show that from those P.Cs Dave. I used to be a copper (funnily enough in Stafford...yes I went to Walton also). I can quite honestly say that I am dissapointed in those Police Officers. I spent 13 years on the job and watched new recruit after new recruit become a little moulding of scared little children, afraid to upset anyone in case they get a complaint or don't fulfill this weeks targets. (Upsetting anyone that is, apart from the law abiding public). The PCs should have had the back bone to tell the security guards that you weren't doing anything wrong, they had checked your camera don't forget. They should have told the security that there is no reason why you should not be there (gah, why am I double negativing?? Is that a word??). It is small things like this that is adding to the evaporation of the ole British Bobby.
I would have told you , "thank you very much" for letting me look at your pictures. I would have left no doubt whatsoever when I spoke to the security guards that you are OK. They would have had no doubt, as I was an honest Police officer and my word IS good enough. I would have told you politely to " Have a great day Sir, and good luck with those pictures". I would have warned you about being careful of course where the lens was pointed, but I would have also added "We'll be around if you need us".
I totally agree that such things (sadly) do need to be monitored in our dissapointing modern world of having to protect our children from the people who will exploit them. But I had enough conviction in my people skills and my investigation skills to rule out innocent situations when required.
Ok I am probably boring you now, boring myself a little too. Things like that are the reason I left the job and now live in Southern Spain. A shame as I miss being the traditional Peeler.
Keep up the good work Dave.
And a final message to all the Police Officers out there. I know the idea of discretion isn't really viable anymore, but remember it is yours to use. Use it alongside your common sense and you won't go far wrong. And NEVER forget, Behaviour breeds Behaviour.
The media driven obsession with paedophilia in this country makes people such as the security guards in your story overly paranoid of anything to do with children. People don't have the sense to use their judgement.
An impossible situation for you as you don't want to make a scene because then you'll draw attention.
My son is too young to be in school plays etc. but if what I hear is true that you can't photograph at such events I have plenty of arguements on my horizon.
That's horrible. These stories seem to occur more and more often now. It's a real shame.
it's political correctness gone differently sane.
actually, once police officers start getting arsey like that, there's absolutely no point even trying to talk rationally to them. they just don't function like that.
That's naff. I can't believe people are that paranoid. I think it's just the police - palming off the blame on the security guards and the ride control people. Everything is either people scared of paedophiles or terrorists...and both types of freaks have been around forever. They'll try blaming the two groups for climate change next...yeah, like they're all sat around in some hideout somewhere with all their appliances on standby!!!
It's easier to hassle you than to actually do their job - that would require work!
Nice pics :=)
(I'm one of the people who has left a comment over at Flickr.)
I'm really sorry you had to put up with all that. I was quite shocked reading your little story. There seems to be getting less and less space for comment sense these days.
I've been frowned at twice for taking photos too. Once in NYC for taking a photo looking up a skyscraper and the second time at LAX for snapping the 747 we were due to fly home on (and was told I was lucky not to have my camera confiscated). As far as I remember there were no signs saying you shouldn't take photos of planes from the departure lounge.
A sad, sad sign of the times. I didn't enjoy being made to feel guilty either. Just for taking a bloomin' photo.
a similar thing happened to me a couple of years ago, and it felt horrible.
it made me feel dubious about myself when it shouldn't.
I have to question what law you were supposed to be breaking. Even if you HAD been taking photos of children, it wouldn't be illegal as far as I know.
the idea that with all the child porn out on the internet that there is a big demand for photos of fully clothed children on merrygorounds is odd as well.
The cops said "There are parents around and there have been incidents where parents have beaten people up because of what they think they're doing"... so it's okay for them to over enthusiastically protect the rights of non-existant/non-visible children but (reading between the lines) refuse to protect an innocent man from a beating?
Not wanting to get all Fox Mulder on you, but were they really coppers?
Oh hang on, if I was really getting all Fox Mulder on you, I suppose I wouldn't be asking you that, I'd be asking you which spaceship they stepped out of or if they have weird powers and smoke a lot.
That's not really what I meant and it trivialises a serious point.
Rubbish, as is generally agreed.
It's only going to get worse, Dave. Ken Liveinston wants to ban public photography for all but those who have permits. Look at this petition against it:
But for the sake a few perverts we will all suffer.
Cough- that'll be Ken LIVINGSTON
"Look at this petition" - or scroll up from that link to see the government response saying that it's nonsense.
I've seen so many links to that petition elsewhere... and watched in horror because of the number of people who sign it without question. It's a petition about nothing... a petition protesting about proposals that don't exist.
This is how easy it is to protest these days... if your cause sounds noble and you sell it with enough conviction you can get thousands of people to protest... so long as they don't have to leave the house to do it.
You are the winner of this week's Post of the Week.
I can't find an email address for you..so..as a winner you are invited to Guest Judge next week's Post of the Week.
If you're interested, please go here.
Didn't you pull up your shirt and show them the big red button on your belt and praise Allah as you recited that last prayer.....?
They would have been eating out of your hand after all that diversity training
This really is awful!!! That said, I agree with Kate, you should have taken down the names of the officers and their numbers...though, I imagine that you would have felt even more uncomfortable doing so. I imagine that if you'd broken their chain of thought, thanked them for their concern and presence and assured them that you would be writting to their supperior about how reassuring it was to have such a presence, then they would have been quick to back down.
I'm sure that all this after thought doesn't really make you feel better about what happened...it's just all very sad and disturbing! I am glad, however, that you decided to post the story, and I hope that everyone else on here is so appalled by your treatment that you feel a little better.
I'm sure this is quoting someone - or misquoting them as may be - but we have nothing to fear but fear itself.
We live in a world where people arn't frightened of what there is, but what there might be. There might be bird flu coming, there might be terrorists on your bus (which has increased the number of cyclists, which is a good thing...), but I had my own run in with the logic-less security guard.
So it's London, it's December, and I'm at a loose end. I've got my camera bag with me, and the sun is decending rapidly. I'd already pledged to get some shots while there's still colour in the sky, and done some scouting the previous night. Nothing to do but get a move on.
Wandering along the south bank of the Thames, I get to the London Eye. I've taken many shots of it over the years, including one that's on my living room wall, but I'd never got a good night shot. Tonight I'd finish up my London Eye photo collection and move onto other subjects.
As I arrive the sun is low, the lights are glowing on the wheel, and I pick the 15mm fisheye to start with. It's so cold that I've got my cable release in my pocket, with just the lead hanging out. I set up my little travel tripod at the base of the cables that run down the bank and start bracketing. I notice that a security guard is wandering over.
"You can't take photos with that."
Ok, not a great opening gambit. My response should have been "What, a camera?" You always think of the good lines after the event. I'd got my little tripod, no battery grip, and a thin fisheye lens.
What do you mean?
"You can't use a tripod here."
"Well you might be a pro and we don't know what you might use the photos for."
But I can take photos without the tripod?
It was pretty much dark, and I'm buggered if I'm using ISO 1600 just to avoid the wrath of security. I wander along the loading area away from the Thames. I hold the camera up to my eye and I realise there's a shot. I keep going back. By the time I'm on the public highway it's too far. I set up my tripod, set the camera, dash to where I want to be, fire off a handful of frames with the tripod and go. No checking, I just head for the Shell building and a bit of peace.
I check the camera, I got the shot. Waves of "I beat the system" dopamine wash over me, and that was the perfect end to my shooting of the London Eye.
Ultimately you can't beat those in charge, but you can be out proudly taking photos, and not furtively hiding your camera in your jacket looking even shadier than you're not.
Oh, and a I took more photos of the London Eye. They were mostly rubbish, and I'm fairly sure they look like everyone elses :)
what goes around comes around, dave...
My hub got beaten up for trying to take a photo of a sign saying "Goat's leg free with every purchase." And not even by the shop man, by a passer-by man. Although it was in Peckham.
Why should we believe you? We should start questioning the stories we read. Maybe you are protesting about a situation that never existed. This is how easy it is to protest these days... sounds familiar?
Yes the words are familiar you anonymous little minx you... cleverly using my own words against me like that. Oh, no... hang on... actually, I think you've rather missed the point.
There's a big difference between a petition and a story on a blog. For a start, one is a protest and one isn't.
I was asked on at least 20 occasions to sign that petition protesting government proposals to limit the freedom of photographers. I questioned it. I looked into it for myself. I discovered that there were no such proposals. So I didn't sign the petition. But tens of thousands of people did sign it.
To me, a petition about proposals that do not exist but that is signed by tens of thousands of people is a good demonstration of how readily people will sign up to something regardless of merit, so long as it sounds righteous.
A post in which you basically say, "ah ha... well then Mr. Cynical... I'm going to turn your words back on you... how do you like a dose of your own medicine!" does nothing to make that any less true.
But I think you're comparing the telling-of-a-story with an-organised-protest and that's apples and oranges.
Question the story all you like. Doubt it if that suits you. It would only be important if I was asking you to do anything about it. Which I'm not. Nor would I.
It's a strange world when people are afraid of what a tiny group of people might possibly may do, perhaps, with a few pictures of fully-clothed children with their parents.
As an expat I'm watching from afar, with a certain degree of horror, what has been happening in my home country.
The UK is turning into a police state. Paranoia is everywhere. I thought the brakes would get put on a bit once David Blunkett got binned, but it hasn't happened.
Brits are the most watched-over race on the planet, security camera-wise and will soon be walking around with microchips in their fifty-pound notes and god knows what else.
Yes, the technology is already here. Supposedly to ease catching criminals and nothing to do with some bored copper aiming a scanner at you from fifty metres and knowing how much cash you're carrying.
Incidentally, nobody stops you taking pictures of fairgrounds here in Belgium - not even the cops who all carry guns. But this is presumably because it's already the paedophile capital of Europe, so what would be the point?
Sad, but true.
Agh, bloody plods.
Couldn't they be out shooting Brazilians or something instead?
I'm sorry to say that unlike a couple of readers, I wasn't surprised at all by your story or the lengthy comment stream - but like most of them, I feel disappointed and saddened by it in several ways (of which an explanation wouldn't add anything to this discussion).
You see, I'm a professional photographer as well as a flickr user since early 2005. So unfortunately it's all too familiar.
An Australian photographer and ex-lawyer called Andrew Nemeth maintains a reasonably comprhensive discussion of law and ethics of all of this on his website, including links to further discussions and stories on flickr. Recommended reading. (Although you might want to go and make yourself a cup of tea, as you say, because there's a lot of material there!)
In a world where you can no longer take a photograph without stirring a public disturbance, you must look at that world and sigh a sad sigh.
I understand the world is paranoid about many things at the moment, from Pedophiles to Terrorists, from Global Warming to Foot and Mouth. However, turning into a Nanny-State as a result is never acceptable. People must take more responsibility for their own actions.
Children should learn that conkers CAN be dangerous as they have done for decades. Parents should learn that it's irresponsible to leave your child alone in unfamiliar surroundings for any period of time. Teachers should learn that their pupils will forever be a pain in their side, but they have training to deal with this.
Governments must learn to encourage common sense. Art I believe is another way to express common sense. They should not take away the ability to use it, whatever the medium.
feeling ever so slightly threatened by life
Yes, I can understand that. How miserable.
Have you seen the Youtube clip that is doing the rounds at the moment featuring a man being told to stop filming on his own property? I forget the link but if you haven't seen it it's embedded here:-
I'm not clear exactly what's the problem with taking public photos of children in the first place. Where's the harm? No, really. That the photographer will go home and take illicit pleasure from looking at them? So what?
It's not 'political correctness' that's going on here; it's paranoid and under-educated parents who have an obsession with that very rare crime, paedophilia.
I remember being vastly amused at hearing for the first time about primitive tribes who believed that once a photograph has been taken of them a portion of their soul has been removed. Little did I know that such superstition would spread to the heart of the Empire and be adopted by otherwise sensible people.
Reminds me of some shots I took a couple of years ago. http://www.photosig.com/go/photos/view?id=1580631
Most people are still okay, I think, so don't be put off. Take each situation as it comes. A
Do you live in TH or Hackney? If you're in TH I reckon it's worth writing a letter of complaint to your councillor. It's TH who license the use of VP these days.
Bit of cross forum polination. similar crazy police stoping photographer story.
Also a bluffers guide to photographers rights... if you get it out infront of a copper I caannot see it going that well though :(
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