Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Security & London 2012 Olympics

April 23, 2012

A walk around the perimeter of the Olympic site on Saturday revealed the enormous changes that have taken place in East London in preparation for the 2012 Games. It also revealed the unwelcome actions of security personnel employed by G4S on behalf of the London Olmpics.

There were four photo journalists and a video journalist in our group that attempted the walk. Halfway on the journey, near the vehicle entrance to Westfield, where the footpath and cycle suddenly ends without any indication of where one should safely traverse the roads, a security guard began shouting at us as we tried to find a safe way around the site. The guard strode towards us, hand outstretched, attempting to prohibit any photography by anyone of us. We were all carrying cameras, so any attempt to stop photographs or video was be a futile and useless task.

We were all stood on public land, where apparently G4S and private security have no legal rights to interfere with anybody.

After a heated discussion, the area we were discouraged from photographing, the booths and vehicle entrance to a shopping centre (where one assumes and hopes any sensitive material is hidden from public view), became the setting for lengthy discussions over our legal standpoint and the inevitable arrival of the police. During the discussions, we learned that guards actively deter people from taking photographs, despite the fact that they have no legal power to do so. The police, as is now more frequently the case, acted with politeness, civility and professionalism and affirmed our position as law abiding citizens who were entitled to take photographs from public land.

Unfortunately this professionalism is lacking in the frontline of security personnel who make the first point of contact with members of the public (or press).Image

Stand Your Ground and PHNAT pamphlet launch

June 21, 2011

PHNAT Pamphlet Launch AOP Gallery Tuesday 14 June

Over 100 people attended the party to launch the PHNAT pamphlet, many of whom were press photographers directly affected by the misuse of section 44. A slide show of images of police and private security guard showing harassment and detention of working photographers provided the visual background to the event. The images were bookended by Jason Parkinson film’s ‘Hostile Reconnaissance’ and ‘Collateral Damage’.

The AOP provided use of the gallery and Ing Media supplied drinks. Larry Herman talked about the importance of the CPBF and why they supported the pamphlet. Marc Vallee gave a brief history of PHNAT and why it came into existence, starting with the lone campaign of Jeremy Dear outside Scotland Yard and culminating in the massive turnout of over 2,00 people in Trafalgar Square in early 2010, and the subsequent removal of section 44. His message of celebration was tempered by the as yet unknown usage of section 47a against photographers.

It was a great gathering that had a positive outcome, and gave everyone who attended a reason to celebrate the achievements of PHNAT. Over 500 pamphlets were distributed amongst the guests. The pamphlet was produced with the assistance of the NUJ and the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, kindly supported by the British Press Photographers Association and the London Photographers’ Branch.

A week later I was part of the London Street Photography Festival Stand Your Ground. This event followed 6 photographers, including David Hoffman, Philip Wolmuth, Pennie Quinton, Michael Grieve, Toby Smith. We were photographing parts of the City from public spaces. At least 6 different locations were photographed and filmed by a dedicated videographer. All the photographers were stopped and questioned by security guards, who saw it within their remit to prevent photographers from photographing the building they were looking after. 3 of the photographers received police attention after the security guards contacted police. In all cases the security guards were incorrectly making statements about the legality of photographing a building without permission.  One photographer was told that ‘…it was against company law.’ I was informed that a permit was required from the City of London Police and the building owner (in this case Heron). After I made enquiries as to how I might obtain this permission, the guard backtracked and confirmed that I didn’t need permission from City of London. He did suggest that I may apply for one at Heron, but that would depend on the type of photographs I intended to take. This is part of the initiative known as Project Argus, a companion to Project Griffin. The inconsistency of approach by the security guards and their lack of understanding of the law is alarming. Given that approaches made by security to photographers are usually hostile and affirmative, it is no wonder that many photographers feel intimidated by their presence and look to shoot elsewhere. In my instance, two security guards crossed Bishopsgate and stood by me until the police arrived. This was antagonistic, unsettling and unnecessary. I didn’t provide the building security team a reason for photographing the newest and tallest building in the City, nor did I provide any identification, as I was well within my right to photograph from the public footpath.

The arrival of the police was welcome, as it was quickly established that I was within my rights, and was doing nothing wrong, to photograph the building. It was re-assuring for the police officer to immediately identify himself and ask if the security personnel had been physically heavy handed or had tried to grab my camera. I provided the officer with my details and the reason for photography and he indicated that the security personnel had acted irrationally in contacting police.

He bid me a polite farewell and could continue to do what I had been perceived as a suspicious activity by the security team.

The reception at Heron Tower on Bishopsgate contains the largest privately owned aquarium, home to more than 1200 tropical marine fish. Just don’t try and photograph it – nor push your nose up against the glass to look at life in the goldfish bowl.

© Grant Smith

Right Here, Right Now, Format International Photography Festival

March 7, 2011

Derby Format 2011, Right Here, Right Now

Talks by Richard Kalvar, Chris Steele-Perkins and Grant Smith

Richard Kalvar, a Magnum photographer talked about his formative years in New York City under the tutelage of a fashion photographer. Realising he wasn’t going to enjoy working as a fashion photographer, he took to the streets of New York and ‘found’ images. As a street photographer, he maintains that it is about observing. Photographs are not made, but found. ‘You have to feel curious and make connections with human beings.’ ‘I loved the pictures I was taking, and I love my pictures.’ Kalvar argues that unless photography is difficult, there is no credibility in it. As he doesn’t crop his images, he has to get it right in the camera. Using a Leica with a 35mm lens, a camera, ‘…because it’s perfect and you don’t have to about the equipment, it allows you to concentrate on picture taking’, he went in close and captured images that juxtapose people, expressions, attitudes and street paraphernalia. Images with a prescient anticipation of circumstance, rich in texture, detail and wry, quirky observation.

Chris Steele-Perkins another Magnum photographer has spent his life travelling the world making connections with people. Blessed with courage and an eye that captures undisclosed tensions in his images, he has documented conflict and war zones. Back home in the UK, he documented the English. A memorable image taken in colour at Blackpool beach depicts picnickers, sunbathers, children astride a donkey and a dog urinating, all woven together in this improbable scene by splashes of red fabric. It was unusual for Steele-Perkins to work in colour, but it gave him an alternative way of portraying his homeland. Recently he has photographed Mt. Fuji in Japan, using the iconic mountain as a backdrop to the activities of Japanese citizens in the foreground. Fuji becomes a significant part of the iconography of the image by virtue despite its background role. Looking at his images, it’s not clear what has happened before, or will happen afterwards. Perhaps the whole scene will collapse. The ambiguity in the images poses many questions in the viewer and I think this is one of his objectives.

My talk concerned photographers’ rights, especially regarding shooting in public places, following the recent end to section 44. I illustrated the talk with examples of my work and the harassment I have received from private security guards. Anecdotal stories regarding police response and questioning highlighted the confusion resulting in this broadly and indiscriminately deployed law. Culminating in the PHNAT mass photo-gathering in January last year, after the ECHR ruled that use of s44 was illegal, the event drew attention to the number of citizens adversely affected by s44.

Covering the right to take images in public of people, buildings and children, I emphasised the legality of taking such images. The climate of fear and suspicion breeds a mistrust of photographers as observers. While the state is and private companies are monitoring the citizens with the largest number of CCTV cameras in the world, the innocent citizen is made to feel suspicious and guilty, and the photographic observations of the citizen are discredited.

Questions from the floor highlighted the uncertainty that is still evident concerning the legality over photography in a public place. Members of the audience asked about photography of children in public, and what is deemed a public place. One question asked whether a public library was a public place. Like many interiors, the public library is not a public place, it is a privately managed space that is made available to the public. This also applies to public transport.

A successful day that addressed many of the issues concerning photography in public, and promoted the cause of PHNAT.

Later I made contact with organisers of the London Street Photography Festival, taking place in the summer, who are keen to run workshops in around the theme of street photography during the festival.

The exhibitions on show during the festival all used the subject of street photography as the theme. A striking display by several Magnum photographers in the city square showed images from New York, Australia, Istanbul and Italy. All taken on the streets and capturing candid, life-affirming moments that awoke new passions in this viewer.

Elsewhere in Derby venues showed images from highly productive workshops, as well as work from member organisations like Hardcore Street Photography and In-Public. A fascinating film, made by Nick Turpin titled In-Sight, looked at the work and working methods of four of the In-Public photographers.

The Derby Museum displayed work commissioned by Format, shot by Bruce Gilden, of people on the streets of Derby. Large black and white photographs that put the viewer in conversation and direct confrontation with the subject.

Format has delivered a stimulating and inspiring festival, from the exhibitions to the talks and workshops on offer. Using the theme of street photography is relevant and timely. The city of Derby has embraced the festival, and well posted signage directs you around the city to experience the festival. Though most of the activity takes place at the Quad, the rest of the city plays an accessible and welcoming host to the other activities.

The continued culture of street photography is under threat, and Format is a powerful reminder to us that we shouldn’t let this discipline of photography become a victim of the suspicion of photographers that is now so prevalent, and the indiscriminate application of the terrorism law.

For the next month there are activities and talks over the weekends, so don’t miss the chance to be inspired. Next weekend (12 March) Paul Lewis and Roger Tooth will be talking on photojournalism and the public realm.

7 March 2011

Children in Architectural Photography

September 9, 2010

Marcus Fairs of Dezeen Magazine recently commented on his twitter site that ‘…architectural photographers manage to make children look lonely, even in photos of a kindergarten’.

Marcus’ point is timely and recognizes an underlying problem with images of children, as taking photographs with children as a secondary subject is being made more difficult.

Have you ever wondered why people in photographs are either blurred, have their back to the camera, look lonely and not engaged with neither the space nor the photographer?

Prior to digital imagery, film required long exposures, especially interior scenes and this resulted in blurred imagery owing to movement. Digital imagery meant that images can be recorded at higher speeds, as the light sensitivity of the recording chip can be rated at significantly higher levels than can be achieved with film. This can deliver more intimate imagery, as photographers can now successfully record scenes that are low lit.

Yet the images that are published are not like this. Home owners are often unwilling to be so critically exposed by the camera and have their living habits openly viewed. Pictures of the public in corporate or commercial buildings often depict people half turned away from the camera, or hurrying past so that they are blurred. Rushing out for a meeting or a sandwich, they often aren’t in a mood to be photographed, and see the photographer as a major nuisance; an inconvenience in a perhaps already stressful day. There is a suspicion of anybody taking photographs and the public become unwilling subjects in the attempt to bring scale and humanity to the buildings.

Photographs of schools or kindergartens raise entirely different issues. The blind belief that anybody taking photographs in a school, especially a male, must have an ulterior motive prohibits an easy interaction between subject and photographer. Some of the provisos I have operated under when photographing children in schools have been absurd. On a recent assignment photographing building works at a school in Hackney, the project manager told me it was illegal to photograph children, and advised me not to engage with the children under any circumstance. Other parents have asked whether the images would be on the internet. If the images were for printed publication, it was deemed acceptable; the internet was definitely out of bounds. Some schools are quite relaxed about photography; a circular is sent out in advance that advises parents’ that a photographer will be working in the school. If they prefer their children not to be photographed, then the child does not take part in any activities that may be in danger of being photographed. However the normal restrictions are that children can only be photographed from the back, any front on images are blurred so that their faces are not recognizable, or they are far enough away from the camera so as not to be identifiable.

The result is often an image of a small child standing alone in a playground looking lonely.

Law In Action Tuesday 8 June 2010

June 9, 2010
'We encourage a policing style where law-abiding members of the public should be able to go about their business unhindered by police officers. Police have no powers to stop people filming unless there is reasonable suspicion that it is connected to terrorism.' Frank Armastrong, Second-in-Charge, City of London Police

'We encourage a policing style where law-abiding members of the public should be able to go about their business unhindered by police officers. Police have no powers to stop people filming unless there is reasonable suspicion that it is connected to terrorism.' Frank Armstrong, Second-in-Charge, City of London Police

'You must clear photographs of people under the Data Protection Act' Building Manager. 'Hiding behind the Data Protection Act is nonsense'. Richard Thomas, former Information Commissioner

You're facing my building and I'm really sorry - you're not allowed to film it.' Building Manager

Yesterday’s edition of BBC Radio 4 Law In Action examined misuse of Section 44 against photographers and the right to take photographs in a public place.
These images were taken when I was prevented from taking photographs of Moor House on London Wall, as recorded by the BBC. The quotes are from the programme.

Can I have my mobile phone back please, officer?

May 10, 2010

A quick recce for a portrait location in the City ends in police detention under s44.

I spent the weekend in Derby at the National Photography Symposium and was involved in a panel discussion on ‘Photography, Security and Terrorism. How ironic that my first assignment back in London today saw me experience again the public humiliation of a detention and a physical search by a City of London police officer.
Scouting for a location on London Wall for a portrait of one of the architect’s responsible for the City’s changing skyline, I went to One Aldermanbury Square. Loaded with a Canon g10, I wandered around the base of the building taking recce shots. A guard employed by the building waved his hands at me, asserting that I couldn’t photograph this building. As I stood on the pavement opposite the building I told him he was wrong, and I had every right to photograph, which I kept on doing. Another guard approached saying the same thing, and that if I didn’t move he’d call the police. (He recognised me from a previous occasion when he had warned me off, which had also resulted in a police response. On that occasion they were satisfied that I was within my rights and I had done nothing wrong. Thus the security guards had prior confirmation from the police that I was a photographer, not a terrorist.) I wandered back and forth, sizing up my locations and where I would place my subject. I walked along London Wall high walk, and saw the frenzied police activity below. Four officers had arrived and were in animated discussion with the guards. A police van with flashing lights sped out of Wood Street and eyeballed me, fixing my position. Uniformed police approached me from both directions. I continued walking and photographing. PC 374 walked towards me and greeted me with a cheery ‘Hello’. I responded in like fashion and continued to walk on as he spoke into his radio. He stopped me with his hand firmly on my chest. I asked if I was being detained.
‘I’d just like a word with you.’
Am I being detained? ‘Yes you are.’
Under what grounds? ‘Section 44(2) of the Terrorism Act.
Why? ‘If you’ll let me finish’, he responded. ‘And you are?’ He inquired the way a school bully might query anyone on their patch.
I wanted to know why I was being detained, and what were the reasonable grounds. ‘The guards at the building over the road alerted us to someone acting suspiciously. And under Section 44(2) we don’t need reasonable grounds.’
‘What’s suspicious about my behaviour. I was taking photographs.’
‘If you let me finish. The fact you were taking photographs, we’d like to know the reason. ‘
I said that I’m in the City, an area of iconic buildings and fascinating historical sites, that’s why I’m taking photographs. He replied with a cryptic answer:‘You’ve just explained it.’ I looked puzzled.
‘The very fact you were here at all is the reason we’ve stopped you.’
I explained that being in a public space I could not be prevented from taking photographs. He said the guards were wrong in trying to stop me. I felt relieved and thought that the whole affair would rest then and there. As I began to move away a second PC, PC29 moved from behind and took both my arms, preventing me from moving. PC 374 then told me he was searching me under s44, and he began to go through my pockets and pat me down. My phone was taken from me. The camera hanging around my neck was carefully removed and placed out of my reach. I asked several times if I could record this incident on camera and was denied this right, being told that under s44(2) I must do as ordered. The power was now in their hands. Mine were still being held.
PC went through my pannier, flipping through personal notebooks, gingerly peeking in a plastic bag that contained a towel and swimmers, still wet from my earlier swim. He located my wallet, and pulled out my drivers licence with obvious glee. Each time I attempted to move PC29’s grip on my arms became firmer. I moved to zip up my jacket, which had been unzipped in the search, and his grip tightened. I explained I was getting cold and would like to warm up. He agreed, but kept hold of me by one hand. I tried to move left or right and he blocked me. Repeated requests for my phone and camera were turned down. I asked to get pen and paper from my bag, and this was declined. I said I wanted to record the incident, only to be told that I will get their record at the end of the procedure.
Many times I asked why was I being stopped under s44. The answer I given was because of my obstructive and non-compliant attitude. Based on this observation, it then became necessary to treat me as a potential criminal suspect. I noted that s44 could be open to misuse, as it was so powerful and sweeping. PC374 replied ‘It has been said, but it is open for our use’ The implication being that it can be used on anyone who is non-compliant.
Waiting for the data base to give PC374 the all-clear on my record, I was kept hemmed against the barrier by PC29, repeatedly told that if I kept moving I would be handcuffed. This scene of public humiliation, as I was restrained and treated like a criminal, was watched by workers from the neighbouring building.
Once the all clear was given, PC374 tore off the pink slip of the s44 stop search form asking if I wanted it. I asked if I could carry on taking photographs, he turned his back on me like a petulant child, forgetting that his cap lay on the ground in the spot he had removed it earlier. Joined by a third PC, the posse then turned their back on me refusing to answer any further questions from me. I watched as the three of them walked away from me, with my mobile phone. Excuse me I called ‘Can I please have my mobile phone back?’

I’m a Photographer Not a Terrorist, Trafalgar Square

January 26, 2010

A huge turnout on Saturday, about 2,500 people in support of the I’m a Photographer Not a Terrorist campaign, organised by
Marc Vallee
Jess Hurd
Jeff Moore
Jonathan Warren
and Grant Smith and supported by Amateur Photographer and British Journal of Photography.
There are many images on flikr, just search ‘I’m a photographer’. If you were there, you might find your picture! One of the best galleries of images is that of David Hoffman:
The press coverage has been extensive…  (ITV London)

Photography and the public realm

January 24, 2010

After a hugely successful turnout for Saturday’s PHNAT rally in Trafalgar Square, I returned home in the evening to process and reflect on the day’s events. Sky News ran a good piece that was on the website by early evening. BBC News 24 ran several reports, as the crowd swelled through the day. The BBC World Service ran an interesting interview with Jess Hurd . Regional news papers and websites ran the Sky feed. I was interviewed at length by the Lib Dem MEP, Baroness Ludford , who is very concerned at the over zealous policing of our cities. All of the coverage was positive, and the rally passed peaceably, with no police involvement. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, which is not always the case when a load of photographers are gathered together. It was a great achievement in working together to highlight the absurd misuse of Section 44.
For me the issue I have faced is the policing of our public spaces by private security guards, a role that they are not responsible nor accountable for. I have been verbally threatened and physically intimidated by guards, all of which took place when I was on public land. Their remit is confined to the demise of the building they are protecting, but recently this has extended to the immediate environment of the building. Consequently, they see it as their right to stop you photographing ’their’ building from a distance of 100 metres.
So it was a welcome invitation to appear on The Politics Show London to talk about public realm and the ability to photograph on privately owned estates. Appearing with me were Howard Bassford, a planning lawyer with DLA Piper and Gideon Amos from Town & Country Planning Association and Melissa Mean from Demos
Howard Bassford’s point of view is that we, as citizens, are privileged to be given access to parts of private developments, like open piazzas. We are privileged because without private developers, these areas would remain as undeveloped wastelands, and remain closed to the public. Developers are apparently making these spaces inhabitable again but there is a price to pay. This includes forfeiting a right to take photographs. However it needn’t be like this. A good example is the recently developed High Line in New York City . This was an abandoned railway line on the west side of Manhattan, that was never publicly accessible, but has now converted to a very successful public space.
I respect the right of private developers to control the environment they have created by making it safe and a pleasant place to be. Yet the one question that nobody has been able to answer for me is: what’s wrong with taking photographs?

Photography in Public Places

December 17, 2009

Over 190 years ago one of my ancestors, William Smith was arrested on suspicion of passing forged notes in a public house near the Old Bailey. His sentence was 14 years transportation to Australia. He never returned to London. After serving his sentence he settled in New South Wales and raised a family of eleven.  Although he never returned, I did and I have been living and working here since 1983.

This week, 500 meters from that location, I was served a Section 44 stop and search form by a police officer on suspicion of terrorist activities. The reason for the attendance of several police cars and a riot van was my refusal to give an aggressive security guard any identification or other details. I was taking photographs of the ruined Wren church at Newgate.

In the course of taking photographs in the City over the past few years, I have been issued with stop and account forms many times before. The attendance of the police is prompted by an initial encounter with unpleasant and hostile private security staff, who have demanded that I cease taking photographs of the building as ‘…it’s not allowed without permission’. In all cases I have been on public land, taking photographs of privately owned buildings.

In addition to being unofficial extensions of the police force, security guards have now taken on the role of design critics determining the architectural merits of buildings. I have been told that ‘…this building is not on the tourist trail. It has no architectural merit, therefore you must be suspicious’. A guard protecting Eric Parry’s Stirling nominated Aldermanbury Square made this observation. A similar observation was made by a guard of Shepard Robson’s Linklaters building on Silk Street, as a photographer recalls in Amateur Photographer

‘The guard said that the Linklaters building was of no architectural interest and that the City of London Police were asking that anyone seen taking pictures be reported to them.’

However photographers (whether amateur, professionals or tourists) photograph all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons. The recently published book entitled ‘Crap Cycle Lanes’ is a good example of strange things people photograph. London in particular, a major tourist city, has good, bad and ugly buildings. But it is in the eye of the beholder, as to which is which.

The recent Guardian footage at the Gherkin by Paul Lewis highlights the absurdity of the current situation (or climate as it often cited). Approached by an aggressive guard, he is told that he can only film the top of the building, and not the bottom, as it may reveal fire exits and security cameras. Shortly after the police arrive, they demand that he shows the footage he has just recorded to see if it constitutes a terrorist threat. He is told that it will only take a couple of minutes to assess it. I’m not sure a proper assessment of footage for terrorist purposes could be conducted in a few minutes.

I have experienced similar situations many times, where security guards have stood in front of my camera, preventing me from taking any further photographs. Though their action is illegal, there is little I can do to avoid or remove them. I have been body checked by guards, and been followed as I walked down the street to get an alternative view. On one occasion I was photographing Foster’s new Willis building from the other side of Fenchurch Avenue. Before I had taken my first photograph a guard had crossed the road and demanded that I stop taking photographs of fire exits and cameras. As I was using a wide angle lens, the image included many fire exits, but they were not the subject of the photograph. When I refused to move, three armed police and two uniformed police arrived after the call from security.

All of this so called ‘sensitive’ information that is being captured by photographers has often already been recorded, and is freely available on the web, or from building studies published in the technical press, or expensively glossy letting brochures that are published when the owners are marketing the newly finished (or refurbished) building. More detail can be gained by visiting the City of London planning office website for the particular building, if it is newly finished or in planning. The available information gives details and position of structural elements, fire exits and cladding materials and their fire resistance qualities. A recent internet search on the Gherkin gave a breakdown of the technical specifications of the security systems installed in the building.

It is impossible to shut down the information once it is in the public domain. The speed of information distribution has made any attempt to do this futile.

However this restriction of information may lead to developers not willing to release technical information about a building to the technical press. Plans, structural and material details may not be included in future articles. All of these are useful for the nefarious activities of terrorists.

And what of the iconic buildings that corporate institutions inhabit? Perhaps they would be better working out of concrete bunkers off the M25. They’ll be able to more effectively control the movement of pedestrians around the building. Photographers won’t stand a chance. But this will lead to the non-commissioning of our best architects for the moneyed clients. And it won’t attract attention to the building.