Sunday, January 29, 2006

Cameras don't shoot photographs, people do

Recently an Indian filmaker sued NYC for violating his 1st ammendment rights. See SepiaMutiny "Inian guys with cameras".

I shoot on the streets alot and this is how I feel, however conflicted it may be. Please excuse the length of this.
  • Vigilance is something we should have, and I personally want.
  • Police can be bullying and their actions need to be accounted for.
  • Both sides need to test the limits.
  • With the amount of cameras on the streets of NY and the continued hightened security, the problem will continue to exist.
  • We need clear rules.

Here is a fuller quote from NYCLU on what they are hoping to accomplish.

NYCLU’s executive director, Donna Lieberman, says Sharma’s arrest and detention violated his civil rights and that the city’s permit policy (which is largely unwritten) violates the U.S. Constitution’s 1st Amendment. "In a democracy, people have the right to document activity in public places without being arrested," she declares in a press release on the organization’s website. "When the city tried to stop people from taking pictures in the subway, we objected and the city backed down. In the same way, we are challenging the city's arbitrary film permitting scheme, which exposes legitimate filmmakers to risk of arrest for taking pictures on the streets of New York."

I am no fan of the CLUs but Ms. Lieberman's comments seem rather pragmatic. A sensible group of rules would benefit everyone. So in this case if the NYCLU could correct the "arbitrary film permitting scheme" that woudl be great. Of course that would mean we'd then have to hope that we would be considered "legitimate filmakers". Then question will be - Does having a Flickr account, blog, or website make you a serious filmaker? Here I am not sure th NYCLU is working for a solution which would be applicable to everyone with a camera.

As far as Mr.Sharma. My own prejudice is the in the world of film and filmakers he must have a bit of the grandstander and promoter in him. This kind of controversy increases buzz and the interest in the project. And of course that doesn't mean the police that day didn't violate his rights. The court will decide that. It just seems as scripted an incident as possible for a documentary on how things have changed for ordinary people since 911. I would hope anyone standing for an extended period of time near an underpass at Grand Central Station shooting video would be checked on. Do I need to say Madrid? And of course this was before the London undergound incidents. His work is political and he is politically savvy enough for me to think he understood this - perhaps even wanted to test this. Maybe this was the point he wanted to make.

Also here is a quote from Sharma. "They asked me to apply for a formal permit to shoot the film and specify the name of the street, corners, buildings and pavements. They also asked me to get an insurance package of $1 million before commencing the shoot." If anyone has had expierences with the City's file permit process, it would be good to get their take. It seems a commercial film would carry insurance and a permit would be issued for where you'd want to shoot. There is a quote above from the NYCLU that describes the permit rules as unwritten and arbitrary, which seems to reflect the confused and random police actions that people often describe.

I work in midtown and there is every kind of person out there with a camera white, black, tan, brown no one seems intimidated to me - and that doesn't even count the millions of camera phones snapping away - not sure there is alot of police action (as a % of photograpgers shooting) on this. NY is dependent on tourists, tourists take pictures, NY makes money. What I sense is that we see enough bad policing of the rules and poor handling of individual incidents to make this a problem. I am not sure that all photographers are saints so I throw in some bad attitude there which fans the flames on some incidents.

I don't know anythng about the Indian film industry and their censor board. You can read an interview with the former board head where he discusses Sharma's film and from my reading (please correct me) it seems his film was cleared by the board as part of their appeal process. I raise that because either his film is banned or isn't. Also in the AP story they indicated this was not his first run in with the police - not sure the NYPD and the Indian film censor board should be lumped together - seems at points more advocacy then reporting. The controversy about Sharma's film seems well documented on the web and I was unable to find any articles making a direct connection between his film showing in India and any violence. Again would like to understand this better.

Again, I am all over the place on this one and probably have more questions than answers.


Anonymous Dr. Research said...

I have written and discarded three different responses to this post. Obviously, I'm still thinking and will be back when I'm able to express my thoughts more clearly.

11:47 PM  
Anonymous Dr. Research said...

Sorry, should have mentioned that "Dr. Research" is "Cbonney." (I'm registered at blogger under that name.)

11:49 PM  
Anonymous Chris Bonney said...

Part of the problem here is that the issue isn't well defind. Is the issue the camera or is it that people aren't supposed to be seeing certain activities?

The law recognizes that people forfeit a certain anount of privacy when they enter into public spaces. Defamation law protects regular citizens from adverse use of their likenesses. Commercial law protects them from commercial uses. The same should apply for government-related activities. If you won't want to be seen, then put it under cover.

It's practically impossible where I live, for example, to take a picture in the harbor without viewing a number of Navy ships. Anyone can stand in any number of public places and watch them come and go, undergo repairs and engage in other activities. Thousands of people see this every day. Yet if I attempt to take a picture of the harborfront while a Navy ship is in view, especially if I use a long lens, I can pretty much count on officers in a gummy boat zipping across the water to stop and threaten me. The irony is that they'll approach me and ignore hundreds of tourists taking the very same pictures. This tells me that it's about the camera, not the activity.

Preventing photographers from taking pictures in public does nothing to prevent the recording of sensitive activities. Any person with half a wit can still draw, record or use a pencil or pen to describe the scene in vivid detail.

It's too easy a solution to say that common sense should prevail in these situations. (My experience suggests that nobody in management assumes that the cops on the street can be trusted to have common sense. And if you worked in that climate would you even waste time trying to convince them otherwise?) But common sense is what this seems to be about.

Harrassing a photographer because he was recording something that was plainly visible to thousands of people was ridiculous because taking him out did nothing to preserve or increase security of the activities he was viewing.

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This entire topic reminds me of the old bumper sticker that says "If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns." The same, in this wacked out day and age applies now to cameras and it's really starting to piss me off.

Keep the pressure on them and support NYCLU and the ACLU.

4:21 PM  
Anonymous shiralee said...

I'm not sure what you mean by 'needing vigilence' -- how can that possibly relate to whether or not people take pictures on the street? Here in Oz I saw a tram driver throw a passanger off for taking aa photo in the tram, saying that it is illegal. This is clearly crazy. People with tiny amounts of what they see as authority arbitrarily applying it, Who wants to live in a society in which public (note the 'public' --that's us folks) spaces are subject to rediculous restrictions whilst our governments are free to spy on us whenever they like? What are we trying to safeguard?

Apropos of anon -- it's really only USAians that think like that -- in other countries the baddies don't tend to have guns either because there are so few floating around...

5:08 AM  

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