Harassment of Photographers in Denver

Discussion in 'Street and Documentary' started by c_e|6, Aug 31, 2007.

  1. I'm not sure what to do about this, but I've been working on a project of
    photographs from and on and around the busses and light rail in Denver. The
    first incident involved me photographing Northern Pacific engines waiting to be
    refurbished at the NP yard, I happened to be close to a light rail line and, in
    fact, got a rather unusual photo of two light rail trains in the station at the
    same time (rare, usually only one shows up at a time). In the first, rather
    minor incident, a couple of RTD security officers asked to see my ID. Knowing
    that they had no right to even ASK, I also realized that arguing with them would
    allow the light to get away, so I handed them the ID and a business card with an
    "Well, even though you have no right to this, here. I have work to do." They
    then proceeded to watch me taking pictures (no big deal, its a free
    country....or so I thought).

    Incident #2 happened about an hour ago. I was taking my usual bus home, saw an
    interesting ad above an interesting passenger and shot it. At the next stop the
    bus driver said "Did you know it is illegal to take photographs on busses?" To
    which I replied "Nonsense." He refused to leave the stop until I got off the bus
    and said "Come up here and we can *discuss* this *further*" in a very
    threatening manner. I refused, so he sat at the stop. This was irritating the
    gang bangers at the back of the bus, and I realized that if I DIDN'T get off the
    bus, I'd have more trouble than a 40 year old photographer wanted to deal with.
    So I got off the bus.

    In the mean time, I was contacting RTD to see if they even had a POLICY on on
    photography. They didn't As I was talking with the person, an RTD security car
    (unmarked) screached in front of me and ordered me to hang up the phone. At that
    point, the RTD rep on the line hung up on ME. They admitted that there is not
    only no law, but not even a policy. It is my understanding that a public
    transportation company can't HAVE a policy that would prohibit photography.
    Toward the end of the conversation, I was also told "There really isn't anything
    that we can do about it anyway because we've leased the bus to a sub-contractor
    and the driver isn't an RTD employee." (Convenient, eh?).

    So, I was ejected from a bus for doing nothing illegal, had RTD security again
    demand ID (I refused, but gave them a business card and told them to look it
    up). Anything I can do? Anyone else have a similar experience? Do I give up my
    First Amendment rights in the interest of ?????. Do I give up my Fourth
    Amendment rights and refuse to give ID or a business card unless under arrest?
    Any ideas? I have months in to this project....
  2. How about simply contacting someone a little farther up the food chain there, politely explaining what you're doing and that they might have an interest in the finished work... and then asking them for a document or credentials expressly designed to soothe the nerves of the people who are alarmed by what you're doing, or by what it may represent. Essentially: arrange for that system's verions of press credentials... no city transportation system can function without a press office, media contacts, and an understanding of how coverage works for and against them.

    In the drivers' seats, we're talking about people working for a pittance, who are simply counting the hours before someone pulls a London or a Madrid in what amounts the office where they work every day. You can put them at ease by doing a little work in advance, and actually wind up with more latitude. You can make them respectful allies instead of reinforcing their initial impression that you're potentially adversarial and looking to bring their bosses down on them, or someone that would rather piss off the gang bangers in the back of the bus than honor the driver's instructions. Keeping the bus stationary is probably EXACTLY what they're told to do when they have a passenger they're not sure what to do with. That's the best way for them to get help that can find them, and reduces the chances of an accident when someone disturbed is on board. It's their default action, and it makes sense. It doesn't mean that that particular driver read you correctly, but neither does it sound like you're reading the entire munciple transporation system's personnel correctly.

    Should the people training/managing the fleet make a clearer policy more well understood by the drivers? Sure. Would you be at ease doing their job all day long, especially considering your experience with the crew in the back of the bus? Doubtful. Few people would.
  3. Yeah, actually, as someone who works downtown and commutes by bus/train, I'm used to the crew in the back. Have some photos of them, they are part of what I'm working on. I deal with the public 7 days a week (both in this project, and in the job that is allowing me to shoot it). This particular driver needs to find a new line of work.

    I'm tempted to take the easy path and simply do what you suggest, get the press credentials. But. The realty is that I don't legally NEED them, and by accepting them I worry that I'm rubber stamping the de-facto ban on photography. In all honesty, I've had some good interactions with the security officers. In some ways I see their point. Security. But, no laws have changed since 2002, what they are doing was illegal then, is illegal now. I actually suspect that I WILL take the credentials (I'm a wuss, I'm 40, I have too much to get done before I kick the bucket, and maybe civil rights and the constitution isn't on that agenda...yet...many more instances like this and I may well take that up as a hobby).

    The strange thing, I've spent over a decade shooting abroad, sometimes in nations under martial law...Thai insurgents blew up a train the last time I was there, yet I've NEVER been questioned anywhere in the world, only in the U.S.. Reminds me of the paranoia over The Russians Are Coming! during the cold war....sorta has some overtones of what people were trying to do with The House Unamerican Activities Committee
  4. Buslines, railroads, airlines and ferries might actually have the right to limit photography, even if they can't ban it altogether, because of longstanding legal principles that impose on "common carriers" a special duty of care toward their passengers.

    One classic case occurred here in NYC sometime in the decade *before* 9/11. A transit cop was trying to corral a stray dog that had wandered into the subway. A passenger took a flash picture of the action. The flash distracted the cop and he was bitten by the dog. He arrested the passenger who took the picture.

    Because of the ensuing litigation, the transit authority had to reconsider its policy on photography in the subway. IIRC, photography had long been officially banned in the subway, but virtually no living person was aware of that policy and, until this incident, no one could recall an instance in which it had been enforced.

    As a result of the incident, the transit authority was forced to reconsider its policy and adopted a new -- quite reasonable, in my opinion -- of permitting photography but banning the use of flash, as it might intefere with the police or train operators in the performance of their duties in what can be a hazardous environment.

    Of course, after 9/11, a new policy debate began involving new considerations, but it should be remembered that photography on common carriers was an issue even before 9/11 and the bombings in Madrid and London.

    Just so we can all get a clearer picture of what actually occurred, were you using flash? How far away were you from the person being photographed? Did he object (a consideration that would probably be irrelevant in the street but perhaps pertinent in the confines of a bus)?

    Very often you need to know all the facts before reaching a conclusion.
  5. Fascinating analysis, I could agree to some extent if this were a private bus company, but its the public transportation system, so...ermm...I'm warily skeptical.

    No flash, not on the street. My entire purpose is to document people as they are, not to draw attention to myself. I was probably 20-30 feet away from the person being photographed, and the angle was such that the three people in the frame weren't aware that the photograph had been taken. I've been doing this a long time (which is part of my point, no problems in areas where terrorist acts regularly occur, the only place where I've had trouble is in the nation that purports to be the bastion of freedom, grrrr)...in any case, been doing this a long time, and 7 of 10 shots the subject doesn't know he/she/they is/are being photographed.
  6. I wonder if you were a 20 year old blonde with a giggle and a cell phone camera they'd have
    the same problem. It's all about personal relationships, personality, and politics. That's how
    the world turns. Unless you were using flash, which understandably might be a legitimate
    annoyance, it's kind of up to you how to handle it. For myself I'd work around it some way or
    start a new project.

    How photography automatically equates to pulling a Madrid is beyond me. People think in
    funny ways these days.
  7. Getting into a discussion with the peons at the scene will not help in the slightest bit. People like this have been around forever, and always will be around. All you can do is make sure that you are in the right, and let them call law enforcement. In my experience, once real law enforcement gets there, you have nothing to worry about, as they generally know the real score. If they don't, you can either swallow your pride and call it a day, or let yourself be arrested and have your day in court. If the law is on your side, it will be settled there, and you will shut people up more than you will by complaining to a manager. Just make sure you pick your battles wisely. More often than not, I'll just suck it up and try get my shots another time. Yeah, it stinks, but we have it better than it is in most of the rest of the world. Once they affect you, they are controlling you.

  8. Pretty good advice, Keith. Even though I have a concealed weapon permit, I always opt for
    the peaceful solution. However, a little "back-up" insurance gives me peace of mind when
    it comes to unruly gang-bangers and the like.
  9. If this project remains important to you, then I would suggest the following possibilities, some of which overlap:
    1. See whether Denver has a program that connects interested lawyers with artists -- not at the lawyers' standard hourly rates, but either on a volunteer or reduced fee basis. Many cities/communities have such programs. Also consider getting in touch with the ACLU of Colorado
    , which is based in Denver.
    2. Determine actual RTD policy if you can, not during a hurried phone call (your only choice at that moment), but in writing.
    3. A short search reveals that the RTD Board (15 members)
    is an elected body whose members are actually elected by district. If you are a resident, you have a Director in your district, and you are his or her constituent. That's another avenue I absolutely wouldn't ignore.
    Please let us know how this works out.
    Good luck.
  10. CE, toughen up or you will never get any project off the ground! So what if some idiots tell you not to photograph something. When you get in a situation like that again, say to yourself five times "what would W. Eugene Smith do?" - "what would W. Eugene Smith do?" ........
  11. But Tim:
    " ... [Smith's] involvement led to him being badly beaten up by men from the chemical company as the men attacked a group of demonstrators of which he was a participating photographer. He never fully recovered."
    Quote from this page.
  12. So Mr Smith's model, while commendable and historically important, might not be for everyone.
  13. Hi,

    Over here in the UK we also have had many instances of amateur photographers going lawfully about their hobby and being stopped, bullied, etc by security people, police, part time police, the general public and just about anyone who feels like throwing their weight around.

    In the vast majority of cases, even where the police are concerned, the useage of the terms 'its a terrorist issue' is just one big cop out or downright lie, just so some over zealous, or power-crazed moron can feel a bit of power for a few minutes...and that is all it comes down to.

    We really need to be absolutely sure of our rights so we can tell these idiots exactly where to get off...

    cheers Steve.
  14. Michael, if CE was getting beaten up I would tell him to say "what would Ghandi do?", "what would Ghandi do?" five times. Smith may not have totally recovered from the injuries he recieved in Japane but he did go on to take 40,000 images with an 8x10 view camera of the city of Pittsburg for a project he was doing. How many of us spoiled little brats could manage that kind of effort with a digital SLR much less an 8x10 view camera?
  15. << ... How many of us ... >>

    You've got a point there.
  16. "Smith may not have totally recovered from the injuries he recieved in Japane but he did go on to take 40,000 images with an 8x10 view camera of the city of Pittsburg for a project he was doing"

    Where is some solid documentation of the accuracy of this number? I don't believe it.
  17. Pittsburgh was long, long before Japan. Got the book.
  18. it


    In this day and age, if you are starting a project "on and around the buses and light rail in Denver" without getting some sort of permission, you are being extremely naive IMO.
    It's obvious you are going to get hassled by underpaid undereducated security types.
    Got any other ideas for projects?
  19. W.Eugene Smith , whom I was lucky enough to meet and spend some time with before he died in Tucson Arizona,was a former combat photographer, who was badly wounded in WWII in the Pacific theatre on the Japanese Island of Okinawa. He was also beaten up pretty good at other times in his life besides while he was working on the Minamata book on Mercury poisoning in Japan. He was not afraid to do what was necessary to get the photos of the projects he was working on , including the Pittsburgh project. I was able to print several of his negatives and although he was a very good photographer , he was a great printer .I sometimes took him days to make the perfect print.He was the master of using Potassium ferricyanide( Farmers Reducer),which he used to lighten the darker areas of his prints.He also loved to listen to classical music as he printed, something we both shared.

    The damage to his body brought him a lot of physical pain in his life which he tried to control with drugs and alcohol, which was a big part of why he died of a stroke at a convenience market here in Arizona. I always thought that with all the dangerous places he photographed in the world to die here in Tucson was not a way he would go out.

    In saying that he was not afraid to get the photos, he also was smart at finding a way to do the project he wanted by any means possible .I think contacting the transit authority in Denver or even the Art council and getting some kind of official status to do your project is a better way of getting what you want. Takes some of your photos with you when you go talk to them. Maybe they will even display some of your photos at the end of your project.Here in Phoenix the RR tracts are private property that belong to the RR,but I have contacted their national offices and been able to photograph trains from their property. There is always bridges and other ways to photograph tracks and trains without being on the ground. Good Luck.
  20. I exaggerated a bit, 17,000 appears to be the correct figure, sorry. Smith did do the Pittsburg project in the mid-fifties, well after re-cuperating from the injuries he recieved from a mortar blast on Okinawa in 1945.
  21. david_henderson

    david_henderson www.photography001.com

    Back to the issue. If you've reported it accurately here then I'm sorry, for you appear to have been subjected to unwanted harrassment. It happens a lot. Until we start to penalise /retrain people who assume responsibility they don't have or get the rules fundamentally wrong, it will continue to happen a lot. Whilst I would certainly make a written complaint, I think its difficult to interest most managements in the excesses of their subordinates and contractors. You certainly don't see many cases of security guards, park rangers, police etc getting disciplined because they've harrassed people unduly. In my view thats a pity but I'm not holding my breath.

    In the meantime you should in general terms carry a copy of Bert Krages "photographers rights" documents. Specifically you should try and get some written statement of policy, or a letter responding to your specific queries, from the transport authorities you're working on- something to show the next idiot who makes up the rules as he goes along. Sadly, you're likely to need it.
  22. If I were you, C E, I 'd write to one of the directors of RTD and let them know what happened. At the very least, it's important to lodge a complaint about what happened, and the reply to your letter might be useful in any future incidents.
  23. The problem with situations like this is that rarely will everyone be on the same page. When I told a fellow photographer friend of mine about the lady on the subway last year who told me not to take pictures, he contacted MTA since he wanted to shoot the murals they have in the stations. He got an email back stating it was perfectly ok to photograph in the stations and the trains themselves. However, when he went down into the stations, he asked several sheriff personal who were patrolling and he got several different answeres. So all in all, it depends. I haven't done any shots in the subways for a long time, but I still carry a printout of the email my friend recieved in my camera bag just in case.
  24. he contacted MTA since he wanted to shoot the murals they have in the stations. He got an email back stating it was perfectly ok to photograph in the stations and the trains themselves. However, when he went down into the stations, he asked several sheriff personal who were patrolling and he got several different answeres.​

    That was silly. He should have printed a copy of the email and kept it with him in case he got stopped. Choosing to ask permision after already having gotten it is more than perverse.
  25. I don't think it is naive to assume that a published, award winning photog who has worked as a journalist off and on would be able to do street photography without being threatened by peons (I still am not comfortable on the 30, the drivers threats would be fine if I didn't have a bag of gear).

    What is really troubling and upsetting is that I've shot in countries under Martial Law, I've shot in countries before and after coups. I've probably got some old film with Taiwanese military compounds (let alone the time I wandered inadvertently onto a military base in Taiwan with a model, the MPs were VERY kind in pointing out roughly where the boundary was). I've NEVER had ANY trouble, and was shooting in Thailand when a train was blown up (relatively common).

    The only place in 30 years of photography, both professional AND for the fun of it, I've only had trouble in the U.S.. An aside, I've hung and sold nudes in numerous countries, and ONLY had them pulled from galleries in the U.S......just really bizarre.

    Having BEEN a bit of a cowboy photog and rarely even knowing where to get permission in other countries (the U.S. is foreign to me, I've spent 1/3 of my life elsewhere), it really strikes me as bizarre that I need to ask for permission to exercise my first amendment rights in the country where I was born. But. The reality is that I do have to ask, and even then it probably won't mean much. My question is when "they" will start demanding my camera illegally, and I'll have to apply for permits to get it back. Sliperry slope idea.

    BTW, the day after this I had some figure studies removed from a gallery because some busy body had complained of the "pornographic images." So. My tenure here may be simply to the point that my kids get through college, so the probability is that I'll take that RTD press credential, to hell with the larger implications, and simply bail in 9 years ;-).

    Oh, and personally, I'm lovin' the side conversations, and again, I really appreciate being taken to task on my historical missteps :).
  26. C E, I've been a transit and railroad enthusiast and photographer for almost 30 years now, and sadly I've had more of these types of encounters than I care to remember. Here are my thoughts on the subject.

    First, as others have pointed out, contact the RTD to see if you can get clarification of their policy regarding photography and official permission if necessary. The RTD does not have an anti-photography reputation in the enthusiast community, but I've never visited the Denver area myself to check out the situation first-hand. Transit agencies do have the right to restrict photography on their vehicles and in station areas, so if the RTD does have a policy it is best to respect it. Worst case scenario, you can always try and photograph RTD trains and buses from public sidewalks if necessary.

    It's never easy to deal with these encounters, but I refuse to restrict or stop my photography. I always try to be polite and civil to anyone who is polite in turn when they ask what I'm doing, and I have no problem if a police officer requests identification and questions me (I've found that it helps to carry a small album of photographs to better explain the hobby). Thus far, the officers I've interacted with have usually let me continue my photography and almost always explain that they are just doing their job and needed to check out what I was doing.

    That said, I find I'm getting increasingly annoyed with transit and railroad employees who don't bother asking what I am doing but go right to the nonexistent 'Photography is not allowed since 9/11' law to try and get me to go away. Most of these people I simply ignore, but I tell the ones who continue to argue to call the police if they have a problem with my being there.

    Good luck, and hang in there.
  27. Finally have time to post the resolution for the moment. I ended up working my way up the management chain, about mid way. At each step, I was told that there was no policy, law, or anything else banning photography. The final resolution is that I now have the name and number (both office and cellular) of a fairly high muckety muck who will speak with the driver when this happens again. He found the behavior of the driver completely unacceptable, BUT has limited ability to discipline the guy, the entire route (bus and all) are subcontracted (again, convenient way of limiting liability), and I'm not allowed to speak with anyone at the subcontractor ;-).

    Hopefully I've made enough noise to get some communication going between RTD and the subcontractor ;-).
  28. bl.


    I know how you feel. I was working on the Streets of Tucson and found an interesting building. There were people sitting in front of it and I approached... I fixed my exposure settings and was approached by one of the people sitting(I was about fifty feet away). He gruffly asked me not to take his picture, which I respect, and continued to say things such as, " it will take my soul", I responded by saying that wasn't true. An on looker, who claimed to be a photographer as well, got involved. She told me I needed a permit or permission form. At that point the fellow who asked me not to take his picture threatened to kill me if I took it.
    I've been doing street photography for about three years now and have never run into a situation like that. Nor have I ever heard of needing a permit to photograph in public. I get the feeling that people are afraid, but thats a different conversation all together.
    This happened less than an hour ago.
    I intend to do some research, with teachers, other photographers (the reason I joined this forum), and the law - IE - city and state statutes. I recommend you do the same.
  29. Aaron,the laws in Tucson are the same as just about every other place in the US. If you are on public property and the person you are photographing is on public property you have a legal right to photograph them as far as the law is concerned. That does not mean that a person who is living on the street, and may have mental problems, will not harm or kill you. The person who told you that you needed a form was incorrect. The only place where I have been that had exceptions to this are on Military Bases,Courthouses and Indian Reservations.If the person is on private property and they have the expectation of privacy (they are in their house,or behind a fence) then you can be sued in civil court, even if you are on public property. There are times when I , or anyone should fight for their right to take a photograph , and times when walking away is the best thing to do.You can also be in legal trouble at a later date in civil court, if you put that person in a bad light , misrepresent them, or use their photo in a commercial way to make money,with out having a signed release.
  30. Some useful general guidelines are available in pdf forum on Bert Krages' site.
    When Michael Ging refers to the possibility of "legal trouble" if one uses a photo "in a commercial way to make money," I would agree with him if he's talking about a photo used without a release for commercial purposes or for trade -- such as in an advertisement or promotion.
    But I would disagree with Michael if he's referring to street photos taken of persons in public places in the U.S. where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy (e.g., the street or the sidewalk, but not a public restroom stall). Generally, and historically, such photos can be -- and have been -- taken, and published, and even later sold as "art" or documentary photography without releases.
    Specific situations are always best addressed by a lawyer who is both (i)licensed to practice in the jurisdiction in question; and (ii)experienced in this area of law.
  31. Aaron, I've on occasion been threatened while shooting, usually by a mentally unbalanced individual. Not much you can do about that. As far as needing a form or permission, only if you intend to use the image commercially. For documentary purposes, you don't need it (although some newspapers require name and the like, in fact all newspapers I think).
  32. New Jersey Transit police were stopping people from photographing even from a public highway. NJT got a lot of bad publicity andthe executive director issued a letter explaining that there is no prohibition on photographing in NJT stations, on trains, etc. Most railfan photogs I know carry a copy of that letter in their pockets just in case one of the low-level grunts gives them grief.

    There was an incident a few years ago on Amtrak in New York City where a photog was harassed -- maybe even arrested, don't recall -- taking pictures of engines, rolling stock, etc. He was taking the pictures to enter them in an Amtrak photography competition! Talk about the left hand not knowing what the right is doing!

    If you know you are in the right, hold your ground, demand that the police or whomever cite to you the statute or administrative regulation banning photography. If there is no statute enacted by the state legislature or an administrative rule promulgated by a state agency pursuant to an enabling statute, then you are free to take pictures, at least as regards a state transit authority. Private entities have the right to prohibit photography on their property, but the most they can do is ask you to leave or have you arrested for trespassing. No one, not even the police, have the right to seize your camera or film or make you delete the images. That is an unconstitutional deprivation of your private property without due process of law. Only a court can order seizure of camera, film, memory card or what have you, and only after a hearing with an opportunity to be heard.

    Take names, document everything, go up the food chain, and if you still get no where, call the ACLU.
  33. If someone really believes that taking a photo will take their soul, do you really need the picture? Think about what you gain to what they (think) they lose. Doesn't seem like a fair trade to me as souls sell for a lot, I hear.
  34. Increasingly in Britain a lot of overweight young men of low intelligence who are otherwise unemployable are being stuffed into ill-fitting uniforms and given the idea that they are saving the Western world from sinking into chaos as a result of terrorism. I have had this experience of harrassment but since those with the ostensible authority have insufficient intellect to understand any of the arguments, any attempt to use reason is a complete waste of time.

    What is needed is bad publicity for the harrassers. Write to your Congressman, Senator, State Governor, national newspapers etc.
  35. In Australia, the situation is like any western country that has a democratic government. You can shoot in a public place. A bus is not. Its a private conveyance, probably owned by the government.The same with trains and ferries.
    We get literally zillions of tourists here all taking pictures of everything...we're used to it. But you need to obey the golden rule. That is to be discreet and sensitive...not secretive. Ask first about shooting kids. Act like you have a right to be there like your subjects. Don't make eye contact and smile a lot. Use a small camera that does not say pro photographer. Preset your exposure and speed and your focus and take the shot really quickly and move on straight away. The difference between having a 39mm objective lens instead of a 77mm one pointed at someone is crucial to being unnoticed.

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