Photographing Army COE Facilities

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by ben_hutcherson, Nov 2, 2020.

  1. This is something that came up last week, and I'm just curious about it. Yes, I'm familiar with the "Photographers Rights" pamphlet even thought I've NEVER had an occasion to use the information in it previously.

    Basically, the college where I work operates a research facility that happens to be located on the grounds of an Army COE operated lock and dam-specifically the Melvin Price Lock and Dam on the Mississippi River.

    Last week, I had an appointment with the director of that facility, and the appointment was cancelled at the last minute. Looking around, I thought it looked at least interesting, so grabbed my camera and started walking around on the sidewalks.

    It should be noted too that there was nothing indicating this was a "restricted area." To the contrary, I was actually in the parking lot of the public visitors center and museum. I had simply driven back to the area via widely open gates marked "Research facility and museum." The sidewalks I was on were the ones leading up to the entrance to the museum.

    In any case, as I was walking back to my car, someone in a uniform(but in a fairly ordinary unmarked car) drove up and asked me what I was doing. I explained, and was asked a half dozen different ways what I was photographing, why I was there, what I was doing, and the like. I kept asking if there was a problem or if I shouldn't be doing what I was doing, and was just met with the same questions. I even asked if he'd like to look at what I'd taken(which I know I don't HAVE to do, but thought it might end the encounter) but everything I asked or answered was just met with either another question along those same lines or "I was just checking to make sure you were alright/everything was alright."

    The guy's parting words were "just wanted to make sure you were alright." Nothing became of it-I wasn't asked for ID or anything along those lines, but I couldn't help but feel that I was under a microscope or feel like I was doing something wrong for even being there.

    Looking around the web a bit, I found pages where the COE seems to have contests for other lock and dam photos, so it seems that for at least some of their facilities, photography is actively encouraged. Does anyone have any experience or advice in this regard?

    And by the way, no I don't think that hassle produced any photographs worthy of note, but I think the site warrants a revisit when it's not so dreary(or at a better time of day) provided I don't feel like a criminal doing it.
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  2. You seemingly were under a microscope but the outcome probably shows you weren’t doing anything wrong. I understand your feelings at the time but it’s probably increasingly important not to let others’ suspicions or behavior undermine your own sense of rightness and confidence, especially when they wind up dropping the matter. I might try to focus on it having been a relatively benign encounter with a good result.

    Looks to me like the “dreary” conditions actually had a lot of potential given the subject matter. And there’s no telling how mood and the disruptive nature of the encounter may have affected what you came away with.

    Hope you get to go back and the circumstances are better next time.
  3. He simply wanted to assess your purpose in being there.
    The difference of perspective in looking out and looking in.
    No harm, no foul.
    The reason he asked questions in the manner he did was to make an assessment while being careful not to say anything suggesting you could not do what you were doing.
    He was judging your intent by your reaction.
    Simple as that.
  4. Sign of the times, I'm afraid.

    I'm in Europe which has different laws to the US. A quick google search turned up two kinds of responses to similar questions.
    - yes it is perfectly legal to photograph military establishments from outside the area (unless otherwise designated - and signposted- under 18 U.S. Code § 795)
    - even though it's not illegal, you may well attract attention/scrutiny from security people who question your motives (see the army security's response in this thread)

    It seems that you attracted some attention/scrutiny :). And also that your story held up and that no more detailed questioning or background checks were deemed necessary. I wonder how the response might have been different if you had been a Chinese/Russian tourist just visiting the area or had shown any more than a 'casual' interest in the construction/base.

    My only someway similar experience is from very many years back when I was on vacation in Greece. We'd stopped on a side road to photograph a 'valley' when a squad of armed Greek soldiers suddenly started running towards us. Our response (which in hindsight perhaps wasn't the smartest) was to jump into our car, reverse and get the hell out of there. Thankfully the soldiers seemed satisfied that they'd scared us off and didn't fire at our hastily retreating car. This was long before the days of cellphones, otherwise we probably would have been picked up for questioning further down the road.
  5. I’ve long dreamed of something like this happening! :)
  6. In my professional life I work on a great many US Federal facilities, including projects managed by USACE (US Army Corps of Engineers) for other, including military, agencies. In almost every case my opportunities for photos are severely constrained by conditions and circumstances of the projects. Because of this, my rule is always to ask permission first, as I don't want to be asking forgiveness from a squad of M-16-toting air scouts. This does not, however, constrain me from taking photos of US Federal Government facilities in locations and at times when I'm clearly in public locations. I've taken many, many images of locks, dams, powerhouses, and related facilities all up and down the Columbia river and others. I suspect Ben's issue was that he was leaving a more controlled area, and this set off somebody's curiosity bells. If photography is prohibited, such as at the perimeter of a military base, then it is always clearly posted. I'm unaware of any exceptions. Even the infamous Area 51 has a well marked perimeter fence (that they keep pushing out further and further so one cannot view the facilities from surrounding hilltops.)
  7. There's no protection from 'Job'sworths' - petty officials with a small amount of authority and an attitude to enforce regulations to the letter... and beyond.

    I, and my 35mm SLR were once ejected from a North London cemetery, which was also classed as a Royal park. Now I was fully aware of an old regulation requiring a permit for use of a tripod within the Royal parks. I had no tripod with me at the time and was shooting handheld.

    Despite this, I was questioned by the upstart janitor of the place and asked to desist taking pictures. I asked to see where in the regulations handheld photography was forbidden and was refused. The job'sworth became more and more belligerent, so I simply left.

    This was many years ago, and things don't seem to have got any better over the years.

    Wear a camera, especially a professional-looking camera, and you mark yourself out as a target for any petty official with an inflated view of their own status and authority.

    P.S. wearing a laminated badge labelled 'PRESS' provides some immunity - even if it's a home-made one just banged out on an inkjet printer! :cool:
    denny_rane and Moving On like this.
  8. Awww. Photographers are such victims. Your post reads like something to get over and not indulge yourself with quite so much.
    bgelfand likes this.
  9. Alternative reality: When I lived in Argentina for a couple of years back in the bad old days of the military junta, I made extra careful to avoid any photographic activity that could even remotely have been interpreted as suspect. My father sent me off with a Nikkormat EL and some appropriate lenses, but the only place I ever really felt comfortable using it was in the homes of friends, in a few tourist spots, and at Iguazu Falls. Even apartment buildings where military officials lived were classified, technically, and one could be arrested for taking pictures of them, should an officious policeman feel like harassing the American. This was a particular risk following Argentina's losses in the Battle of the Falklands (Islas Malvinas). So, Dad was quite disappointed at the lack of pictures from my sojourn, but I came home sans encarceration, which suited me just fine.
    rodeo_joe|1 likes this.
  10. Not about contests, etc., but I spent an afternoon at that same lock and dam about 6 or 8 years ago. Taking pictures. No one stopped me. I did have some questions about things, etc., and had to hunt people down to even ask. Slow afternoon, I guess, probably less than 10 visitors in the whole place.

    I have frequently read things on the internet about photographers being harassed by government officials, etc., but I don't recall it happening to me. I have, on occasion, asked those "in charge," more or less, if there are rules. A bunch of years back I "knew" from the internet that taking photos inside of an airport was a no-no, especially near the TSA areas. I was meeting someone there and had a camera with me. So I caught a security guy passing by, and asked him, is there any problem with taking photos in here? Nope, no problem. What about if the screening areas are in the photo? Nope, no problem. Shoot all you like.
  11. Bill, I think that's pretty much par for the course. Even though there were a few cars in the lot, the guard was the only other living soul I interacted with. I did see some folks working down under the tents in my second photo.

    In any case, first of all I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who finds places like this interesting to photograph :) . Second, I suppose the "seeing my reaction" explanation does make sense, although there again I don't necessarily see what's suspicious about walking around outside a museum/visitor center photographing the very thing that the museum represents is suspicious. It just seemed strange to me that the response to "Am I not I supposed to be photographing here" was more questions about whether or not I was "alright."
  12. Vincent Peri

    Vincent Peri Metairie, LA

    Back when I was an untreated manic depressive, I was certifiably crazy at times. One time was when our telephone repair center in New Orleans was going to be closed down (1983). I knew I would be laid off soon, so I was looking in the help wanted ads (back when there were newspapers) and saw a US Army ad for military intelligence people. I went down to the Army recruiter (I was 32 at the time) and signed up to be a Signal Intelligence Analyst. That meant boot camp, then 9 months of learning German at the Defense Languages Institute at the San Francisco branch (rightly called "Army Heaven"), then on to Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo Texas for 6 months learning the top secret part of my job (I had a Top Secret security clearance, hoo wee) -- VERY interesting stuff -- then on to Fort Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts (about 35 or so miles from Boston) to practice what I'd be doing with all my training. .

    Well anyway, when I was manic as hell at Goodfellow Air Force Base, I went out one day with my camera and several lenses, walking around all the classroom buildings, taking assorted "artistic" pictures. Believe me, I got stopped right away. The Air Force person wanted to know what I was doing (very politely, mind you), so I said "I'm taking pictures." He said something like, "Okay, just stay away from that area over there," and he indicated a direction. I said, "Okay," and went on taking my photos. That was the last time I went around with my camera though....

    Hmm... one false move, and
    Vincent could have been
    blown away...
  13. There are two dams in my area, one managed by the USACE (Barkley Dam) and the other by the T.V.A. (Kentucky Dam). While I do not recall seeing any signs at Barkley Dam, there are restricted areas. At Kentucky Dam the restricted areas have this sign posted.

  14. Uh no.
    He makes excellent and truthful points backed up by reality.
    Not tainted with perpetual grievance at all.
    Though I have seen that regularly in the posts of others.....;)
  15. You should get out more. Then you might have the same experience.

    Do you not count yourself as a fellow photographer then?
  16. Yes. “Photographers are such victims” was said sarcastically because, though I consider myself a photographer, I think you overly victimized yourself when you said ...
    I wonder if the cemetery janitor thinks of himself as an “official” as much as a laborer. The “petty official” you’re referring to is in the midst of what’s likely not that pleasant a day’s work, which probably includes picking up trash left behind by visitors. Not sure that gives him an inflated sense of his authority or maybe just puts him in a bad mood on occasion.

    Rightly or wrongly, as camera use has increased exponentially, there’s a greater discomfort with and suspicion of photographers among parents with kids in the park, women who may feel “spied” upon, and some who work in public.

    I’m less inclined to blame various negative reactions on individuals than on the nature of contemporary public life. I’m more inclined to empathize with a park janitor and cut him some slack, especially when I’m out with expensive equipment in a more leisurely pursuit.
  17. You don’t have to be a Social Justice Warrior to take good photographs.
    And I’m sure the “empathy” thing goes away when a cop asks you to step back.
  18. To be clear, in my particular case, if I had been asked/told to leave or even avoided a certain area, I would have left immediately and then clarified later. There were areas that were clearly signed as off limits, but for stated safety reasons-not security.

    The person who talked to me didn't appear to be a cop. He was in what looked like an ordinary Hyundai sedan with Missouri plates(not Illinois, which is where I was) and the shirt he had appeared to have nothing but a simple round shoulder emblem sewn on. Truth be told, it would have been nice to have him identify exactly who/what he was, since there was nothing overtly saying "site security" or what have you, and every time I tried to read what his shirt said he seemed to turn it out of view.

    I honestly got weird feelings/vibes from the whole encounter, which is part of my posting here.
  19. You guys got to get over that "I know my rights" crap. We don't live in that world any more.
    ajkocu likes this.
  20. I love cops. Especially handsome ones with big guns.

    I snapped this just before he was able to wave me off. I gave him a sheepish "oops" smile and he smiled back. It doesn't always work out so neatly, of course, but I've had many more good encounters with cops, officials, and janitors than bad ones. So I guess my photographic glass is more than half full.

    DavidTriplett and Moving On like this.

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