What's the scoop on bridge photography?

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by john_cook|1, May 23, 2003.

  1. Now that warm weather has returned, I'd like to begin a series of LF
    B&W happy-snaps on the highways and byways of my native New England.

    And yet, I keep hearing about people being arrested for
    photographing bridges, as recently happened at Niagara Falls. And
    someone recently posted something about his students being stopped
    by police for something similar.

    So in this modern age of exploding moslems, what can I shoot on the
    streets of New England and what is a no-no? And whom do I ask: CIA,
    FBI or DIY Network? I know you can't fight city hall, but can you
    photograph it?
  2. Hi John –

    I was wondering the same thing. Here in Charleston, there’re building a new bridge across the Cooper River, a Very Large and Expensive Project. I recently parked my car near the foot of the old bridges, and walked to the middle of one of the existing ones. I spent about forty minutes on the bridge with a camera in plain sight in the middle of afternoon rush hour.

    Several police cruisers drove by during that time. Maybe I don’t look dangerous, but no one seemed to care.

    Your mileage may vary, as they say.
  3. Is an exploding "moslem" the same as a New England bigot?

    Have the guts to shoot what you want, and deal with the consequences. It's still an almost free country, even for those who bash others based on their race, heritage or religion.
  4. The "thought" Police will get you!
  5. I too like the NE scenes and bridges but think about what has happened lately
    and put it into a different light... to the cops who see a person photographing a
    scene of a major artery/building or what have you and you have a person
    checking out something for a future bombing... look what is happening around
    us and look at it in the eyes of the authorities. We are on high alert and to us
    we are looking at something beautiful but to the cops, who are told to look at
    things differently, who look at things as a threat, we aren't of the norm and
    should be wary and realize that they are doing their jobs keeping us safe. The
    world has changed since 9/11 and certainly not for the better.
    I'm not familiar with the Niagara incident but I have had to make adjustments
    as we all have.
    As far as what can and cannot be shot, business as usual but be aware that
    you might be approached by the authorities and plan around it... A call the the
    locals might not hurt either.
  6. There is no law against photographing bridges (or City Hall) but there have been incidents directed against photographers who have done such things. In my opinion it is high time for photographers to make the point to others that photography is not a precursor to terrorism. For example, let’s assume your purpose was to blow up a bridge. Why would you need to photograph it? If someone stopped you from taking photographs, would that prevent you from blowing it up? The only relevance that photography has to preventing terrorism directed against bridges is that the presence of cameras might deter such acts. In fact, the only mention of photography in the Patriot Act passed after the September 11 attacks is a provision to fund the acquisition of more cameras for the government.
    Cracking down on photographers will not reduce terrorism. The kinds of recent events in the United States shows this. Think about the September 11 attacks, the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, the murder of James Byrd in Jasper, TX, and so on. All of these events could have been carried out without photographs and to the best of my knowledge did not involve photography at all. Prohibiting photography in airports will not impede hijackers, prohibiting people from taking photographs of government buildings will not prevent them from parking truck bombs, and prohibiting people from photographing people in public places will not stop them from committing murder.
    A few months ago I developed a flyer called The Photographer’s Right that describes the general right to photograph material that is in public view. Feel free to download it and carry it with your equipment. It can be used to explain the legal issues to people who don't understand them and assume they have the authority to harass or even detain photographers. Sensitivity to people’s fears and concerns is entirely appropriate and education is good approach to dealing with the issue of photography and security. Most people have not given serious consideration to whether photography is useful to terrorists and have given even less consideration to whether restrictions bolster or detract from security. Explaining that photography is not a threat is a good first step.
  7. A law-enforcement officer may mistake a photographer using 35mm or MF cameras as looking suspicious in terms of 'casing the joint'.

    But has any LF photographer been identified as such ? If a bad guy wants to take photographs of a potential target, he ain't gonna use a 'dorf 8x10 is he ??

    So, are we likely to be given the benefit of the doubt because we focus our cameras under the cloth ?

    On a another note, I did read that it was unlawful to shoot pictures of public transport infrastructure (amongst other things) while the country is at 'high' alert. So I was interested in the Patriot Act reference above ...
  8. Assuming us prophets of doom are correct regarding the dark intents lying latent within the Patriot Act, I doubt that would stop "legitimate media" photographers from getting their shots, regardless of format. Its amazing in this country what access a press pass can gain you, bridge or no bridge.

    Benito Mousillini (sp?) was quoted as saying (paraphrasing the quote) "The best definition of Fascism is a collusion between state and corporate interests".

    Its a no-brainer: when you read the Bill of Rights, just assume that the phrase "...We the People..." is actually referring to the rights of corporations to do their business, and not that of individuals. Then you'll have no problem understanding where our present condition is leading.
  9. Oh, one more thing...did I mention the phrase "imbedded journalism"?

    I thought not.
  10. I'm not familiar with the incident at Niagra Falls. A google search didn't turn up anything much. Was it just that somebody trying to take a LF photo of a bridge was told to stop? By whom was he/she told to stop? Was it in the State Park area? Were there signs saying you couldn't photograph? Did the photographer protest?<br><br>I go to niagra every once in a while, there was no problem taking photos with my LF a year or so ago, but then again, I wasn't taking photos of a bridge. Oooohhh......Things have changed though, and the police are getting a LITTLE too ansy, in my opinion.
  11. "Have the guts to shoot what you want, and deal with the consequences. It's still an almost free country, even for those who bash others based on their race, heritage or religion."

    Huh? Are you saying that if it were up to you, the freedom speech, which includes non-politically correct "bashing" should be outlawed?

    And what if certain religions and cultures promote violence as a way to solve problems and make a statement? Should we play "Let's pretend all cultures and values are morally equivalent," simply to avoid hurting somebody's feelings? Apparently so, but I think the 9-11 victims would beg to differ ... if they could.

  12. I have chosen not to push the limits at times when the country is at higher states of alert. That is my choice and how I conduct myself, perhaps others don't wish to follow this same action.

    On my way into Chicago, I cross a shipping canal that often has interesting ore boats tied up near a drawbridge. On occasion, I park nearby and take my cameras to the bridge for better vantage of the ships. While I have yet to be stopped, as courtesy I don't want people driving over the bridge or city employees to be concerned that some untoward action is taking place. Why tie up authorities and phone lines to investigate just for my selfish wish to get a picture. There is generally another day or opportunity for me to try to get another photo-certainly not the same elements, but another photo none-the-less.

    It is agreed that 'bad' guys will probably not be using LF cameras and most likely not reading this forum. Personal responsibility, though, means we all must decide our own limits of what is right and what is wrong. To catch a quick shot of a bridge someone wants to damage, one could take much quicker photos with a small digital camera. Then again if you wanted to spend time to stake out bridges or similar installations to learn the cycle and rythem of activities, consider how using the cover of a LF camera to case an area for bad purposes might be the way to do it. Think how much time a 'bad' guy could spend looking at and observing the area near where the camera was stationed. As it was said in the movie The Spanish Prisoner, nobody notices a Japanese tourist with a camera.

    Based upon 9/11 and the irrational acts of certain groups, I can forego some of my freedoms for the benefit of my neighbors.


    John Bailey
  13. Let me jump in here with a few answers:

    I found a pdf of the law we are discussing:


    Unfortuneately it's 187 pages long.

    The Niagara incident was reported on CNN about a month ago. Two men were taken into custody for videotaping the large bridge near the customs stop.

    I still haven't located the post re: prohibitions about tripods on private property. But the gentleman's reply stated that local police (in Ohio I think) confescated 35mm film being shot of a bridge by his students as a class assignment.

    Bert Krages' site looks like a goldmine. One of the reasons photo.net is so valuable.

    Finally, the next time an Episcopalian blows up I'll apologize to O.B.L. for my insensitivity.
  14. If anyone desires photographs of the built environment they can go to the public library and find almost anything they could wish. Often they will be able to find blue prints and other construction documents.

    I feel that most of the measures enacted in the name of public safety or "antiterrorism" will do little to deter those of evil intent and will mostly hamper ordinary people as they live their daily lives.

    I don't think it is realistic to assume the police officers and other public safety people will be able to discriminate which kinds of cameras are being used and which would be most useful to terrorists. In fact, I wouldn't know what kind of kit a terrorist would use. Probably the best bet would be a hand held 8 X 10 with a wide angle lens. The ill intentioned person could drive by in a car and snap a couple of images and then crop out the parts relevant to their plans.


    Joe Stephenson
  15. To John Cook,

    The last time I checked, the Oklahoma City blast was promulgated by good American Christians. I agree they didn't try to blow themselves up. Is that supposed to make a big difference?

    In the area I live in, a good American Christian follower of Matthew Hale went around shooting Jews, African Americans and Koreans until he was stopped by the police and he shot himself.

    If you count deaths, of course 9/11 stands out. But if you count incidents, we have been historically more at risk from American Christian terrorists than we have been from any other group.
  16. My guess: Pigeon
  17. I just take photographs of public places, whether in Europe or elsewhere, and do not worry for consequences.

    Robert C: “And what if certain religions and cultures promote violence” - how about the Japanese and Vietnamese??? Maybe Israelis???
  18. Joseph -

    That's what came to mind when I saw the title. I was surprised no one had made the joke, yet, until I came to yours there at the end. :)
  19. Probably helps to be female, but I've been shooting bridges in the heartland with a small digital and a hand-held 6x9 and a view camera on a tripod. No one has asked me wassup.

    In October 2001 (one month after 9/11) I was shooting a streetscape in Pottsville, PA and set up the tripod across from a US Armory. A very polite man came out of the Armory and wondered if I was photographing it. I showed him on the ground glass that the Armory did not show except at the very edge, said I was doing a book on Main Streets, and he was fine with it.

    Be humble if someone asks you about it and you should be OK, but I keep pointing my gunlike Pentax spotmeter at people's places of business all over the country (including New England) and no one has yet called the cops on me.

  20. After 50 years of supporting repressive dictatorships in South America, South East Asia and elsewhere, isn't it nice for Americans to find out first hand what it's like to live in a police state? What goes around, as they say, comes around...
  21. Trouble with that, Harvey, is that the average American doesn't directly support dictators. True, we elect the people that do, but we do so from a limited selection. I think you'll find that the people that do directly support those dictators aren't bothered by the police.

    To get back on topic...

    I haven't done a lot of bridge photography, but I have a little. I haven't been bothered, either. Maybe being female does have an advantage? I think we look more harmless. :)
  22. I'm sorry, but some of you guys really need to sit back and listen to yourselves some time, whichever side of the bridge you stand...

    I think it was Socrates (or Aristotle... anyway, one of those old-time guys in Togas) who said that an unconsidered life was one not worth living.

    Mr Walsh has made by far the most intelligent and considered answer. And all without the aid of a Toga (I admit, I am guessing here, but it seems a safe bet).
  23. Thanks Michelle and Bob,

    Best wishes,
    Joseph (Cogito ergo non toga est)
  24. Here's a recent bridge image. I was at a riverfront park on a Sunday with dozens of people passing by. Most avoided me as if I was a drooling Rottweiler and no one bothered me - hey, maybe that's the thing. Rent a drooling Rottweiler when you're out photographing bridges.
  25. Don't photograph any bridges owned by the Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Authority in NYC (i.e. big suspension bridges). They will arrest you, confiscate your film and develop it.

    This happened to two bridge engineers that I work with. They were photographing the approaches of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge for a proposal we were submitting to them. They just had a 35mm camera. Think of how suspicious you would appear pointing your Pentax digital spot meter.

    This really is their policy. They even armed their "peace officers" to handle "street toughs" like some of the photographers on this list.

    Pete Roody
  26. "Don't photograph any bridges owned by the Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Authority
    in NYC (i.e. big suspension bridges). They will arrest you, confiscate your
    film and develop it."

    Interesting - who allows them to carry out such illegal acts?
  27. I am serious when I say that the TBTA has banned photograhy of their bridges (and probably their tunnels also) without prior permission. They will arrest you if you are on their property when doing it. I don't know how far away from their property is safe. Is it legal? I don't think it is. It certainly won't stop terrorism.

    I would take it seriously if you plan to photograph these bridges in nyc. TBTA peace officers were never armed in the past, and in my judgement they could be dangerous with a loaded weapon in their hands. They are not nyc police officers.
  28. I haven't taken any pictures of bridges lately but every time I take out my Pentax 1 degree spotmeter (the ones that look kinda like a small pistol from a distance) I get nervous and start looking around to see if any police are rushing toward me with drawn weapons.
  29. >After 50 years of supporting repressive dictatorships in South >America, South East Asia and elsewhere, isn't it nice for Americans >to find out first hand what it's like to live in a police state?
    >What goes around, as they say, comes around...
    >-- harvey platter , May 24, 2003; 06:35 A.M. Eastern
    >Trouble with that, Harvey, is that the average American doesn't >directly support dictators. True, we elect the people that do, but >we do so from a limited selection. I think you'll find that the >people that do directly support those dictators aren't bothered by >the police.

    I must admit, when I read this I was totally stunned. It indicates the fear that must have arissen over there.
    Actually it would be a nice photo project. Photograph those people arrested for taking pictures... That would be a weird project

    This is bizar guys, I already believed something was seriously wrong in the US, with companies that "buy" the president and many other issues, this makes this feeling stronger. You're indeed close to a police/totalitairy state. You'll find that respect for others will do more good than this.

    BTW: Who was it that said: 'the person that leads a country must be dragged up the stairs and forced to his job'.
  30. Reinier, I would caution you and our other European friends to not get too excited by this thread.

    This is the age in the U.S. where no one is willing to leave anyone else alone any more. All now have their private agendas for the politicians.

    The Right wants a soldier on every street corner. The Left wants us to build churches without Bibles, which instead celebrate and worship red-nosed reindeer and chocolate bunnies. And the tree-huggers want us to trash our guns but save our trash.

    Secretary Rumsfeld was correct when he said that democracy tends to be untidy.

    I’m just trying to find out what the rules are this week...
  31. Personally I believe the US don't have a democracy. You only select the next puppet who has to justify his behaviour to the companies that bought him into the office.
    Democracy is about listening to the other man's opinion and respect it, and compromize to get the best for everybody.

    Yes, the CIA, FBI, NSA and whatever other scum probably have my address already for some time. Probably all my mail is being scanned. I'm member of the evil Greenpeace, who dares to put respect for nature ahead of making money. And member of a dutch left-winged party, so I must score high in the list of risks for the US. I'm expecting an invasion every moment over here, and I (and the likes of me) will be shipped to cuba (I can't pronounce the name of that base there) and they will force me to eat GM food and my cage will be of tropical wood (As you know the US holds itself the right to invade every country of which they suspect hold opponents of the US and capture these).

    Note there is a lot of sarcasm and generalisation here. I see so many troubled entries from Amerikans on the web that I think there is hope. I'm reading 'stupid white man' at the moment, also great stuff...
  32. Here's the problem: When the US was founded there were approximately 80,000 residents in each US House of Representatives congressional district (relatively fewer voters than today if you normalize for the fact that women, blacks, and non-property holders couldn't vote). With each (constitutionally mandated) decennial census, the House increased its numbers, by majority vote, until 1911. Then, in 1921, because of WWI and temporary population displacement, the House didn't increase its size. In 1931 there was the depression, again temporarily displacing lots of people. In 1941, WWII. By 1951 members realized they'd got a good thing going and just conveniently forgot about enlarging the House. Result: Today we have about 700,000 people per congressional district. Compare that to the UK, with about 90,000.

    The point is, with the smallest Federal level election district as large as 700,000, there is ABSOLUTELY NO WAY for any individual to make a difference or have any meaningful contact with the Federal government. Americans now have government by and for big money, and everything else about American 'democracy' is a sick theatrical production. It's corporate socialism, something that Mussolini would have immediately recognized as Fascism.

    Don't kid yourselves, we ain't the land of the free. And in North America traditions can be bought really cheap.
  33. Someone wrote in this thread that "Personally I believe the US don't have a democracy. "

    People keep using the word democracy to describe the US. Of course we don't have a democracy. We were never intended to. The United States is a Republic, as in..."and to the Republic for which it stands..."

    A democracy votes on who its leaders are to be and the votes directly determine who that leader is. In a Republic, the people select representatives and the representatives determine who the leaders are and what decisions, laws, etc. are made.

    Still, I can think of alot of countries in the world where I would'nt be allowed to drag a 4x5 and all its accompanying accessories around the countryside like I do in the US.
  34. A bit like the former eastblock and USSR then, landscape is no problem, at the moment you started photographing buildings etc, you were a probable spy and had a good chance to be arrested...

    So actually we didn't "beat" the communist, they slowely and secretly implemented their system into ours
  35. Hey Kevin Bourque,
    I work for the engineering firm that designed the new Cooper River Bridge that is currently under construction. I am curious to see your photos. Are they viewable on the web anywhere?
  36. I recently tried to take photos at the Marine Parkway Bridge - which has a public walkway. Only after 9-11 did they add signs on all their bridges and tunnels, the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, that prohibit photography. I have discussed this with management and they have agreed to allow media to take photos with authorization. The other day, I had the Concorde being taken by barge from the airport and going under the Marine Parkway Bridge. I had three minutes. I was manhandled by TBTA cops and I called TBTA Frank Pasqual at 646-252-7417 and he was well known to the cops. He told them I could take photos. But I almost lost the moment. I still dont know what law they are using to stop me from photograping. How can they stop me from photographing from a public place? If I am off the bridge, how can they stop me? If I am on the public walkway, what law can they stop me with? WHo do they think they are? They even prevented me from going off property to photograph the bridge? What is this??? Anyone have answers or where to look for them? Todd Maisel N
  37. Todd, I don't have a good answer for you.

    I suppose that if you are smart, you can find the above post which allows you to read the entire law for yourself.

    If you are rich, you can hire a lawyer.

    If you are politically active, call Ted Kennedy, Tom Daschle and the ACLU.

    If you are sneaky you can buy a hardhat, orange vest and paint your tripod yellow.

    If you have nothing to lose, go back there with a TV news crew taping you and make a big stink.

    Otherwise, realize that every law is not necessarly sensible nor fair.
  38. "Based upon 9/11 and the irrational acts of certain groups, I can forego some of my freedoms for the benefit of my neighbors.
    Regards, John Bailey"

    What did Ben Franklin say about freedom and security?

    "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security"
  39. From the same people who brought you prohibitions against bridge and tunnel photography, we now have prohibitions being proposed on mass transit photography. Why not cut off more public space?
    Okay, they are conceding that credential media can take photos, but the rest of the public, especially tourists will be subject to fine and confiscation of film or digital media. Insane!
    A terrorist does not need a photo to know that the most crowded time of the day is rush hour and Grand Central or Penn Station are the most crowded stations. Once again, government is over reacting. I am in favor of police asking people why they are taking pictures, but prohibitions are yet another attack on civil liberties and allows the terrorist to win one more round.
  40. Thanks to the efforts of the National Press Photographers Association, NY Press Photographers Association and an amalgym of other strap hanger groups, the proposed MTA ban on photography in the subway has been withdrawn. Let's all keep a look out for similar restrictions that may be imposed by a government intent on hurting First Amendment freedoms.

Share This Page