Thursday, August 04, 2005

Perils of photoblogging

Rannie, of Photojunkie, has a nifty new project on the go: Portraits in the Park. Every week he sets up in a different city park, people drop by, and he takes photos of them. My mom has been complaining that she has no decent photos of me, so I was pleased when I got an e-mail from Rannie today inviting me to take part.

Today's shoot was in Bellevue Square Park, in Kensington Market. The skies were cloudy but the rain held off, and when I showed up around 6:30, Rannie and a couple of other photoblog people were there. It was a quiet bright day; some toddlers played in the drained wading pool at the other end of the park. Rannie took a couple of shots of me with a tree and some playground equipment. Carrie wandered off a bit and took a picture of a giant toy crayon lying on the ground, and I took a picture of her taking a picture.

And that's when things suddenly got very weird. A young woman who had been over with the toddlers stormed up to Carrie and I and yelled, "What are you taking a picture of? What are you taking a picture of?!" We explained that Carrie had been photographing the crayon, and I'd been photographing Carrie. But she didn't believe us. "You were taking my picture! You were taking a picture of me and my child! I have a legal right to take your camera and smash it!" We were baffled -- remember, we were nowhere near the children. But almost immediately four or five of her friends -- a group of sharp-faced, angry teens and young adults -- joined her, screaming at us and grabbing for our cameras. One of them grabbed my arm and demanded to see the photos I'd taken. I showed her: two shots, one just of Rannie, one of Carrie taking a photo. Some tiny figures were visible far in the background of the shot of Carrie. "That's my friend!" the girl yelled. "You have no right to take that! You have to erase that! Erase all those pictures!" How she could even tell it was her friend at that size I'm not sure, but I erased both pictures (I probably would have erased them anyway -- they were pretty bad). She was still holding onto my arm, trying to take the camera away, but I looked at her face and calmly repeated that I had erased all the photos, just as she had asked, and finally she let go.

The most bizarre thing about the whole incident was the kids' self-righteous indignation, their conviction that taking pictures of your friends in a public park was illegal and a terrible thing to do (because someone who didn't want their picture taken might show up in the background). Can you imagine if that were true? Every vacation photo you've ever taken would be illegal, for one thing. There are probably a lot of places in Toronto where you might get swarmed by a gang for your camera, but you know you're in Kensington Market when they talk like you're oppressing them.

Finally, since I'd erased my photos and they weren't getting anywere with the others, the mob backed down and wandered off. It was starting to rain, and we went to the Embassy and had stiff drinks. I asked Carrie and Rannie, both of whom have been taking pictures for a long time and are a lot more serious about it than I am, whether they'd ever had anyone freak out on them like that before. Both of them had gotten a lot of funny looks, and occasionally had been asked to stop, but neither had actually been threatened.

The whole thing was unsettling, I have to say. It was a reminder that the friendly, laid-back Market, which I've lived near for ten years, has another face. (Stefan joined us at the Embassy and remarked that he's seen a lot of drug deals go down around that wading pool. "It's where drug dealers go with their kids!") I'll definitely be more careful from now on when I'm out taking photos on my own -- although, again, it's hard to think of a more innocuous activity than taking pictures of your friends in a park, so it's hard to say what I need to be careful of. I suppose the lesson here is to avoid letting anyone shifty-looking notice that you've got a camera out. I don't know. What do you think? I hope I'll still have new pictures of street art and bicycles and raccoons to show you in the future, anyway.

Update: Lots of interesting comments on this post! Also, Rannie has blogged about this incident, and posted a link to a good article about a Supreme Court decision clarifying the legal status of photographers in public places. Brett has weighed in with a post describing some of his own adventures in outdoor filmmaking. Be sure to click on the "we were dressed like this" links -- they take you to the funniest pictures I've ever seen on Blamblog.


Anonymous Vicky said...

That sounds very scary, what a bunch of handled it really, really well and thank goodness you were using digital.
Don't let them get you down :)

10:57 a.m., August 05, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Nadia!
What a horrible experience. I'm sorry you had to go through that. Glad you are okay. I'm not into having strangers take my photo without asking but in public places they have every right to, I guess. Plus, you said they weren't in the photos. I hope you had your portrait done before the drama. Will you post it? : ) ~ Steph

1:23 p.m., August 05, 2005  
Anonymous Joots said...

I know I'd do the same as you, but I'd walk away thinking I'd ultimately taken something from them; snuffing them out. I don't like that outcome any more. Fear's weird. I don't like how it makes people, read me, angry.

I was once chased by kids with baseball bats. Didn't really have time to stop and dialogue. :)


3:55 p.m., August 05, 2005  
Anonymous Spinlab said...

That's kind of unsettling, but it does show, perhaps, in this age of media-inflated paranoia about terror and pedophelia and everything evil that we photographers are coming under increased vigilante-ism.

Although it was nothing like you experienced, I found an interesting reaction to my photography just a few days after one of the Flickr meetups downtown (where we all took photos on Queen st. without much reproach from anyone). I photographed a tour bus that had managed to wedge itself in the ditch a block from my house in good 'ol suburbia (southeast Mississauga). I was gruffly questioned by a cop, the bus driver and another person (who had also run their car into the ditch trying to get around the bus) as to WHY I was taking photos? "Are you from the inusrance company?" - one asked me. "That's enough photos!" - said the bus driver to me after a minute or so. They all had puzzled, irritated looks on their faces as they tried to comprehend to what strange end someone would take a picture of an errant bus in a ditch.

I guess in the 'burbs, people don't take photos of that kind of stuff? Go figure.

I guess it's just safer to travel in packs now when photographing!


9:07 p.m., August 05, 2005  
Blogger peter said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:35 a.m., August 06, 2005  
Anonymous Peter Zielinski said...

What a bunch of jerks.

I carry this around just incase of situations like that....

12:37 a.m., August 06, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been hassled taking pictures in the market too... an older more civil middle aged fellow when I was taking pictures of signs on Baldwin. I respect privacy and I know people who've been stalked so I delted the picture, though I resented the implied threat of being told it was illegal to photograph people and they can take my camera if I do. I thought "try it..." but I figured he might get it in the end so I kept my mouth shut.

I reckoned either he owed child support or he was dealing, and Kensington being kensington, probably the latter.

2:15 a.m., August 06, 2005  
Blogger rannie said...

Ya the whole scene was very unnerving. At one point they wanted to see my camera (the film camera I was shooting the project with) But I insisted that I was only shooting people I knew, and Aside from all of that I had their written consent to do so.

9:57 a.m., August 06, 2005  
Anonymous Liav K. said...

Wow. I had almost the same thing happen to me on Spadina two weeks ago. I took a couple of pictures of a truck, and next thing I knew, a man and woman were yelling at me to "give them my pictures!" And then I was surrounded by a crowd of strangers. The whole incident kind of ended with a yelled stand-off, and I ended up just walking away eventually, once people seemed to realize those two were craaaaazy. Very un-nerving incident.

12:47 p.m., August 06, 2005  
Blogger Nadia said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone!

It seems a lot of people have stories about people freaking out on them for taking photos in public, and what's interesting is how in most of these instances, the people getting angry aren't even in the pictures: they're upset because they can't understand why the photographer would take a photo of, say, a truck, a crashed bus, or in our case a toy crayon. Photography that doesn't fit the mold of "vacation snapshot" is so inexplicable to them that they jump to the conclusion that the photographer must, somehow, be up to no good. It's a good thing none of these people saw me photographing that smashed pickle jar!

There also seems to be a prevalent belief among the paranoid that they have a "legal right" to steal and destroy your camera. This is a classic urban legend, I suppose. Rannie's posted a link to an interesting article concerning the legal rights of photographers in public places in Canada. As is often the case, our legal situation is a little more confusing than the situations in the US and UK, because we have a Supreme Court that likes to carefully weigh both sides of an issue and come to a balanced, nuanced decision. The Canadian precedent strikes, I think, a very fair balance between the rights of the photographer and the subject's right to privacy. Two things worth noting: 1) these cases are dealt with by civil, not criminal law -- you can be successfully sued for using someone's image without permission, but not arrested; and 2) the law pertains to publication of the resulting photograph, not to the act of taking photographs. It is simply not illegal to take photographs in a public place.

12:39 p.m., August 07, 2005  
Anonymous re-verse said...

I wish i had been there - i love fighting with people who tell me I can't take photographs.

12:27 a.m., August 08, 2005  
Blogger hanieh said...

cool post. you're abs right, the true face of kensington comes out when the cameras come out. ;)

11:11 p.m., August 26, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Gage Park in Hamilton, my retirement hobby is hanging out with, feeding, and sometimes photographing the local squirrels.

There are a few nasty dog owners who not only take their dogs off the leash, but actually point out squirrels for them to chase.

This sometimes results in slow, painful death when a squirrel loses a leg to one of these dogs.

So sometimes I photograph the dog and/or owner. The dog owners get REAL upset.

I don't think I'm breaking any laws as this is in a public place, and the Supreme Court's "unique position" - committing the crime of abusing wildlife - would seem to apply to these perpetrators.

Eleanor White

12:32 p.m., January 08, 2006  
Blogger Amarand said...

Actually, don't tell any of the nutzos, but when you delete a picture on the camera, if you immediately put it into your computer (I do this with a PC all the time, not sure about my Mac), you can easily and quickly restore all deleted files using any standard undelete software package. Just make sure that if you seriously want to recover the deleted photos, that you do not take any shots after you delete them, otherwise there's a decent chance you might write over the data.

Someone should set-up an amateur web-site for photographers' rights where people could post incidents and specific details. Maybe even photographs of the nutters themselves! :)

4:12 p.m., June 28, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey had a similar thing happen to me i love doing street photography and was taking photos at a street corner when i took some of people waiting in line at an ATM machine then suddenly a woman and a man stated attacking me and asking me not to take their photos.I ignore all of them and get into my car and drive to the corner to a policemen and tell him what happened he understands.But now a crowd is gathering and it is an idiot crowd that just wants some action the policeman sees what is happening and tells me to leave.But before i can go any further the same woman is coming chasing and the cop asks me to get out of the car and deal with the woman i get out she demands all photos be deleted and also that i dont do that in future this is in the wake of the Anna hazare issue.It seems there is a strange idea of what is right now in India where the public is actually turning in on itself.The media and documentation is what created and fed the movement, and let it win.I eventually deleted the photos as i wanted to pacify the crowd and the woman.But now will recover them with software back in the studio.

5:11 p.m., August 30, 2011  

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