There’s an article in the Guardian from a few days ago linking the increasing harassment of photographers to the general fear of terrorism. I think there’s some truth to that. The author also relates it to movie plots in which terrorists seem always to be casing the joint with a camera.
I think the latter point is a bit overstated, but I do believe that there is an increased climate of distrust in the air–certainly post-911–but I believe it started before that. Photographers have become psychological scapegoats, the victims of heightened vigilance, even paranoia. Ironically, this climate has emerged at the same that photography has been greatly democratized by digital cameras, websites, flickr, and other online means of disseminating images. The world is awash in pictures; yet we fear the power of photographs more than ever.
As one who has experienced first hand what it’s like to try taking pictures in a communist country, I greatly sympathize with the quote below posted on the blog the Online Photographer.
I remember reading an article about East Germany in _National Geographic_ back in the early ’70s, in which the author describes being harassed by the Volkspolizei for having taken a photograph of something he “shouldn’t” have–a bridge or some other public edifice, as I recall. I remember thinking “Boy, I’m sure glad that sort of thing can’t happen in the USA!”
Just a few years ago, some colleagues of mine from Germany were taking in the sights along the Mall in Washington DC, taking pictures of the grand public edifices. Apparently they took a photograph of something they “shouldn’t” have, as they were stopped and questioned twice by police, and were obliged to delete several shots from their digital cameras.
It was a nice country, while it lasted. Perhaps it isn’t too late to take it back.