Category Archives: Photographers’ Rights

New York/TSA

On the floor of the Newport News/Williamsburg Airport — © Brian Rose

I recently traveled to Virginia for a family visit, and I brought along some of my work to show a former high school classmate, who is an avid photo collector. But it seems that he was not the only one eager to check out my portfolio. At least the TSA was kind enough to retape the box of prints. I hope they enjoyed the photographs.

New York/Photographer’s Rights

Videographer being arrested for recording Suffolk County, New York, police activity.

Returning to a recurring topic on this blog, the increasing harassment of photographers by police and private security. This comes by way of PDN, the Photo District News, and shows an egregious, but all too frequent, example of police ignorance of the constitution (in spite of this officer’s claim to 30 years of experience). I am putting this up  because it is important that people understand that this kind of thing is going on routinely. Usually, the result is the photographer backing off to avoid arrest–a good idea most of the time–but a de facto trampling of one’s rights. Every time I go out with my camera–especially the view camera–I worry that I will find myself in such a confrontation with authority.

Despite the charges being dismissed–which is what usually happens when these things go to court–the videographer has chosen to sue for violation of his constitutional rights, and the New York Civil Liberties Union is supporting his case. Please consider, as I do, financially supporting the NYCLU or the ACLU.

New York/Lower Manhattan

Brooklyn Battery Tunnel entrance — © Brian Rose

David Dunlop in the New York Times City Room column this morning writes about being stopped by MTA security guards while photographing a bus depot in Brooklyn:

The search for lost history leads to odd spots sometimes, like Second Avenue, between 126th and 127th Streets, once the site of William Randolph Hearst’s Cosmopolitan-International movie studio. It is now home to the 126th Street Bus Depot, and that’s what I was taking a picture of last week — from the sidewalk across the avenue — when a property protection agent with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority approached me.

You can’t take pictures of transit facilities, he told me, politely but firmly.

It reminds me of the time I was in East Berlin in 1987 before the Wall came down looking for surviving examples of early 20th century architecture to photograph. At one point, looking for a housing project clearly shown on my map, I found myself standing–with my 4×5 view camera–in front of an enormous complex of buildings with video cameras mounted on the facades–not a common sight in the ’80s. Suddenly, uniformed guards began shouting and approaching. I ducked downstairs into a nearby subway station and made a clean getaway. Later, I realized that I had accidentally stumbled upon the East German Stasi headquarters, the secret police. I was lucky to have escaped.

The truth is I had been photographing for days all over East Berlin using my big camera without being accosted by the many “people’s police” who seemed to be everywhere. Such indifference is not the case in New York City in 2012. Despite recent clarifications of the law and the specific rules regarding photography in public places, I am routinely told by private security guards, police officers, and uncredentialed busy bodies that photography is not permitted. It is, in fact, allowed–even in the subways and buses.

But things are not so simple. A few days ago I took my camera to Lower Manhattan and did a number of photographs relating to my ongoing documentation of the World Trade Center, specifically the rise of 1 WTC, which is replacing the Twin Towers. It was a good day. No one stopped me. In the photograph above I was standing on a pedestrian bridge crossing over the entrance to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. I suspect that I was in an area under the jurisdiction of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a public/private authority with its own set of rules. They have stopped me in the past when I made photographs near the Holland Tunnel entrance.

Greenwich Street — © Brian Rose

In the picture above I was standing in a small public plaza adjacent to the tunnel entrance decorated with planters that were probably intended originally for security purposes. The city is littered with such barriers–mostly ugly and obviously ineffective. My guess is that the plaza is under the jurisdiction of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, which has its own rules governing photography and the use of tripods.

Vesey Street — © Brian Rose

And in the photograph above I was standing in the Irish Hunger Memorial in Battery Park City under the jurisdiction of the Battery Park City Authority which has its own rules regarding photography and tripods. Another photograph I tried to do recently was from the steps leading up to the Borough of Manhattan Community College which has jurisdiction over its open plaza–I was stopped by a friendly security guard–and another I made was from the Hudson River Park, which is under the jurisdiction of yet another public/private organization. I have no idea what their rules are. Additionally, there are dozens of public plazas that are actually privately owned, the result of crazy zoning deals that award developers with extra floor space in exchange for creating a public amenity. These spaces, like the recently occupied Zuccotti Park, exist in an ever growing twilight zone of public access under private control.

Most of the organizations that have jurisdiction over these spaces are benign in their intentions, but the result, nevertheless, is that they have ultimate control over our public commons and our city. Are we fast becoming a police state?

Update: George Will, of all people, defends photographers’ rights here in the Washington Post.

New York/Enough

We are awash in gun imagery from Sarah Palin’s congressional crosshairs to the latest Hollywood movie Mechanic. The slogan along the top reads:

Someone has to fix the problems.



While I was talking this photograph an MTA employee walked by and in a stern voice said “You can’t take pictures down here!” I said, “Yes I can.” He just continued walking, but had he stopped I would have been happy to point him to:

Section 1050.9

Restricted areas and activities.

3. Photography, filming or video recording in any facility or conveyance is permitted except that ancillary equipment such as lights, reflectors or tripods may not be used. Members of the press holding valid identification issued by the New York City Police Department are hereby authorized to use necessary ancillary equipment. All photographic activity must be conducted in accordance with the provisions of this Part.

MTA NYC – Rules of Conduct

New York/WTC

Ground Zero construction — © Brian Rose

The weather broke yesterday after days of temps in the 90s, so I decided to go down to the World Trade Center site for another round of photographs. This is my fourth or fifth visit with the view camera. The biggest difficulty for me is that there are few vantage points available for making photographs with a camera on a tripod. A small army of security guards working for various property owners and institutions enforces the one firm rule governing photography on “private” property–no tripods. Private is in quotations because there are so many areas that are ambiguous public/private realms with no signs or the signs that are there clearly state that the public is welcome. The public may be welcome. A hundred people could be simultaneously taking snapshots, but put a tripod down and you’re kicked out. It’s gotten so ridiculous that I usually just work quickly, get a shot or two off, and then leave once the nearest rent-a-cop springs into action. God help us if something really serious were to happen–these guys are useless.

Liberty and Greenwich Sreet — © Brian Rose

Construction is in full swing across the site with 1 World Trade Center up 20 or more floors, and Tower 4 is also well above ground. The Calatrava designed transportation center is still mostly below grade, and the memorial waterfalls are not visible unless you go to a higher viewing level.

Cortlandt and Church Street — © Brian Rose

Tourist wander aimlessly about dodging construction equipment, navigating sidewalks to nowhere, reading a forest of contradictory signage, all the while attempting to see and understand what is going on.

The Winter Garden, World Financial Center — © Brian Rose

The best place to see the whole site, though still not high enough, is from behind the glass wall at the top of the stairs in the Winter Garden of the World Financial Center. I did a photograph of tourists looking out from the Winter Garden–just managed get off one 4×5 image before being ordered to vamoose.

West Broadway and Warren Street — © Brian Rose

An unofficial Twin Towers memorial just to the north of ground zero. I was all packed up by the time I reached this spot, so I only shot it with my digital camera. But I will come back with the 4×5 in the future. Despite the difficulties of working around the WTC, I am getting good stuff. The idea is to come back from time to time, slowing building a series of photographs that documents the rebuilding and captures some of the craziness of the ground zero atmosphere. I have no doubt that when the memorial is completed there will be a ban on tripods, and I will be one of the last view camera photographers left.

New York/Greenwich Village

Houston Street and MacDougal — © Brian Rose

I saw the MoMA ad for the Cartier-Bresson show and began taking some snaps through the chainlink fence. Within seconds I was accosted by a man who requested/demanded that I stop photographing the children. I told him I was photographing the whole scene, not the kids in particular, and that I would not take any more pictures, because he had asked. As I began to walk away, a girl on the other side of the fence asked if I was “videoing” them, and I answered, “no, just still photos.” The man, presumably a teacher at a nearby private school, then admonished the girl for talking to me, saying “you know what we’ve said about people like that.”

I understand the concerns about protecting children from predators–I am, after all, the father of an 11 year old boy–but this is simply another example of the demonization of photographers. Had I wanted to surreptitiously photograph the kids, I could easily have done so without being noticed. Moreover, I was standing on a public street, and the students were using a public park, not even a private school playground, for recreation. A pattern of undue interest might well be considered worthy of some level of intervention. But simply taking photographs in a public place where kids are playing does not constitute suspicious behavior, and it is certainly not illegal.

More photos of  children in public places:

Photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Photograph by Helen Levitt

New York/Random Views

Houston and Lafayette Street — © Brian Rose

Williamsburg Bridge — © Brian Rose

Two faces.


I receive an email newsletter about Amtrak from a cousin who believes fervently in open market solutions to what ails American rail transport. Although I don’t generally agree with his take on things–knowledgeable as he is on the subject–his newsletter often provides interesting inside information.

Earlier this month there was a “town hall” meeting in Chicago hosted by the top brass of Amtrak in which several topics were discussed, one of them being Amtrak Photography and Videography Guidelines. I recall reading somewhere that rail buffs have sometimes been hassled by Amtrak police for taking photographs in and around stations and other facilities.

It seems, according to the newsletter, that Amtrak is trying to strike some kind of reasonable balance concerning photography–they would like to be notified in advance if one is planning on taking pictures beyond casual travel photography. The newsletter states: “Given the proven use of photography by terrorists in preparation for attacks on infrastructure, it is not unreasonable to have a few, simple, reasonable rules.”

This statement, which I assume echoes something said by the chief of Amtrak police, is an example of the very slippery slope we continue to cascade down as a society. All photographers are suspect because one might be a terrorist on a scouting mission. Inevitably, the most serious photographers with expensive equipment get singled out–God forbid the use of a tripod. Never mind that would be terrorists have no need of tripods, view cameras, or gigantic zoom lenses. They can easily get by with cell phones or invisible spy cameras. They can even walk around using the unaided eye to check things out.

There may be legitimate reasons to limit photography in public and semi-public places like train stations. Commercial photo shoots and film productions are potentially disruptive. But ordinary picture taking–documenting the world we move around in–should be encouraged, not considered subversive.

New York/No Photos Allowed

Crosby Street — © Brian Rose

I was drawn into Crosby Street just off Houston by the ASPCA truck with a large cat face gazing slightly upward. It was parked in front of Happy Paws Daycare with a lot of happy dogs cavorting in the windows along the street.

Unhappily there were signs on each plate glass window stating “No Photos Allowed.” Never mind the fact that a private business can not legally prevent one from taking pictures on a public street in this city or any other in the United States. See first amendment for reference.

University Place — © Brian Rose

A few blocks away I found this storefront.

New York/Photo Permits

The city of New York has proposed requiring permits for photography and film making in the street.

The Mayor’s Office of Theater, Film, and Broadcasting, which coordinates film and television production and issues permits around the five boroughs, is considering rules that could potentially severely restrict the ability of even amateur photographers and filmmakers to operate in New York City. The NY Times reports that the city’s tentative rules include requiring any group of two or more people who want to use a camera in a single public location for more than a half hour (including setup and breakdown time) to get a city permit and $1 million in liability insurance. The regulation would also apply to any group of five or more people who would be using a tripod for more than ten minutes, including setup and breakdown time.

-(Excerpted from the Gothamist)

Film by Jem Cohen

Jem Cohen, an independent filmmaker, whom I’ve met, writes the following:

Unfortunately, we believe we must see the proposed regulations not only as a blow against New York as a city that welcomes and inspires art-making (and historical documentation), but as part of a continuum of broader attacks against civil liberties and free expression.

I couldn’t agree more. An organization called Picture New York – without pictures of New York is leading the opposition against the city’s proposal. If you want to know more, or would like to help, please sign the petition on the site.

As a photographer who has, to a great extent, built a career on photographing the streets and parks of New York, I feel it is my responsibility to speak out on this issue. Those of us who express ourselves using a camera are the eyes of the city. Whether we operate as commercial artists, fine artists, documentarists, bloggers, or journalists, we present the image of the city to the world. Our efforts should be encouraged, not suppressed.

Father Duffy Square (Times Square), Lee Friedlander

Imagine New York without Walker Evans, Berenice Abbot, Robert Frank, Helen Levitt, Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand, Ezra Stoller, Diane Arbus, Joel Meyerowitz, Cindy Sherman, Len Jenshel, Jan Staller, Joel Sternfeld, Philip Lorca DiCorcia, and on and on. These are artists who have freely wielded their still cameras in this city. A similar list of filmmakers could as easily be compiled.

Ground Zero – 2007

Photography = free speech.