So I'm standing on the street, a main street in suburbia, the houses are fairly affluent, but not ones any celebrities might inhabit, and I'm taking a picture up into the trees. I've taken two or three when I become aware of a woman to my side. She was watching me with a frown upon her face. I nodded amicably and continued to focus.
'What are you doing?'
Now, if someone asks me this in friendly curiosity, I'm more than happy to discuss things. However, this lady delivered her question in the sharp tones of an annoyed headmistress of some snooty girls school.
As I considered her interrogatory question, she narrowed her eyes.
'I'm taking pictures,' I said, stating the rather bleedin' obvious in a manner I hoped was just heavy enough with sarcasm to register my annoyance.
I pointed up towards the tree branches.
Why? Hmm, how to answer that one?
'Well, it's looks rather beautiful, don't you think?'
Her eyes narrowed even further.
'That's my house,' she said, pointing behind her while never shifting her gaze from me. 'And that's my husband'.
Behind her stood a fine but ordinary detached house guarded by remotely operated gates. Beyond these ostentatious gates, a short tubby man was ushering a couple of over-weight children into an ostentatious black Ranger Rover Sport which naturally sported ugly black privacy glass. We were standing on the public pavement outside of these gates.
'And?' I said, genuinely at a loss as to what was her problem.
'You're not taking pictures of my house are you?'
'No,' I said, again pointing up into the tree.
'Or my children?'
'No,' I said, and put my camera back to my eye and pointed it up into the tree again to stem my growing anger.
'How long are you going to be here?'
'As long as I feel like it.'
She muttered something under her breath I didn't catch, except it was clearly abusive in intent, and turned away.
That did it for me.
'Madam,' I called sweetly.
When she turned round, my camera was aimed and I took a couple of shots of her and her house.
That did it for her.
Her face was a picture of outrage as she snarled, 'I'm calling the police!'
Police Log, Neasden Central Police Station
Emergency call received from a member of public to report suspicious person taking photographs. An armed response team was immediately dispatched to the scene of the crime. On arrival the suspect was identified as a Mr **** ****, a retired gentleman who claimed he found the area 'beautiful' When warned he was committing an offence under Section 48 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2007, governing the making of photographic images of any building or other installation in public, Mr **** **** began to act in a rather suspicious manner by uttering 'You must be joking.' He then refused to give a blood sample or to give details of his ethnicity. He was consequently tasered using the minimum strength of 50,000 volts and, due to an underlying medical condition, regrettably passed away before charges could be brought against him. No further action therefor needed to be taken.
(with thanks to Private Eye)
Sadly, it's just one illustration of how we, as photographers, are more than likely to be viewed these days by the public/officialdom and various 'jobs worths'. ( jobs worth explanation: - a phrase usually uttered by pompous pedant official who will not permit anything and excusing his attitude with: "It's more than me jobs worth mate, to allow you to photograph that flower ...")
Now, I've been arrested more than a few times in foreign countries that are accepted as being slightly restrictive on personal freedoms and photography. In Saudi for instance I've been involved in car chases by zealous public minded fellows, been arrested by the police several times and most scarily of all, taken away by the secret police. And all for just taking a picture of a building for which I had been commissioned and had permission. While in custody, people were pistol whipped and beaten right next to me for no good reason that I could see.
Now, in my own country, I find myself almost as wary as when in foreign climes. Admittedly not to the extent of the above, but it's still a depressing and worrying trend. Frankly, I don't like automatically being looked upon as worthy of suspicion of being a pedophile, terrorist, paparazzi or a photographer from the Daily Scum (publication now deceased) and to have to constantly explain what I am doing simply for taking a picture. I am not a Number, I will not be stamped, catalogued, filed, restrained, coerced and restricted - I am a free man!
(cue scary big white balloon)