There’s an issue that’s been coming up a lot lately. Let me set the scene:
One of my assignments last night was to photograph the
BID meeting. Now, I’m a newshound, and I love my job, and politics, and all that other stuff. But while we’re being honest, I’ll tell you a secret about us media types: We get bored too. Our entire profession is built around capturing drama, and we’re all tightly-wound, type-A alpha-journos who are more often than not cranked up on five to 10 energy drinks. When you put us in a stuffy meeting with a bunch of suits and politicos, we get a little … fidgety.
So I got all the shots that presented themselves, including some really cerebral pictures of the carpet, and I was just about to wrap it up when what to my wondering eyes did appear but a bunch of Occupy types/homeless people wearing sashes that said “AMBASSADOR.”
Finally, some excitement. The press swooped in like vultures.
But among these colorful folks were a couple of shirtless guys wearing bandannas over their faces. One of them quickly sought me out to tell me that I couldn’t take his picture. Those were his words, exactly: “You can’t take my picture.”
“Yes, I can,” I replied.
“No,” he said, removing his mask to talk. “It’s my federal right.”
The semantics of that assertion could by themselves fuel another Argus post, but let it suffice to say that I disagreed. He then said that what I was doing was endangering him. In these modern times, he said, (and I’m paraphrasing here, mostly to omit the profanity) photography is a tool of the police state.
So, Mr. Ambassador, now you’ve gone and questioned my patriotism. Let’s talk.
I have heard this line of reasoning before. Most recently, it was used in response to our photos of the Anti-Amendment One march. The idea is that the media, either complicitly or by accident, plays into the hands of the capital-P Police by photographing protesters.
First, let’s ignore the fact that you passed two dozen security cameras just to get into the place. And that everyone here is taking pictures, even the other protesters. And that there are a ton of authority figures present that can actually see you, right now, in person. So now that we’ve discounted the reality of the situation, we can talk about hypothetical things like rights.
Believe it or not, I’m on your side. Read the Constitution. The very first thing the framers enumerated was the right of the people to peaceably assemble (that’s you) and the freedom of the press (that’s me). We’re in this together. By our very nature, both the media and protesters are set at odds with authority. And an enemy of my enemy is my friend.
But friends can disagree. For example: we do not live in a police state. I know, I know: domestic spying, un-manned drones, warrantless wiretaps, Guantanamo Bay, and the Patriot Act, man. These things concern me, too. Listen, the whole Argus schtick is that the world is going to hell. I’m one step away from wearing a tinfoil hat.
But as slippery as the slope is, we’re nowhere near a police state. Looking at history, it’s easy to see that the first indicator of totalitarianism is the lack of a free press.
That’s right. A healthy media—and photography in particular—is antithetical to a police state. The media, by its nature and in spite of all its faults, promotes limited, accountable, and transparent government. This is our job.
But what about the right to privacy? Well, it doesn’t exist. There is no expressed right to privacy in the Constitution. And even if it did exist, you waive it the moment you walk out your door. If you are in a public place, or if you can even be seen from a public place, you can be photographed.
I did my best to explain all of this to Mr. Ambassador. He was, as you might imagine, unimpressed. And I know there are many of you photophobes out there that will be equally unimpressed. So if you really don’t want to be photographed, let me give you some pointers.
1. Don’t go to a protest. The whole point of a protest in a public space is to get attention, specifically, media attention. If you don’t want that attention, stay home.
2. Unless you are truly a wanted-dead-or-alive outlaw, don’t wear a mask. There is no better way to ensure that you will be photographed than dressing outlandishly. And if you really are a stagecoach robbing bad-ass, you can bet the media will be attracted to that, too.
3. Don’t ask not to be photographed. While every photographer I know, including myself, tries to be respectful, we are just doing our jobs. Asking us not to is like walking into McDonalds and saying “You better not offer me fries with that.” Furthermore, if there really are federal agents sitting in a van and combing the Internet for pictures of you, and I agree to your request, I’ve just made myself an accomplice.
So, after all of this, Mr. Ambassador and his colleague (the deputy Ambassador?) said that if I had to take their picture, I could at least give them a dollar. And with that, I began to lose my journalistic impartiality. Here ends our story.
But there is an epilogue. After finishing up a long night of election coverage, I sat down to read the story about the BID meeting and discovered that some of the protesters said they showed up at the meeting only because they’d been bribed with cigarettes by a local political operative. An operative who, I happen to know, absolutely hates being photographed.
So I’m preparing to send my next batch of photos to the CIA via satellite uplink, and I just wanted to mention that some top-shelf bourbon might convince me to cancel the transmission.
I mean, you know. Just saying.
Follow on Twitter: @DarkTopo
Other dispatches from the Asheville Argus:
The Midnight March
Cats and Dogs
The Lay of the Land
Merry Christmas from the Asheville Argus
Birds, Part II
Birds, Part I
Eyes on the Street
The Public Space
Collected Street Portraits
The Day it All Started
Fog on the Top Deck
Introducing the Asheville Argus