A few months ago, I was on my bicycle cycling alongside the Thames on Cheyenne Walk in Chelsea, when an attractive young lady walking with her boyfriend, loudly pointed out to me that I should not have been cycling on the pavement. I chose to ignore her, but she maybe had a point: I had indeed narrowly missed ramming my bicycle into her and her beloved by the narrowest of skimpy margins (about 5 or 6 metres -that's thrity feet to the imperialists) and considering the lightning-fast pace I was cycling at (a neck-breaking 12 kilometres an hour - I was ogling Dutch Barges) she surely had escaped a bloody and violent death by a gnat's whisker.
A few hundred yards further on I stopped to more comprehensively ogle the Dutch barge and she and her gentleman friend caught up. She then proceded to remonstrate with me about cycling on the pavement. I listened. She lectured me most thoroughly and seemed sure that she had savaged me enough with her verbal thrashing but I had a reply. It was as follows: "Lady. It is a nice sunny day and you are having a lovely walk. Enjoy it! There is no need to be officious. If you care to look at that sign, it most clearly states that I am on one of London's many cycle routes. Now get off my bloody cycle track!"
And therein lies the nub of what I want to bitch about today: Officiousness. I am a public minded person. Indeed, I'd be a "have-a-go-hero" if the chance arose. I don't like seeing the law deliberately broken and I hate yobbishness. People who know me, know that it was I who put the Serial Spitter of Ascot Station in his place (a yob with a spitting habit). But I cannot abide people who feel it is their duty to correct me or others when we are going about our perfectly legal business.
What makes me even more angry, is when those who should know better get in on the act. People like policemen. I saw an item on this blog which made my blood boil. Properly. It had a YouTube clip of policemen harassing a photographer for the crime of taking photographs. Its well worth a look.
Now lets get this in perspective: Yes, there is a terror threat. Yes, it is likely that terror plotters will want to take pictures of their targets, and yes, it is possible to look suspicious when taking photographs. I get that and understand that the policeman's use of discretion is flexible and that he has a right to ask what is going on...
BUT: If a policeman were to ask me whether I had a licence or a permit to take photographs, I would then make it my sworn duty to get the half-witted, ignorant hobbledehoy dismissed from his job. Because surely a policeman should at least have a basic grasp of the law? Of what is and isn't illegal? Do these cretins (and I do not mean the majority of police, who I love and wish to buy presents and sing to, I mean the minority of officious uniformed no-hopers amongst their numbers) not have the capacity to compute that there are camera shops? They are legal? There are camera buyers who are also legal? And there are camera users who are in the main, legal too? Clearly not.
It is as stupid, yes STUPID, as the Zimbabwean soldiers and policemen who several years ago caught a "spy" taking photographs of the Mazowe Satellite Station from the side of a main road. It was only when it was pointed out by the "spy's" lawyers that a photograph from the same angle of the satellite station was on the cover of every telephone directory that the case was dropped. Idiots. But clearly not confined only to Zimbabwe, where they have taken idiocy to new and impressive heights.
(This also reminds me of when those UK plane spotters were arrested in Greece for taking pics of Greek Air Force jets. It was a serious situation and people were genuinely worried for the annoraks. The Greeks were outraged that their aeroplanes were being photographed. They were classified aircraft! Top secret! Bollox. Jeremey Clarkson was so outraged that he published a full list of the Greek Air force's Fleet which he'd obtained from the internet.)
Now, if I were a terrorist and I wanted to take sneaky shots, I'd use a small discrete camera. Ditto, if I was a pervert and wanted to take pics up skirts (it happens). In fact, you know what? I'd use my camera phone! Damn I'm sneaky! Hell, I might even take photos of my friends right there in my targeted building, capturing at the same time, whatever it is that terrorists want to see in photos (70 naked virgins apparently). And if a policeman were to question me, I'd tell him to stop infringing my legal rights. But humour aside, you'd have to be a very unlucky little terrorist to be arrested for using your camera phone. If you were using a big DSLR however, you're almost as good as busted. No more 70 virgins for you!
Here in the UK its almost becoming socially unacceptable to carry a camera. Parents see a someone carrying a DSLR and recoil in horror at the "pervert" sharing the same tube carriage as them and their snotty little children. What they don't notice as they keep an eye on the dirty, dirty bastard photographer is the nice dude in the sunglasses sitting opposite their daughter, looking up her skirt, happily snapping picture after picture as he 'texts' his buddy.
So what to do? I sympathise with the police and understand the need for the public to be vigilant. But I also sympathise with myself and my fellow photographers. I'd say its pretty much 100% certain that if you can see the camera, the photographer poses no threat. So look for people without cameras and arrest them all.