Freelance Musings | The Open College of the Arts
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Freelance Musings

I’ve recently been given some freelance work by a company asking me to take photographs of buildings, they cover a wide range from general retail outlets to student accommodation to industrial units to social and entertainment centres, you take around four images from different angles to capture the building as best you can and then process and upload the finished image. It’s all very clinical and modern and also enjoyable, its tests your camera skills and map reading to the maximum and of course you get paid for it.
One thing I have noticed over the last few weeks is the amount of general suspicion that taking the actual images has incurred, “You were spotted on CCTV”, informed the police officer who had caught up with me and wanted to know why I was taking photographs. I explained what I was doing and he thanked me for my time and let me get on with the task at hand. The law in the United Kingdom is that a photographer may take a photo of a building from a public place. (The Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, Section 62)
On another occasion a shopkeeper came and had a word with me, he thought I was casing the joint as I took photos of his terraced shop. He then preceded to mumble something about not being able to take photos at nativity plays these days, obviously that’s a myth as my three old’s recent stage debut there was active encouragement of photography by the nursery staff.
“Criminal and/or civil liability can result if someone harasses, coerces, threatens or detains a photographer or interferes with or damages their equipment when they are legitimately exercising their ability to photograph a building.” So says the blurb that you have to memorise as it makes life easier when been accused of taking photos of someone’s girlfriend. You do become aware of people staring as you compose a shot of the latest Tesco Express whilst stood on the zebra crossing, as it’s the best place to be to get the image.
If someone sees you take the first or second image of a building they continue watching as you take the other shots, at the ‘spectacle’ many are taking phone photographs/videos of the experience and nobody bats an eye. Many museums and galleries are also actively encouraging visitors to take photographs, the benefits of exposure on social networks and photo sites far outweighs any outdated infringements.
It is as though photography is encouraged within a controlled environment but outside of that, seen with suspicion, I think this has been the case for sometime. Taking the assignments on and completing the work has improved my confidence in many areas but mainly about not having second thoughts when taking photographs in busy city centres.

Posted by author: Pete Davies
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9 thoughts on “Freelance Musings

  • It is interesting how there is this reversal in attitudes taking place, with the value of images on social networking sites being increasing recognised by organisations keen to get visitors. The most noticeable example is the National Trust – their photography policy now reads:
    ‘Indoors at NT Properties – Amateur photography (including filming) without flash is now permitted in historic interiors at the Property or General Manager’s discretion.’
    I am not sure when this changed but the ‘now’ suggests it was relatively recently. Previously I think their justification for a no photography policy was the ‘casing the joint’ argument.

  • Gareth–you are much less cynical than I am! I have always assumed that, despite the excuse of high intensity flash causing fading of delicate materials, the ban on photography was simply to protect the sales of postcards etc on the way out.
    I think that Pete has hit on it in the last paragraph. I feel that those in authority, or rather those who want to feel they are in authority, exert that authority by simply refusing to allow whatever it is and by keeping as many people as possible under surveillance. The idea of being questioned by a police officer about pursuing your lawful occupation of photographing buildings having been ‘photographed’ by cctv is a delicious irony in the Society of the Spectacle isn’t it?
    Anyone interested to pursue the theory behind surveillance in society could do a lot worse than to start with the chapter on Panopticism in Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish

    • Well I like to maintain a healthy skepticism 🙂
      For example, I do wonder whose interests are served by maintaining and developing a fear of photography in public places (be it of buildings or of children). I don’t think the underlying reason for this fear is a concern about what photographs can do, although some undoubtedly ascribe mythic powers to images. Rather I see it as a symptom; the manifestation of a more generalised insecurity in society.

      • What?? you mean that images don’t have mythic powers…Drat
        Seriously though, after research I did earlier this year into photography in museums and galleries, I agree with Peter: The main reason for NT’s photography policy was commercial. If it was for security or conservation, then why did NT Scotland allow photography indoors during all the time of NT England’s ban?
        A scientist at cambridge Uni has tested the output of camera flash to determine the possible damage to artefacts (here) –
        Photographing artefacts for museums and galleries over about 20 years, I’ve almost always used flash as the primary light source, because it is the safest for conservation!
        If you wanted to ‘case the joint’, or were a terrorist, then you’d use a camera phone and pretend to text wouldn’t you? Not a pro camera on a tripod whilst wearing a hi-vis jacket – in which garb I’ve been accosted by far too many ‘security’ guards. Okay, rant over 🙂

        • ‘If you wanted to ‘case the joint’, or were a terrorist, then you’d use a camera phone and pretend to text wouldn’t you?’
          That’s precisely what the authorities would expect you to use Derek, so it would be wise to out-wit them by playing the pro…
          Come to think of it, you are a bit suspicious 🙂

  • Hello Pete, yesterday I went to take some photographs of a school concert in a busy town centre church that I was asked to take for the school’s music department. I had been taking pictures for about twenty minutes (this was before the show started) when someone looking official stated – to all the audience, that whilst photography was allowed ‘please don’t publish any on ‘social networks”. She didn’t seem best pleased when I asked what a ‘social network’ was -but never mind that. However I was able to photograph where I please and what I pleased – though I was unable to shake-off this inner voice telling me that I was doing was wrong – social conditioning?

    • At my grandson’s nursery school photography was quite definitely not allowed of their Christmas ‘concert’. May be it’s up to individual schools what they allow and don’t allow?

  • I agree entirely Pete about the suspicion we face as photographers. I am part of a larger group of aviation photography enthusiasts and we have been regularly stopped by police and security but all in all if you are genuine and don’t try to be evasive things go pretty ok. If we stray into areas where enthusiasts don’t normally venture it can be a little harder explaining what you are doing. The other thing we note is that the amount of response and the attitude of the officers really depends what airport we are at, some are really friendly and some are really rude which is a shame really because the police are not supposed to be influenced by private companies.

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