The “p” word. Photography? No! Paranoia…

Received this email from my West Australian colleague, Tony McDonough of RAW Images, last week. Yet another example of the rampant and unreasonable paranoia infecting society.

“I have just finished a shoot in Perth’s northern suburbs. Nothing fancy, a pic of a shopping centre and some surrounding streets. Job booked and shot at 10:30 am.

For those of you who are not in Perth or have not seen the news lately, there was an alleged child abduction in the “northern suburbs” a few days ago. Now the scene is set.

While walking down a street with my camera over my shoulder and the person who briefed the shoot ( a lovely lady ). I happened to walk past a school. I didn’t look at the school, just a glance, I judged that there was no picture to be had using the school so we continued walking ( we did not stop ) I did not at any time, touch my camera while passing the school except to adjust the strap which was slipping off my shoulder as they sometimes do when a 200 mm lens is attached. I did not put the camera to my eye.

I was even unaware that my companion was not alongside me anymore when I reached an intersection. I stopped and looked around, she was chatting to someone, so I walked back to join in. The stranger was wearing a school name tag, and was enquiring just what we where doing walking past the school. Unfortunately the conversation was over by the time I got there, and all I heard was “…. you can’t be too careful ….” as the busy-body returned  100 meters to her rightful spot.

I only wish she had stopped me :). I could have asked her if she had indeed asked the two other men over the road, they had motorbikes, perhaps the vanguard of a criminal gang scoping out the area to sell drugs. Or I could have asked her if she would so willingly have stopped a plumber carrying a wrench, or perhaps a muslim, because they may have been planning a bombing raid, but sadly I missed my opportunity to chat to this guardian as she scurried back to her vantage point within the school fence.

She obviously  has a keen eye for  for dodgy characters , her first clue would have been the camera, because it is a well know fact  amongst our protectors that people who want to do mischief, often carry cameras worth upwards of $12,000.

What is wrong with our society that people feel a need to question people going about their lawful business? Why didn’t she at least ask me? Why do people immediately feel threatened by people with big cameras, or indeed anyone who carries a camera in public, when almost everybody today carries a smaller camera or a phone camera ? Why should I feel guilty just for carrying a camera?

What have we become? I was and still am really disappointed and upset that I was singled out for his treatment. Do I drive a white van (there was one mentioned in an alert) or was there one parked nearby? No. Did I fit the description of the alleged offender? No. Did I carry a camera past a school? Yes.”….


Filed under Australian, documentary photography, Opinion, Photographer, Photographers' rights, Photojournalism

7 responses to “The “p” word. Photography? No! Paranoia…

  1. Only yesterday I was told a story about Jeremy Dixon who works as a photographer at the Fremantle Herald. He was send on assignment to sho0t the Coogee jetty a few weeks ago. There was a group of teenagers on the jetty who started abusing him, calling him a pervert and paedophile. When he explained who he worked for and that he had the right to photograph in a public place some of the boys threatened to beat him up and smash his cameras. He decided the best thing to do was to leave.

    Some people are totally paranoid about people with cameras, but are quite happy when others take snaps with mobile phones. It is sad really!

    • I think it’s more than sad, Roel. I think it’s a downright dangererous trend, and not just for photographers. If this sort of thing is tolerated, we end up abrogating our freedom to the ignorant and stupid people, letting them decide what is or isn’t acceptable in society. In my view, not that far removed from witch-burning in earlier times.

  2. Pete

    It is exactly the same as Witch burning Rob. It is the expression of ignorance through fear and a sad reflection of the herd mentality of society. Our political leaders prey on our fears to reinforce our paranoia so that we “trust them” because they are keeping us safe.

    I find it sad that I know people who will not let their children walk to school or the local shop without having a parental escort. It is this same paranoia that also says that if you have a small unobtrusive digital camera then you are normal, one of us, just an ordinary bloke and must be OK but if you have a big expensive SLR…especially one with a big lens then you are different, an outsider and probably someone with an evil agenda. After all, why would you need the big lens and flash camera, you could always just use a little camera and get closer to the subject unless you were trying to spy on someone.

    Fear breeds paranoia and it is slowly killing our society.

    • Pete, the ignorant need to be made aware that “stranger danger” is not the threat it is made out to be. Just as the abusers of children are usually members of family or someone known to the family, the sinister photographers are most often those using mobile phones or webcams. I’m not sure what the answer is. Invariably, the argument used to support this paranoia is as in Tony McDonough’s experience…”…well, you can’t be too careful, these days.”

  3. Be that as it may, I was with tripod, freeshooting in the Brickfields, Launceston….an amazing canopy of falling leaves and a magical carpet of yellow (three or four weeks ago)….two young girls (14 and 15) were having the time of their lives gathering leaves and laughing as they played amid the colour (away from where I was).

    They came to me and asked for me to take their photos….sure says I…two snaps of them tossing leaves into the air as they jumped with them.

    Had a chat, gave them my card, and sent them copies when they emailed me.

    Haven’t heard back from them since, but they were full of the joys of life, and when I was chatting in the park, found out that the younger lass had raised money to go to Cambodia, or some such, to work for a month as a volunteer…..

    Just a different perspective on public, photos, and kids…..guess I’m kinda lucky…blessed if you like 😉

    • A wonderful positive story, Dave. Blessed you were (are). I never refuse an invitation to photograph anyone who asks.

      But still there’s no going past the fact that the current climate of suspicion inhibits the once spontaneous photographer.

  4. Agreed Rob. The more we succumb to the American way, align that with the “greed is good”, “lets sue” mentality, the worse it gets.

    Guilty is, as guilty as.

    Sydney is paranoia central….We are catching them lately in Tassie, but fortunately we are not as silly here….in some ways 🙂

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