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John Palcewski's Journal

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Save The Children
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“Excuse me. Excuse me, but why are you taking these children's picture?”

I rose from a kneeling position, startled by the intensity of the woman’s voice, which was in a British accent.

“Because I’m a photographer,” I said. “Do you find that odd?”
“I’ve asked you a question very politely, so there's absolutely no reason for you to react so strongly. You have to understand that these children are my responsibility.”
“Exactly what is your concern? There’s a security guard posted every two feet in this plaza and it’s under constant live TV surveillance, so this is a safe place. Your implicit suggestion is that you question my integrity or my motives. What leads you to that conclusion?”
“Don’t you understand we have to protect our young people? Especially these days?”
“I’m entirely in sympathy with you on that issue. But you have no evidence I pose your children any harm.”

A stocky man with a reddish face suddenly appeared at my interrogator's side. He looked grim and suspicious, and aggressively moved in close to me, in the manner of a man who feels a great need to give aid to a woman in a potentially dangerous situation.

“You ought to know,” he said, “that it’s a violation of privacy laws to take pictures without people’s permission.” He, too, spoke in a British accent.

“That’s certainly the case in England,” I said, “But here in America photographing people in a public place requires no permission.”
“Well, then, I’m simply asking you, if you’re willing to extend a friendly gesture, not to take any more pictures of them.”
I paused a moment. “Very well, then,” I said. “I won’t.”

Thank you very much indeed, he might have said, but he didn’t. Nor did she.



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i have a lot of trouble taking pictures in new york city. i've had my film confiscated once (it was later given back), i've been followed by the police, and have been told that under the patriot act i could be thrown in jail immediately (which is completely untrue). each time the police got involved because of an angry tourist. the first time it happened, i was actually taking a photograph of an abandoned building, and someone in a crowd across the street (part of a tour group with cameras around their necks) felt the need to report me for criminal activity. the police officer politely told me that while the members of the group had standard cameras, mine was clearly a professional camera for which i needed a permit to use. ridiculous. the 120 film really threw him off, and he asked why i needed such a big camera if i was just out taking picures in the city in which i lived. some of the tour group, having made their way across the street, suggested that it was blatent criminal activity. someone else suggested that i was performing surveillance and wanted to know for whom i worked. while i was being accused of doing ridiculous things, flashes went off. someone went so far as to offer the officer the picture he had taken of me so that my face would be on file. it just makes no sense.

i'll never understand why people are so afraid of cameras.

that's amazing. was this recently or closer to 9/11, when everyone in nyc was so (understandably) paranoid?

it all began about a year ago, and i've been having trouble ever since.

Where does one go in NYC to get a permit to use a medium-format camera? Is that the same place that issues licenses for the use of an 8 x 10 view camera? Well, scary as all this is my reaction is that we just have to learn to get around the craziness, and just keep shooting.

The other day an investment banker told me yes, all this alleged "homeland security" BS is getting nearly out of hand, but then these things reach a high point on the pendulum's arc and start swinging in the other direction. As for instance how all the anti-communist paranoia of the McCarthy era eventually ceased. My question was, how long do we have to wait for it to swing back? And at what cost?

it has gotten extremely out of hand, but i do think it will subside. things will never be the same again of course, but i don't think that the paranoia will continue to be the norm. i wish i had an idea of when that might be happening, though. i can't even begin to speculate.

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