May 23, 2007 by Allen George
After three years photographing it appears my luck finally ran out yesterday.
While I was photographing in CEIT I was approached by a man who demanded to know “Why I was photographing the building“. Surprising question – more for its unusually blunt, verging on hostile, tone. “It’s a beautiful building“, I reply, “I work here, and thought it’d be nice to take a few pictures“.
He turns, walks away shaking his head. I can tell he’s dissatisfied, but thought it was the standard “There’s nothing worth photographing” mindset at play.
Five minutes later the cops showed up.
“So, who are you?”
I’m in the EIT café when they arrive. The first one stands, arms crossed, facing the door. The second one sits. Pulls out a pocketbook. “So, who are you?“. It’s the first question he asks. His smile has an edge to it, and I wish he’d drop it all together. He’s not putting me at ease – and we both know it.
I’m a student, I explain, I work in the building. He wants my student card, and once produced, starts copying it down. As I stand I’m conscious that, here, now, presumption of innocence is a very abstract concept. I’m on the defensive – I feel a need to prove I’ve done nothing wrong. Detached, some part of me wonders what I’d be had I a strong accent, or if I weren’t fluent in the language. “Fucked”, I conclude uncharitably.
“What exactly is this about?” I ask. I know what it’s about – I want to hear him say it. We got a call about a person with a camera wandering around photographing this building, he replies. Bastard old man. Apparently I’m suspicious enough to call the cops over.
“What are you doing?”
“For my own personal enjoyment”
He wants my name. My office. Phone number. Supervisor. Date of birth.
I am now extremely concerned.
I ask if I’ve broken any laws or rules I’m unaware of. Not that he knows. Besides, he concedes, the university is a very interesting place to photograph. I want to know if there’ll be a report – in this day and age information spreads, gets taken out of context. Again, no. I should be at ease, but I’m not.
How does it feel like to be questioned?
The same way it does when you’re pulled out of line at the airport and your cameras swabbed down. When you ask, it’s “just routine“. The same way you feel when the US immigration officer pulls on a set of blue latex gloves (really!) before handling your passport. Humiliated. Powerless. On the defensive.
I do not think you’ll understand until you experience it.
I do not think you’ll ever want to experience it.
I will be photographing in EIT again today – I will not let the insecurities of one man color the way, or freedom with which I approach photography.