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“.

Long stare.

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.

The Feeling

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.


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  • Who the hell was the man? Does he work in EIT? I will mock him next time I take photos in EIT. What does he look like. >: (

    Hope you don’t feel too bad about this.

  • That’s bizarre. Was the police officer from campus police or Region of Waterloo? Did you get the officers’ names/badge numbers? I’m now curious what the policy on photographing University buildings is, though to be honest I’d be surprised if there was a policy about it at all.

  • You should organize a mass photographing of the EIT building… like a ton of people just show up and start taking photographs… see how *that* goes over.

  • Dave:
    Thanks for the sentiment – I appreciate it.

    Looking back, there were so many things Ishould have done – including asking who the man was… I went though a hunt of the Earth Sciences faculty listings and finally found him – Emil Frind. Older, clean-shaven, but the same dyspeptic look.

    I felt badly yesterday, but it’s passed.

  • Doug:
    Paranoia is endemic I suppose :( As was pointed out, it’s the “post-911”, “post-Virginia-Tech”, “post-school-shooting” world. Thing is, if I wanted to be surreptitious, I’d have used a camera phone or a small digicam, not a DSLR.

    Did you get the officers’ names/badge numbers?

    Chalk that one up under “should have done” as well. They had Waterloo Police Special Constable sleeve patches, so I assume they’re campus police.

    I’d be surprised if there were a policy. I’ve been photographing in UW for over a year (Dave probably longer) and I generally keep out of everyone’s way. It’s the first time someone’s made it an issue.

  • More along the lines of a mass protest is what I was going for… he picked on one guy who was taking photographs, so you come back with tonnes of people taking photographs… but I guess that doesn’t work.

  • Incredible. You should complain to the UWoo president or something. I’ve been shaken down a few times long ago by rent-a-cops and most recently Apple’s goons hanging around outside the AAPL store to make sure no one documents the chewing gum on the floor.

    I dunno – sure looks like Michael Reichmann to me. You best stay away from those mathemetician types in the future. LOL