Friday, July 01, 2011

Stand Your Ground

As part of the London Street Photography Festival, which runs in venues across the capital for all of July, I joined five other photographers and a team of videographers last week in London Wall, a major City of London thoroughfare.

The idea was to test what would happen as we went about our entirely legitimate business, photographing from the public highway in an area heavily monitored by private security guards. Each photographer was assigned a stretch of street and a videographer to record any interactions with guards or police. My patch was outside the Deutsche Bank building, which occupies a whole block between Moorgate and Bishopsgate.

It only took a couple of minutes before I was approached by a guard. who came out of the bank to ask what I was doing. When I said I was “just taking pictures” he was polite and did nothing to stop me. As I proceeded round the block with videographer Liam Rickets we were stopped twice more by different Deutsche Bank staff, but not prevented from filming or taking pictures. One said that if we were going to spend long in the area, he would have to take our names, because that was “the correct procedure”, but we pointed out that he had no legal right to do so, and he did nothing about it. I found all this pleasantly surprising – in the past I have found private security, in the City and elsewhere, to be much more obstructive.

This was indeed the case half an hour later, in nearby Gresham Street. We were stopped outside No.10 and told that, if we photographed the building, the security manager would be called, and he, in turn, would call the police. The guard was polite, and didn’t deny that we had the legal right to photograph from the public highway, but claimed his proposed course of action was necessary for security reasons, as the building housed a Lloyds trading floor. He also pointed out that calling the police would waste both his time and ours. His appeal to “security” was nonsense, of course – I could see little more than my own reflection in the tinted glass windows, and pictures of the building are freely available online on Google Street View, Alamy, Flickr and elsewhere – but dealing with the police would seriously have impeded my working day, had I being attempting serious photography in the area.

The other photographers had similar experiences, documented in a film of the day to be shown and discussed at Stand Your Ground on 20 July at Housmans Bookshop. To me it seems that, in the City of London at least, campaigning by I'm a Photographer, Not a Terrorist and others has had some effect. But if you’re photographing out on the streets in the City it is likely that you will sometimes be obstructed. And you’ll almost certainly be stopped and questioned - albeit quite politely.

You can read more on the NUJ London Photographers’ Branch website. An earlier piece on the problems of street photography is here.

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