Posts Tagged 'industrial photography'

“American Power” and Harassment

Raymond City, West Virginia  Photo by Mitch Epstein

The New York Times recently profiled photographer Mitch Epstein, who, as part of a six-year-long project documenting American power plants, was continually harassed by law enforcement and government officials. An FBI agent actually told him, “If you were Muslim, you’d be cuffed and taken in for questioning.” He says it got to the point where he’d almost have a panic attack before taking photos.

It’s really a shame this is the culture now, but it’s also not surprising in the least, as anyone who follows the photographers’ rights issue knows.

A well-respected photographer, Epstein’s work is in the Getty and the Met. But no matter; people saw a man with equipment and that was enough to assume terrorism – someone reported him to police for having a rocket launcher when he was carrying his tripod.

Epstein says he tried to capture the “beauty and terror of early 21st century America.” Which is a nice way to put it. His pictures are quite amazing and the article is worth a read. The book, American Power, will come out this month.

Article via New York Times

Update: LAPD Addresses Photography in Roll Call

Photo by wirralwater

So it’s not the ideal outcome, but one gets the feeling changing the way police view photography will take a seismic shift in thinking – and most likely a huge lawsuit, sad to say it.

As we posted earlier this week, David Sommars and two fellow photographers were stopped by the LAPD on a public sidewalk near the Port of Los Angeles, harassed, bullied and threatened with arrest. Sommars lodged a formal complaint with the Office of the Inspector General, who agreed to look into the matter.

Yesterday Sommars got a call from an LAPD commander who said the officers were wrong and they addressed the issue during roll call (which I would guess went something like this: “It’s come to our attention that photography is legal on public streets, so let’s refrain from the detainment and threats”).

Sommars says: “Also the OIG will investigate, but most likely the officers will not get in real trouble – they save that for unlawful force stuff. They will use this for training purposes.”

How much do you want to bet nothing changes?

LAPD Lies, Bullies Photogs Off Public Sidewalk

20040401-IMG_0092-797245Officer Thomas Malloy, Badge #8641, Serial #22934/Photo by David Sommars

Photographer David Sommars and two friends went to the Port of Los Angeles on Saturday night to take photos of the amazing industrial landscape. As they walked on the sidewalk with their tripods, they noticed they were being followed by a black SUV. Being as the driver was shifty and suspicious, the photographers were more worried that they were being cased for their gear.

But, as it turned out, the driver was Officer Weiss from the LAPD, who had called the three men into the station. When a police cruiser showed up, Sommars asked the officer what law they were breaking, but Officer Malloy declined to offer any information. He just told them it was illegal to audio record him and if they didn’t stop taking photos of him they would be arrested.

His boss, Officer Chacoh, also on the scene, was unfortunately just as ill-informed and tight-lipped. He said they had to go to a different city to take pictures. He was not willing, or capable, of citing a  law they were breaking; he was only able to repeat that if that they continued to take photos they would be taken in.

As Sommars points out, the photos they were taking from public sidewalks were essentially not any more detailed than what you’d find on Google Maps. The police can’t come up with a valid law because there isn’t one, and their harassment of photographers on public streets is illegal. “I’m actually getting very used to being “Lied” to by police officers,” Sommars writes on his blog. “This is not a good thing, and it’s not legal. But hey, they have guns and we don’t, so deal with it.”

UPDATE: Sommars called the number on the card he was given by the officers and was told he could be put in federal prison for 10-15 years for photographing refineries. Wow! If that’s really a law on the books and someone can point us to it, please do.

UPDATE #2: Sommars received a communication from a special investigator on May 26 that the Office of the Inspector General has launched an internal investigation into the officers involved in this incident.

Read Sommars’ full account, along with photos, here.

To voice your concerns regarding this incident, contact the following:

Los Angeles Police Station – Harbor Area
2175 S John S. Gibson Blvd, San Pedro, CA
Phone (310) 726-7700
Fax (310) 726-7739

Office of the Inspector General Los Angeles Police Dept.
(213) 202-5866.
(213) 482-1247

Janice Hahn – District 15 City Council Member
City Hall Office (213)-473-7015
200 N. Spring Street, Rm 435
Los Angeles, CA 90012

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