Thursday, April 16, 2009

Welcome to London: fotographieren verboten

Ah, London. Where the law-enforcement fun never stops!

Today's Guardian brings the story of Austrian tourist Klaus Matzka and his son, who were visiting the world-class metropolis and, as one sometimes does, taking some snaps.

This fell rather afoul of a couple of super-vigilant members of London's finest:

Like most visitors to London, Klaus Matzka and his teenage son Loris took several photographs of some of the city's sights, including the famous red double-decker buses. More unusually perhaps, they also took pictures of the Vauxhall bus station, which Matzka regards as "modern sculpture".

But the tourists have said they had to return home to Vienna without their holiday pictures after two policemen forced them to delete the photographs from their cameras in the name of preventing terrorism.

Matkza, a 69-year-old retired television cameraman with a taste for modern architecture, was told that photographing anything to do with transport was "strictly forbidden". The policemen also recorded the pair's details, including passport numbers and hotel addresses.

Matzka and his son, perhaps, stood out due to their unusual--indeed, vaguely Ballardian--tourist interests:

He said he and his son liked to travel to the unfashionable suburbs.

"We typically crisscross cities from the end of railway terminals, we like to go to places not visited by other tourists. You get to know a city by going to places like this, not central squares. Buckingham Palace is also necessary, but you need to go elsewhere to get to know the city," he said.

He said the "nasty incident" had "killed interest in any further trips to the city".

I'm not surprised. I know that feeling myself.

In a telephone interview from his home in Vienna, Matka said: "I've never had these experiences anywhere, never in the world, not even in Communist countries."
Anyway, this might be a semi-amusing anecdote if it weren't part of a broader problem, one that is symbolised by the the arrest around the beginning of the year of artist Reuben Powell, who was photographing an old building as part of an art project. As the Independent reported:

"The car skidded to a halt like something out of Starsky & Hutch and this officer jumped out very dramatically and said 'what are you doing?' I told him I was photographing the building and he said he was going to search me under the Anti-Terrorism Act," he recalled.

For Powell, this brush with the law resulted in five hours in a cell after police seized the lock-blade knife he uses to sharpen his pencils. His release only came after the intervention of the local MP, Simon Hughes, but not before he was handcuffed and his genetic material stored permanently on the DNA database.

But Powell's experience is far from uncommon. Every week photographers wielding their cameras in public find themselves on the receiving end of warnings either by police, who stop them under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, or from over-eager officials who believe that photography in a public area is somehow against the law.

Which it's not.

And, as a service to our readers, we reprint in handy clip'n'save format, the following statement from the Association of Chief Police Officers, quoted in the Independent article noted above:

"Police officers may not prevent someone from taking a photograph in public unless they suspect criminal or terrorist intent. Their powers are strictly regulated by law and once an image has been recorded, the police have no power to delete or confiscate it without a court order. This applies equally to members of the media seeking to record images, who do not need a permit to photograph or film in public places," a spokeswoman said.

Just in case, though, I offer you this image of the Vauxhall Bus Station, so that you don't need to take any unnecessary risks.

(Non-terrorist source)


Gwyn said...

Hey John and Anja,

Hope you are both well.

Anecdotally, I’ve only ever been told off for photography by security, never police, but I expect it’ll happen sooner or later, particularly as I like to frequent the same kind of places as these Austrians!

You may be interested in the daily police photo blog a friend of mine runs:


J. Carter Wood said...

Hi Gwyn! Nice to hear from you.

We're fine, thanks. And I'm getting my digital camera primed for my next subversive trip to London, when I'm intending to take at least half a dozen photographs of beautiful Euston station.

Frequenting bus stations is indeed suspicious: I recommend a public flogging.

Thanks for the daily police photo blog. An excellent idea. I've added it to our feed list.

Let me know, when you have a chance, how things are progressing with your work. I'd be interested to know.

And we should have another drink sometime.