“You Can’t Take Pictures Here”


As a photographer, I like to go around and take pictures. Just as a hungry person looks for food, I look for snaps.

Yesterday, the sky was full of clouds and the threat of an impending storm.

I drove over to the Van Nuys Airport area where the sky is open, wide and there is a clear view across the west.

Along its eastern border, an industrial park borders the airport, and a road off of Woodley leads into a viewing area where one can watch the planes take off.

Trucks, painted with signs advertising a nutritional supplement, were parked in a lot next to a golden building.

Around me were tall grasses and debris, acres of land, and a field of cats jumping across piles of trash, mounds of dirt, and stacks of discarded lumber.

I parked my car and looked back at the blue sky, the edge of the golden building, and a row of tall, wooden, high-voltage crosses.

A middle-aged man came out of the loading area and walked over to me.

“Can I help you?” he asked.

It is the monitoring, censoring, homeland security question aimed at every photographer who carries a camera in a public place.

“Can I help you?” I asked him.

“Are you taking a photo of my building?” he asked.

“No. I am shooting the sky,” I answered.

“OK. Just checking,” he said. And then he walked away.

In the land of the free and the home of the brave, in a country where almost every single telephone is now a camera, somehow the presence of a DSLR camera strikes fear into other people.

There is nothing illegal about taking photos in public.

The law states that a photographer is allowed to take photos of anyone or anything in a public place.

I can, if I want to, go up to a playground next to a grammar school and shoot pictures of children playing.

I can, if I want to, photograph industrial buildings and empty grassland near the Van Nuys Airport.

I can, if I want to, shoot a post office, the exterior of the Federal Building, the entrance ramp to the 405 Freeway, and the outside of the Sherman Oaks Car Wash on Ventura Bl.

I am not violating any law, and frankly it is nobody’s business, what I am doing with my camera.

People, who normally walk past homeless men begging for money on the sidewalk, think it perfectly normal to come up to me and ask me what I am doing when I am carrying a camera.

Is it normal to walk up to a stranger and ask them who they are talking to on their mobile phone?

Is it polite to walk up to a married couple seated at a restaurant table and ask them what they are discussing?

Then why is it somehow anyone’s business when I am on public property photographing?

2 thoughts on ““You Can’t Take Pictures Here”

  1. Working at the airport for a decade, I noticed my employer sending staff to roust people shooting aircraft pics from Roscoe Blvd. I was told it’s illegal to shoot aircraft tail numbers. I was also told that there is a stealth federal law enforcement presence there, which you may have stumbled on. Once you spoke it must have been obvious you weren’t a spy from Potsylvania. At least he didn’t seize your equipment. The nice lady from Happy Dog apologizes for chasing you off by the way. Seems your camera terrifies everyone. Maybe a “Staff Photographer” T-shirt would help. Or an official looking name tag. I use a clipboard.

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    1. Mark-

      Thanks for your comment.
      At the viewing area, alongside the runway at Van Nuys Airport, there are absolutely no signs prohibiting photography.

      And the industrial park, with its vacant lots and boxy buildings, is where the gentleman came out and asked me why I was shooting photos of “his building”.

      There are many places in the US now, that were once benign spaces, now under the control of privately hired security guards. In our own peculiarly American way, we are degrading freedom under the guise of preventing terror. We are becoming a less free society by harassing and threatening photographers who are doing a perfectly legitimate activity around office buildings, malls, parking lots, industrial parks, subways, etc.

      Andy

      Like

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