Monday, 8 March 2010

I'm a photographer not a terrorist

Happy splashers at Budleigh Salterton's Christmas Day swim. But could these photos be illegal under Britain's anti-terrorism laws?

So maybe some of the photos that I've taken for this blog do appear without permission. At Budleigh Salterton's Christmas Day swim I did ask various people if I could snap them for an appearance on the web, but should I have asked everyone there, even if they only partially appeared in the background? Many were not wearing wetsuits.

Yesterday I read in the Sunday Times magazine an article by journalist Richard Woods with the title 'Photography under threat: The shooting party’s over.'

Admittedly it reflected the feelings of writers and photographers who believe that their livelihood is under threat from what they call the 'pixel police' operating under the Terrorism Act of 2000.

Picture: My illegal photo of the Timpson shop in Peterborough

But from what I understood in the article it's not just the right of taking a holiday snap which is being called into question in 21st century Britain. Reading Richard Woods' piece I was reminded of what happened to me when I photographed a Timpson shoe repair shop in Peterborough's Serpentine Green shopping centre. Within seconds of raising the camera I noticed that a head in the crowd had turned my way and was moving towards another. Moments later I was being interrogated about why I wanted the photograph and being told that it was illegal. They might have confiscated the camera if I hadn't told them that I was writing an article about the career of Mr John Timpson, owner of the shoe repair and key-cutting chain of shops.

Yes, the shopping centre was privately owned so I should have asked permission, but I did think at the time that it was a bit like being cornered by East German Stasi police, and that 50 years ago, as a keen schoolboy photographer I would never have experienced such a confrontation.

I feel rather strongly about this issue of photography because as Richard Woods writes, the "rising tide of censorship" is threatening the vital role of photographers in recording public history. And not just photographers. How long will it be before landscape painters and their easels are also banned under Section 44 of the 2000 Terrorism Act from depicting scenes in what are officially described as "specified areas"? And from there, it's a short step to removing all images from public view which might aid terrorists, as well as text containing facts such as the height of Big Ben which might be useful in preparing some imagined dastardly plot.

The land of Winston Churchill, who did so much to defend us against becoming a fascist state, is already in danger of becoming Little Britain: we are already known as the most spied-on country in the world with an estimated 4.2m CCTV cameras tracking our moves.

I've just seen an early online comment on Richard Woods' article from a Jerry Scroggin. "From across the pond. I can hardly believe what I just read. What is the UK coming to?" he asks.

If you share his and my disgust at this further example of State-backed intrusion into our lives do look at And please forgive my rare little outburst of anger in what is normally a placid and inoffensive little archive of life in small seaside towns.

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