Wick Communications

When you hear, ‘No pictures!’

In Photography on 23 Feb 2018 at 3:36 pm

For Carina Woudenberg, Feb. 22 was an eventful day.

I called her before she even got to the office to say there were reports on Twitter of a shooting in one of our beachside communities. She agreed to head over there and ended up spending the rest of the morning there, doing what reporters generally do after cops close a crime scene. That is to say she waited. While she was waiting for the Sheriff’s spokesman to get his act together, she took some photos from the public street. That caught the attention of the guy you see above in the light-colored shirt. He didn’t like that she was taking photos of a crime scene. So, he berated her. He called her names. He threatened to sue. I’m sure it was upsetting to Carina, who was just doing her job from a public space.

As if that wasn’t enough, she got word shortly after noon that one of the homeless men who lives in a local encampment had died. Carina is a particularly empathetic reporter and has gone to the makeshift neighborhood many times. She got out her camera and began to take photos of authorities at work. She knows the kinds of things we might use from a scene like that. We don’t run anything graphic. Very rarely would we show a body, even from a distance or under a blanket. Nonetheless, she was accosted by a friend of the deceased who demanded she stop taking photos.

That’s two very stressful situations in a single day for Carina, who did her job very well that day, reporting the news and getting photos that only showed what anyone would see should they happen on these public places.

I think partly because there are fewer newspapers and professional photographers around now, the general public no longer understands First Amendment protections, that your right to privacy in many respects ends when you are in public. (That is a little odd since so many of us now have sophisticated cameras in our pockets at all times and it seems people are taking photos of everything all the time.) …

It also has to do with a general lack of respect for the press. Whether invoking “fake news” or the “lamestream” media or some other term of diminishment, some people just want to tear into the press these days.

Carina’s difficult day corresponds with the winter issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, which it called, “The Fear Issue.” One feature asks news photographers about a time when they were fearful, from covering white supremacists to taking photos in a war zone. (There is also a terrific and frightening story about the particular fears that women reporters have in 2018. I highly recommend that editors read it … particularly white, male editors like me.)

So, what do you do if you are at a scene and have a job to do and someone is threatening you or otherwise making that difficult? Some ideas:

  1. Put your personal safety first. Whatever I or anyone tells you, no matter how badly you want the shot, regardless of whether you are within your rights to get it, no photograph you will take for me is worth any injury to you. I realize many heroic photographers put themselves in harm’s way covering wars and so forth. But we aren’t paying you for that kind of thing in our community newspapers. When in doubt, call an editor and ask what you should do.
  2. Stay on public property and know your rights. Don’t walk into a private home and start taking pictures just because the cops left the door open. Know that authorities do not have the right to take your camera or to order you not to take photos. If anyone does, I suggest you take a photo of them and record badge numbers and names.
  3. Use common sense, just as Carina did. The vast majority of stories and photos aren’t worth the aggravation or ill will that comes from a confrontation like that. If someone at the park doesn’t want his photo taken, find another subject. If a grieving mother asks you not to take a picture of the body of her son on the ground, ask yourself whether you are likely to publish a photo like that. (You might. I am a big believer that showing the impact of violence is important if you want to prevent it in the first place.) Be considerate. Consider the feelings of victims.

Photos are often the best way to tell stories of human beings. They can be powerful, and that is why folks sometimes have such a visceral reaction to seeing you with a camera. Be safe.

— Clay


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