NOTE: The views expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
There is no implication, and should be no assumption, that these views are shared with any particular groups with whom the author is associated.


By: Bronwen Casey, August 2006

Bans on photography.
Have the rules gone to far?

In an era where terrorism is the catchcry how far should we go in an attempt to protect those around us?
What measures are truly warranted?
What restriction truly worthwhile?

An insidious fear has crept into our society. Those in positions of authority are faced with the responsibility of protecting us, our way of life, and our freedom to live without fear. This is a task few of us would wish to take on. So often blame is levelled at our authorities when, despite implementing precautions, those that seek to destroy still manage their goals. Little by little restrictions on our activities increase in the name of "protection". None of us want the horrors that beseige other nations to touch us here in our sheltered and, at times, naive country but balance and common sense must prevail.

In this article, I specifically address the number of places bringing in rules in relation to photography.

Photographers are recorders of history They capture time, place, people and societies like no written media can. They freeze a moment of time that may provide insight for future generations.

No one questions that photography can also be used by those with ill intent but to what degree, and in what locations, is questionable.

Locations such as railway stations and shopping centres are open to all to come and go as often as they like. Surely photography would be of little value for those wishing to inflict damage on a location open to the public. Unlike secure installations, people are free to come and go unchecked and see things with their own eyes without the need of any camera. Despite private ownership of such locations, these places are specifically meant for public use.

I think of recent terrible events in New York, London and Bali. I think of my personal experience as an 11 year old, when an IRA bomb went off in Harrods in Britain, whilst my family and I were in the store. I lay no claim to expertise on these matters, but personally I can't see photography playing much, if any, role in these events and many others like them that hit publicly frequented places. I find it difficult to believe that such acts could not be just as easily perpertrated without a camera involved.

I then reflect with interest on the things that are likely to have been of value to those who planned such acts of evil. The maps, locality guides, street signs, transport timetables, event publicity, websites, location or event opening hours and the regular personal visits by parties involved. Lets face it, who would question the regular faces on the train each morning or the person shopping once a week.

In July 2006 yet another privately owned, public location implemented photography bans. The management of Southgate in Melbourne, erected signs prohibiting photography in Southgate. Implementation of this rule saw tourists and photographers alike confronted by security guards, even when taking photos of buildings from public land - something that is rightfully legal. In at least one of these cases guards deemed that the photographer should stop taking photos of the buildings and delete those already taken because the guards deemed
"they weren't images a person would want to put in their album". I wonder if these images were anything like the photo on this page, also shot in Southgate. Encounters like these are now regular occurances. Indeed many camera clubs could now name at least one member who, in innocent pursuit of their art and hobby have had similar experiences with security guards. These run ins with security are far from being limited to places such as Southgate. Police have been called to question retired grandparents taking artistic architectural photos or tourists taking photos.

A rally was recently organised following yet another brush with security where a grandmother was approached by a security officer and then his supervisor for taking photos of the exterior of a Southgate building from public land. Many enthusiastic photographers gathered in Southgate to take photos. It drew support from across the state and the media. Many photographers spent hours capturing the essence of Southgate on their cameras. A gallery of some of the images that I took can be found via the link below. Hopefully this event has served to draw some attention to the introduction of photography bans in iconic places like Southgate that are there to be enjoyed by locals, tourists and photographic artists alike.

I applaud the efforts of those who would seek to keep us, and those we love, safe but restrictions on the very freedom we seek to protect must be measured and have a sound factual base. To simply blanket our society with "No Photography" rules is counter productive in many instances.