Conversations With Transit Security

“We get a lot of calls from people who are concerned about people with cameras taking pictures who might be terrorists”

That’s what the RTD security officer told me today at the I-25 & Broadway Light Rail Station. “So you out taking some pictures today?” he asked me after I removed my headphones. I was happily listening to the “Double Nickels on the Dime” album snapping shots off on my camera as I always do. I look up and here is this security guard in my face.

I nod yes in response to his inquiry on my activity. I am careful not to say anything. I look him in the eye and wait for him to leave or keep talking. He chose the latter. So he says to me: “Well you are allowed to take pictures, I can’t stop you from doing that, but I don’t understand why you guys take pictures down here, that’s what Google Earth is for.”

All I could do was laugh. I wanted to say to him, “So it’s okay for a giant corporation to take as many pictures in public as they want, but private citizens should think twice before doing the same thing?” Of course I didn’t say this to him,

I’ve been to jail for an extended period of time. I will never go back. I NEVER give a cop any excuse to put his hands on me. I am humbled by that experience. I learned a long time ago to keep my mouth shut in this type of situation. I held my opinionated thoughts to myself, and I just gave him the “I’m a journalism major and a photographer, and I take pictures of everything I see, I promise I am no threat to anyone here.” So after giving him that generic response, he sort of just stands there and stares at me for another 20 seconds, as if he is waiting for me to talk.

I keep my mouth shut. He mentions the Google Earth thing again. I feel like he is trying to get a rise out of me, but maybe I’m just paranoid. If there is bait there, I don’t take it. Then he goes on to tell me that, with all the calls from concerned citizens about terrorist activity on the light rail, he feels obligated to come and talk to me, just to keep up the appearance that he is checking me out and making sure I’m not a terrorist, even though we both know that I am not one. I just keep nodding my head in agreement to everything he says. It was an awkward exchange, and he hovered around me for a really long time as if he was waiting for some kind of response from me. After what seemed like an eternity he bid me an awkward goodbye, and ran across to the other side of the tracks to go on about his security duties.

I’ve been carrying my camera everywhere with me for about 3 or 4 years now, and that is the first time anyone has ever mentioned anything to me about terrorism and photographers. I think it says something about the current state of the society we live in. I don’t blame people for being vigilant, and speaking up when they see something that looks out of the ordinary. It’s too bad that more people don’t just approach photographers themselves and ask what they are doing in person, rather than make a phone call and say there’s a guy with a Pentax K-5 at the Light Rail Station taking pictures, he must be a terrorist, you better check it out.

This is what terrorism is right? They take away your sense of security. Now we can’t trust anyone because we let them get into our heads. We can’t have a normal conversation with each other in public for fear that one of us might be a terrorist. So we call the cops, and now if someone wants to ask me what I’m taking pictures of, it just has to be a guy with a badge and a gun. What happened to us? We don’t see the good in people anymore, we look for the bad and assume the worst.

For the record, I AM NOT A TERRORIST. I AM A PHOTOGRAPHER.

I think I need to get a t-shirt made and wear when I’m out and about.
I’m getting tired of the suspicious stares. I think maybe I will just start walking right up to those suspicious stare-ers and strike up a conversation with them. Maybe I need to be more proactive about this.

I used the word terrorist six times in this post. Make that seven.

The picture here is the best I could manage to get of the guy I talked to. He’s the guy on the right. I want to clarify, I don’t think this security guard did anything wrong, and I wasn’t offended at what he said to me. I get where he was coming from. I hated his Google Earth comment, it just made no sense to me, I didn’t even dignify it with a response, that’s how ridiculous that statement is. I don’t want to live in a world where all the photography comes from Google Earth, I will take my own pictures thank you very much.

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Conversations With Transit Security

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11 thoughts on “Conversations With Transit Security

  1. Due to culture, I feel difficulty is shooting street here in Pakistan. But when I am in an other country, I am taken as a bona fide tourist and everyone expects me to shoot away. Same is true for foreign nationals shooting in Pakistan.
    Just an observation.

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  2. 2812 photography says:

    Good for you for not giving in nor letting yourself fall for the bait. Legally speaking, as long as your on public land (and private land with permission from the land owner), you can shoot. I’ve had the same experience on a couple of occasions. I usually adopt a “kill’em with kindness” approach.

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  3. I think his Google Earth comment reveals his complete lack of artistic aesthetic.He probably doesn’t even know who Henri Cartier-Bresson was or what his work entailed. You are on the money about what terrorism is–it is fear, fear of each other, fear of the unknown. The terrorists have succeeded in America. I think we were an easy target. As part of this whole terrorism thing, people are warned NOT to approach suspicious individuals but to report them to “the authorities.”

    I applaud your calm reaction to the guy. This is a sign of wisdom and courage. Keep at it!

    BTW, I was once married to a really fine photographer who also carried his camera with him everywhere. I will never forget the time we were strolling down a cobblestone street in some German town and we passed a TV studio or ad agency (I can’t remember which). They had beautiful big front windows behind which a young woman was diligently working away on some project. Erich, having worked for both TV and ad agencies, was immediately interested and took a photograph. The young lady looked up and saw him and came storming out of the building to read him the riot act, all in German, which flew miles above his head. It was quite a shock, but it didn’t stop him from continuing to photograph everything, especially the mundane.

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  4. Good post.
    This sort of thing seemed to be happening more frequently in the UK; lots of videos on youtube with police/security/public encounters. Thankfully, more recently our police officers appear to be taking a common sense approach. However, on our railways you do need permission to take photos or film and flash photography on the underground system is prohibited.

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  5. I have been stopped and questioned twice for innocently taking photos of normal public spaces. It may happen to photographers more often than we realize. Glad it ended well for you.

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