Monday, August 13, 2007
The Photo that got me in trouble
This was the photograph that got me in trouble. In trouble with the Washington State Patrol (WSP) no less. And being detained after disembarking from the Washington State Ferry (WSF) Walla Walla. And the story behind it?
It started to be a good day, Sunday August 12, 2007, I drove to the dock for the Bremerton to Seattle ferry which I take once or twice a month. I got there close to the time the vehicles were loading and was directed to park on the starboard side about midship. I got and walked around. I didn't bring the camera out because of a recent incident where I was held by the Captain from disembarking when a tourist reported me taking "suspicious" photos on my usual walkaround on the ferry.
Well, the ferry left the dock, but shortly after that a voice came on the public intercom to announce they were returning to the dock to load some cars. So, this was an opportunity too good to pass up, so I went back to the van and got the camera to photograph this work and do my normal walkaround. I've posted a selection of the photographs.
Well, after that I went up to the public deck with coffee to read the Sunday papers. I returned to the van about halfway through the trip to sit and listen to the radio and watch the trip since I had a view out my window (parked along the outer starboard rail). While there I noticed several workers walking back and forth in the course of their job, but somehow making a "casual" detour to walk by the van and glance inside. Watching them they didn't look any anyone else's vehicle, just mine, so I suspected something was up.
One worker actually tried to disguise his casual trips on the boat, even pausing at the rail to look out, but everytime walked by my van to glance inside. That continued until the ferry docked. As we disembarked I noticed a Washington State Patrol office, Mr. McCulley, slowly walk out into traffic until he was in front of my van. He directed me to a parking spot to "talk" with me. It was clear they thought my photography was suspicious. Again.
The Officer took my drivers license and vehicle tag number to check the information. I gave him my business card too. He asked to see the photos, so I set the camera up so he could scroll through the ~100 images I took. Some time later he returned the camera - none of the images were deleted - along with my drivers license to say it appears to be another case of an overzealous worker, even after all the training the WSP folks provide them.
I don't know what will happen but I suspect there will be a report somewhere. I asked the Officer why would anyone suspect a photographer walking around with $5,000 camera being so obvious taking photos. I said if I was really a terrorist I would be using a camera phone and sending the images to someone else immediately and deleting them, or use a point and shoot with decoy people to make it appear I was simply being a tourist. I told the Officer I've been taking walkaround photos on the ferry and have posted the photo galleries.
What's ironic is several points. First, the WSF encourages photography on board the ferry - check their Website - and asks people to send them the photos to post. Second, there are no signs on the docks or the ships prohibiting photography, nor are there any signs defining what is acceptable to photograph and what isn't. So you can take all the photos you want, but you don't know what will set off some worker who thinks your suspicious.
The problem is that the ferry boats have a lot of video cameras throughout the ship, so you can't get away with anything anyway. I wrote the WSF folks about photography on ferries and if a photographer's indentification card or similar thing was available to show the workers and others I was just another photographer. I haven't heard from them yet.
The problem is that I like taking photos on ferries. They're built with everything clear and obvious so that in the case of an emergency all the workers will know where to find anything and the public will know what to do. The post signs telling everyone about this along with big read markers identifiying all the emergency equipment. It's ok to look at it and maybe take a photograph with a simple camera.
So the lesson? Simply restrict any photos you want to take to the typical tourist ones - meaning on the passenger deck or looking out from the ferry, and not of specific things on the ferry - and not any suspicious one, unless of course you want a nice, friendly chat with a WSP officer after you disembark. They're good folks doing a tough job, but somehow we can't even do anything ordinary anymore without someone thinking you're doing something wrong.
PS.--The story has been updated.