Friday, September 7, 2007

Update to WSF photos

I took my routine ride on the ferry this week, but only walked around looking than photographing anything - this is an old photo of the same ferry I rode this week. While in the passengers deck I saw a pamphlet by the Washington State Ferry entitled, "A Passenger's Guide to System Security at the Washington State Ferry." It's a 3 x 9 inch folded brochure describing everything they're doing to keep the ferries safe and secure. But one paragraph caught my eye.

In the Section they ask passengers to play vital role in this effort they write:

"Report suspicious persons, objects or activities immediately to a crewmember or law enforcement personnel. This includes unusual photography of ferry operations; people displaying heightened interest in restricted areas or taking notes while observing ferry operations; and suspicious waterside activities on or around the dock and ferries."

To me this is a really big, "Huh?" What exactly is "unusual photography"? I wrote an e-mail to the security address in the pamphlet along with a cc to the State Governor's office asking for an answer along with two conflicts I see with photography on ferries.

The first is that while they're asking people to report suspicious photographers they will invite or allow journalist, specifically photojournalist for newspapers and magazines and videographers from television stations into the restricted and ship control areas of ferries, and then publish the photos or show the footage. I don't know about you, but something seems amiss here with this logic. The media is ok but the public is considered suspect?

The second is that while they're asking people to report suspicious photographers, there are no laws prohibiting the very same photography - namely public areas of ferries, both car and passenger deck, and there are no posted notices at the docks or on the ferries on what is unusual or unacceptable photography. This means while they may or may not know what is suspicious, they're willing to leave it to passengers' judgement. And all this time every part of the ship is visible with overhead cameras, so they're also watching everyone.

My interest in the photography of ferries is the simplicity and obviousness of the workings of ferries for the work, operations, and repairs of them and for emergencies. Everything is in plain sight and clearly marked, including all the information about the ship and the procedures in the event of an emergency. This means you can see and read it, but you can't take take too long, take notes or photograph it. Does this seem contradictory to you?

I'm not sure how all this will play out, but I want an answer and the freedom to pursue my photography on ferries without being detained and questioned. And while I agree with those who have posted or e-mailed responses that the law enforcement folks have no legal right to do that as well as examine the images, it's not something I'm really interested in spending money on. Being innocent and exercising your rights shouldn't cost you time or money.

This is why on both occasions I did hand my camera over for them to view the images. I understand their interests for the safety and security of a ferry, but there isn't anything there that isn't already published or shown. I agree with the notion of questioning people asking questions and trying to get into restricted areas, but I'm not doing either while the two in the recent incident walked off the ferry - and riding four ferries in two-plus days - without being stopped.

But in the end it may be the legal life preserver that I need. The power of the State versus as Mr. McCulley described me, "Another stupid professional photographer." And I'll keep you posted.

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