Thursday, July 10, 2008

WSF Update

Well, it took a few months. Last September I wrote about my minor experiences photographing on a Washington State ferry from Bremerton to Seattle, the ferry I take routinely throughout the year. I posted six portfolios of images I've taken before these incidents, first with the captain of the ferry and second with a Washington State Patrol officer after disembarking.

Well, in October I wrote the Public Relations office of the Washington State Ferry System (WSF) after reading an article in the Olympian newspaper, and followed it up a few months later with a letter to the Governor's office, both through their Website contact Web pages. Well, this last week I finally got a response from the WSF folks.

And they said?

While the letter was positive and reassured that photographing in and of public spaces on a ferry is not prohited, they have instructed ferry personnel to report what they deem to be "unusual photography", which includes secure areas, locked doors and safety equipment. But it's not absolutely clear about safety equipment since the ferry is full of safety equipment and since all safety equipment has to be obviously marked in full public view.

And that's the interesting part of a ferry, the way the ship is built and everything is arranged, especially the safety equipment. It provides beautiful photographic opportunties. Even the captain when he reviewed the images in my camera laughed and liked them, and the Washington State Patrol officer thought the images were, or I was, simply stupid. If anyone can see them, sketch them, take camera phone images of them, why can't serious and/or professional photographers capture the same images?

And the representative's parting advice?

"Carrying a business card or identification badge to identify yourself to WSF crews is a good idea. I want to assure you that you will not be detained because you are taking photos of our vessels."

I haven't taken photos of trips on ferries since then. I realize that's kinda' stupid since I love walking around and photographing a ferry, but I didn't like the idea that the freedom to do something they say isn't prohibited or illegal is really considered suspicious by employees who aren't following their own rules and training and worth reporting.

All the while the Washington State Patrol and FBI still haven't found let alone question the two middle eastern looking gentlemen who walked on and rode four ferries in two days, and according to employees, tried to access locked areas and question workers about areas of the ship. Even after they have video of them. And since then the WSF invited the media on ferries into the secure areas to film stories, including filming people working on enginees and operating the ship.

The irony is that before the incident about these two men who managed to ride the ferries and walk off without being stopped, I would often talk with the ferry employees who would ask me, "Say, whatcha' doin?" I would reply, "Taking pictures." And they would look in the direction of the lens, shrug and say, "Ok." That was it, nothing, and I was never stopped by anyone or asked to see the images.

It's a really go figure to me. And I'm not sure I'll photograph on a ferry again, or at least until I find something that obviously lets people know I'm just "Another stupid professional photographer." (WSP officer). Any ideas beside the obvious vest or shirt? I always carry a business card, but maybe a t-shirt which quotes the WSP officer?

Anyway, that's the story to date. Who would have thunk the photo above is considered suspicious? Which by the way is in clear and plain view on the wall on the starboard side near each end of the ferry.

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