This morning on the street

Posted by David on Wednesday, April 11, 2007 at 9:36 AM.

I'm photographing on the street. Out of the corner of my eye I see a rentacop. You know the exact type, with the pseudo-official uniform, utility belt dripping with gear that acts as the equator to his globe-like shape, surly look, bad close cropped haircut. I ignore him until he inevitably approaches me.

"Hey, you can't take pictures of people like that."

I'm not at all in the mood. "Actually, I can." I keep walking.

He follows me. "It's against the law."

I sigh. "Actually, state law, national law, and a recent New York supreme court ruling all affirm my right to be doing this. Now, it is illegal in Canada, where a person's right to their image is more protected. But perfectly fine here."

His face is turning purple while I say that. "Well! You can't take pictures of our building. I should confiscate your camera."

I smile. "Now we're getting somewhere. First, again, state and national law affirm my right to shoot whatever I want while I'm on a public thoroughfare. Second, it's illegal for you to exceed your authority or impersonate a police officer, and arguably by threatening to confiscate my camera you're doing just that."

He sputters. "Well! Well! Stay out of our building, I'm warning you."

I smile pleasantly. "Thanks, I will."

It always pays to do your homework.

Uncle Vinny, on Wednesday, April 11, 2007 at 10:42 AM:

Damn, you should have taken his picture repeatedly while giving him the lecture.

david adam edelstein, on Wednesday, April 11, 2007 at 3:03 PM:

I thought about it, but honestly I didn't want to cause him to actually shear a pin.

Damon, on Thursday, April 12, 2007 at 7:57 PM:

I love reading stories like this. Thanks. Made my day.

Mark, on Thursday, April 12, 2007 at 10:55 PM:

Sadly we have the same issues in the UK. Dave Gorman (a UK comedian and photographer) was stopped by UK police taking pictures of a ruined powerstation under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Amazing. More on it here :

Dave Gorman, on Saturday, April 14, 2007 at 2:25 AM:

Mark, I think you're misrepresenting things if you're suggesting that my experience with the police is remotely similar to this.
What happened to me bears no relation to this whatsoever. The police who approached me were polite at all times, asked a few questions (and why shouldn't the police want to know what someone is doing lurking in dark corners at night?) and then left telling me I could carry on shooting if I like.

I'm amazed at the number of people who read the story and then report it as erroneously as "man arrested for taking photos" errr no... "man stopped from taking photos"... errr, no... "man has polite chat with police and then left to his own devices"... errr, yep, that's the one.