Friday, May 06, 2005

Can I 'help' you?

Our local polling station, like most others, is a shabby uninviting sort of space. The atmosphere is all very muted and low key; almost as if something biologically necessary but shameful is taking place. Most polling station officials are quite old and occasionally smell of stale urine.

There is more of the feel of a seedy public lavatory or pornographic bookshop than anything more noble. Being issued with a flimsy piece of paper before being ushered into a secluded cubicle only adds to that feeling.

A little festive bunting would go a long way. Garish Soviet-style posters of local people heroically casting their votes would also pump up the ambience a little.

I was thinking these thoughts whilst waiting outside for Tracy to cast her vote. I also whipped out my camera and took a few photos of the entrance.

One of the semi-incontinent, packed-lunch eating, cardigan wearing officials standing at the doorway approached me

Woman: ‘Can I help you’

Stef: ‘No thank’

Woman: ‘I was just wondering what you were doing taking pictures of the polling station’

Stef: ‘That would be because I want some photographs of the polling station. Why do you ask? There’s no law against it’

Woman: ‘I was just wondering’

Stef: ‘I’m waiting for my partner to cast her vote and I’m taking some photographs. If you have a problem with that I’d like to know why?’

She walked off. None the wiser as to the true nature of the threat to democracy I presented.

At first sight this might seen to be a trivial encounter. An election official checking out the potentially suspicious activities of a suspicious looking man with a camera. But I don’t think it’s that trivial at all. I take a lot of pictures and have become accustomed over the last four or five years to an increasing degree of low to medium level hassle whilst going about my lawful business. Not from the police though, who on several occasions have supported my right to take pictures. No, the hassle comes from the burgeoning swarms of 2nd tier lackeys that infest our streets and public places; parking wardens, laughably pathetic security guards, CCTV and speed camera operators, and all the rest of that crap.

There seem to be two motivating factors at work. Firstly, many of them sense that someone with a professional looking camera is looking to take their scalp in some way, which naturally suggests that they have something to hide. The second factor is potentially more worrying for the long term.

They genuinely believe I might be up to no good.

Ten years ago the sight of a bloke standing outside a polling station taking pictures of the signs would have encouraged little to no curiosity whatsoever. People might have asked you about the gear you were using or where you were going to use the picture but they wouldn’t have questioned your motivations for taking the photograph. Photography was considered a legitimate passtime in its own right. People wouldn’t be suspicious of your motivations because they simply couldn’t conceive of any dubious motivation on the photographer’s part.

Well, that’s all gone into the toilet hasn’t it. This War on Terror bullshit is so very, very insidious and pervasive. After all, I might have been planning a terrorist attack on the polling station. It’s a Fearful and Cowardly New World and Everyone gets the chance to be a suspect. Hitler would have been creaming his jeans at how easily and quickly an entire population can have its entire worldview warped.

What a difference four or five years make and God knows what’s in store for us over the next four or five years.


David said...

We may have some limits on free speech, as you mentioned, but some countries don't allow photography without the subject's consent, as part of the law of privacy. I think that's just about the last bastion of freedom Tony the wanker (well, it is the sad day after...) has left us with in his 8 year reign. But the rank paranoia of the general public when faced with a video or still camera pointing anywhere within 20 yards of them is incredible.
I've had one woman say she was calling the police, another raving 'excuse me!' at the top of her voice etc., just because I was (wait for it) taking videos and photos of houses. One man even threatened (quite seriously) to kill me. I think I still know where he lives actually, I may post it on my blog...
Signs of the times or just of mental disability?

Stef said...


There were no small children present at my local polling station nor would even the most propaganda infected pratt seriously believe that I could have been planning some kind of terror attack. Barring the prospect that my particular perversion was masturbating over pictures of polling stations why should anyone care a damn if I want to photograph the place or not?

I've said it before but it baffles me how suspicious people are of folk using cameras, considering just how many flipping CCTV installations have sprung up under New Labour. Nobody's having a go at them. Mind you, I suppose CCTV is doing an excellent job of displacing crime from one place to another.

I am quite particular in my habits and will not jam a camera in someone's face without checking that it's OK first. Nope, these irate folk are paranoid and get wound up just at the thought that you *might* take a picture of them.

On the face of it, this is only of concern to strange men who enjoy taking pictures but it is an glimpse of a much wider malaise.

Sparkling said...

I missed getting a picture of our local polling station. However, I did get a picture of the local polling station in Alresford. I would post it on Blogger, if only I could work out how Flickr works!

The polling station was in the local pub!

Stef said...

A pub?

Sounds darned civilised to me