Saturday, October 08, 2005

You're the sun and as you shine on me I feel free...

A commentator on my previous post noted, fairly, that London has always had its ghettos and, by implication, that’s not a reason in itself to lose interest in taking pictures of the city.

He’s completely correct.

Besides, if squalor and social exclusion were, as I believe, on the rise that would be a powerful reason to take even more photographs.

The problem is I can’t. I can’t because an increasing number of people have something to hide, because many people suspect my motives and because my government doesn’t want me to.

I find it painfully ironic that in an age when every street, every building interior, every scrap of open space is covered by CCTV cameras operated largely by private companies that people are so jittery about someone with a camera. Point your camera in the direction of people and you’re a sex pervert. Aim it at a building and you’re planning a terrorist attack. The fact that these fears are almost entirely, arguably entirely, without foundation is forgotten.

Could Bill Brandt’s famous ‘Lambeth Walk’ picture of kids dancing in the street that I’ve mentioned in an earlier post be taken today?


It seems that those who rule can get away with absolutely anything they want these days, provided they can get people scared enough beforehand. And the mainstream media plays along like the whore it is.

And, yes, people have always been manipulated through fear but this is different, certainly for the UK at least. It’s different in terms of the scale of the fear and the way it has come to permeate almost every aspect of our daily lives. The Britain I grew up in would have stuck its fingers up and said bollocks to the characters who are perverting our society in the name of protecting our safety and freedoms. The Britain I live in right now is bending over and taking it like a bitch.

I would be the first admit that I am more sensitive to these issues than other people. I have time on my hands, I grew up in London and enjoy(ed) taking pictures on its streets. But the honest truth is that the prospect of me being scooped up by the police going about my lawful business and having my entire life given a ‘good seeing to’ has passed from being an improbability to a possibility in a handful of years. At the current rate of change, it could even become a probability in a matter of a year or two.

Too paranoid? Try reading this account of a journalist arrested by the police for acting suspiciously at Southwark Underground station…

Suspicious Behaviour on the Tube

All I would have to do is pull a camera out in the wrong place or say a word out of turn in public or in something like, err, a blog...

I grew up two minutes walk from Southwark Station my family still run a business nearby. I regularly carry a backpack laden with all sorts of photographic and electrical equipment and because I’m me my flat is absolutely packed full of material that would look interesting laid out on a table in a police station. A few GPS units, some pocket knives, ‘military style’ outdoor equipment, soldering irons, annotated maps of city centres, all sorts of contentious books, a crappy old air pistol with a gimmicky ‘laser’ sight. The list is worryingly large.

Actually, the police wouldn’t even need any of that stuff to make a case to justify banging me up without charge or trial or sticking me and everyone I know on a watch list. I remember reading this blinding comment in a news article shortly after the July bombings…

Police officials say privately that they believe the men's penchant for exercise was part of a training regimen meant to keep them in top physical shape for their mission, which could have been in the planning stages for months, if not years. Keeping fit is also a tenet of devout Muslims.

Yes, being a member of a gym is a valid cause for suspicion. I’ll let you into a secret. Absolutely any form of behaviour is grounds for suspicion if you flip it right. Why not make it a game next time you have friends round for dinner? You play the part of the suspicious character and they get to ransack your home in search of compelling evidence of a terrorist conspiracy – videos of your visit to Disneyland, smelly socks, half-eaten food, bottles of perfume, whatever they can come up with. It’ll be a blast and good practice for life in the twenty-first century.

Right now, the emphasis is on Muslims but the beast is hungry and gradually widening its net to include any groups of people who don’t conform to ‘normal’ standards of behaviour. 'Normal' being sitting indoors and watching reality TV, getting pissed four times a week and not giving a fuck about the rest of the world. Protestors, photographers, even trainspotters, are beginning to fall foul of anti-terror legislation. I’m a White Christian and if I feel this nervous Christ knows how Muslims must be feeling right now

And does anyone think any of this is going to fucking stop, or is even intended to stop, terrorists? Behave.

(category: political stuff)


jackenstein of all trades said...

Stef, dude, i find it deeply suspect that blogger has munged up your linkys thusly
You're spot on with mention of the Brandt pic - we've all had our heads messed with in recent years to the extent that looking at that work now it makes you wonder about his intentions.

Stef said...

Thanks for putting me onto that - can't say I understand how it happened but it's straight now. Let's see if it happens again

and yes, you're right, that picture does look dubious to modern eyes and I know of many, many more that look a lot 'worse'

Anonymous said...

As a person with no particular religious beliefs, I am interested in the fact that our heads of state are famously christian. Someone once told me that "faith" is when you stop thinking and just accept. There's an interesting correlation there. Certain words in the english language get twisted to allow a suspension of thought. During the McCarthy years in America, one such word was "communist". Since the internet showed up, another such word was "paedophile". And finally, the grand-daddy of them all, "terrorist".

If you succeed in getting the slightest hint of one of these words attached to a person, you have carte blanche to do as you will. Noone will think about it. People will bang their drums, and recite their mantras. Sounds an awful lot like religion to me :(

But Stef, don't stop taking pictures. To quote you "Absolutely any form of behaviour is grounds for suspicion if you flip it right". That, in itself, means there is no point in modifying your behaviour.

Postman said...

Due to the immoderate behaviour of drivers of off roaders (the only time off road is spent on the pavement), etc., at the Junior school adjacent to Postman's Patch i have been compiling a dossier of pics of the dangers to pedestrians, hazardous. and illegal (doubel yellahs wavy lines) parking etc.,

I have now been challenged at my interest in photographing children - the suggestion being that my desire to catalogue for the Council and Police and School Governors (who remain remarkably resistant to any suggestions of activity to restrain this traffic mayhem 4 times a day) is just a cover !

I have been advised by PC Plod to moderate my activities. When challenged they are unwilling to tell me to cease.

PS they don't compare with BB pics.

See the homepage re SUV's as kid killers.

Anonymous said...

Hi Stef

actually I don't find it a problem in London (well that's not absolutely true I was told ONCE not to take a photo and he was bigger than me so I said yes...well it was probably yes & sorry and I wouldn't do it again :D).
Having said that I've got to admit that I have a 'don't shoot photos of kids' alarm bell in the back of my mind, but that might partly down to the fact I don't want photos of some chav with a shell suit giving me a middle finger (and that's the nice ones :D).

Most of this obviously comes from the media hype that everywhere outside your door is a war zone, full of evil,perverts, violence and z-list celebrities (ok I made that last one up), and whilst I haven't got a rose tinted view about what London's like (I know it's violent, dirty and what's new?) I do know that 99% of the population 'probably' won't want to throw you in the Thames if you point a camera at them. I'm obviously ignoring the PC mob here, where everything photography related means pedios. I don't buy into that mentality.

The real evil in London comes on a bike and never stops at red lights...stamp this evil out! ;)


David said...

Sorry if I've told this one before, but you reminded me how pointing a camera brings out the pure evil from the surface of some people. I take pictures of houses for my album as I'll never be able to afford any of them, so take pictures of them instead. One weirdo threatened to rip my nose off, and I had to calmly nod and agree with him or he'd have put a brick through my car window or worse. He meant it!
A stupid bitch also said she'd call the police when I videoed her house as part of her whole row of houses. I couldn't be bothered to explain myself as I wasn't breaking the law so just called her something and drove off. Luckily not everyone reacts like total wankers, one woman ran after me shouting at the top of her voice 'excuse me, excuse me' (which I have on film), and her neighbour came up to me first and I told him I was working for the BBC. That shut him up, and then I admitted I was looking to buy a house in the area (which was true) and he was kind enough to give me a tour and tell me what every house was worth. It takes all sorts...