View Full Version : Hassled by nosey private security guard.

Leonard Evens
9-Sep-2004, 18:21
I had heard of people being hassled while using view cameras elsewhere in the country, but I never expected it to happen in Evanston. I had gone to the top roof level of a public parking garage to take a picture of the street and city below. (There is frenetic activity tearing down buildings and putting up new buildings, and one of the things I want to do with my view camera is to document the city as it changes.) I had framed and focused my image and was ready to take my picture when I was approached by a private security guard. He asked me what I was doing, which always strikes me as a rather strange question since it was pretty obvious I was taking a picture. He wanted me to go down to the garage office and get permission from the manager there, which I refused to do since I would have had to disassemble my camera, pack up, go down six floors and then come back up and set up again. I ranted a bit about having paid taxes in Evanston for some 40 years and kept going along those lines and promised that I would go seek permission when I was done. It became clear to him that he was going to have to physically restrain me to get me to go down, so he gave up and left me to finish. When I got down to the office and explained who I was, they told me it was fine, I should just go ahead, and I didn't need permission. So it ended up okay in the end. Clearly, this rather mild mannered security guard had acted on his own initiative, and he wasn't going to beat up a 71 year old man taking a picture of downtown Evanston. So I lucked out. but it is still somewhat frightening to realize that this sort of thing is going on in our country, even in the least dangerous locations.

A bit of irony. Like many garages, the levels are assigned labels based on a theme in addition to their numbers. The theme for this garage is the arts, and the top roof level is called "Photography".

Steve Feldman
9-Sep-2004, 19:23

I can empathize with your plight. I'm sure many of us have been challenged and/or harassed for taking photographs in seemingly public areas by some over zealous employee. I was making a picture in front if a restaurant at night when the manager came out and said that I couldn't take a picture. I ‘politely’ informed him that I was on public property (the sidewalk) and was within my rights to take pictures there. He said that if I didn’t move on he’d call the cops. I ‘politely’ encouraged him to do so. He didn’t. I made my pictures.

Seriously, I always check first with someone in authority if I have any doubt if I’m on private or public property. Parking structures are (to the best of my knowledge) private property. Even if open to the public. Some one or some thing owns them. Unlike the street, the sidewalk or the beach. Another example I’ve come across is taking architectural pictures of shopping malls (some are kinda artsy). Can’t shoot there without permission. Even though it’s ‘open to the public’, it is private property and they won't give permission.

But, sometimes ya just gotta shoot first and ask permission later.

9-Sep-2004, 19:26
"He asked me what I was doing, which always strikes me as a rather strange question since it was pretty obvious I was taking a picture"

Favourite here is when I get stopped by the police in my car (not something I do anything to encourage, you understand)... 1st question: "Is this your car sir?". Only the certain knowledge that the average traffic policeman has no sense of humour *whatsoever* prevents me from saying "No, I stole it"...

There does seem to be a subset of humanity that have the mentality that, if you have not got specific permission to be doing something, you shouldn't be doing it - rather than taking the approach that you can do anything you like as long as you are not specifically excluded from doing it. The question people should ask is "who is being hurt by this" and if the answer is "no one", go about their own business.

It's probably reasonable for a security guard to have a closer look at what you were doing, but once satisfied you were harmless, and not about to throw yourself off the building, should have just got on with his job. Still, his loss: I'm sure he missed out on an interesting impromptu lecture on the merits of LF photography!


Alex Hawley
9-Sep-2004, 20:11
Leanord, just chalk it up to an unpleasnt experience produced by the climate of the times. I'm quite sure you don't fit the current profile of the average terrorist, but we should remember terrorists have also come from our own citizenry; just ask anyone in Oklahoma City. The only profile Timothy McVeigh fit was that of a clean-cut North American caucasian male.

Also, parking garages are a natural favorite for car bomb; the first World Trade Center bombing and the OK City bombing took place in the parking garages.

Even though the two of you had a confrontation, I suspect by the way you responded it was convincing enough to prove you were a solid citizen, not up to any misdeeds, although a couple words up front with the guard or the manager would have avoided the whole thing. It could be thought of as a courteous thing to do.

Although most of us are not used to it, and it is unpleasant, its this type of watchfullness that is needed to circumvent a catastrophe. A security guard or police office may ask the question a hundred thousand times, and all of the hundred thousand times the situation is obviously harmless. But, there's that 1 time in a hundred thousand where it proves dangerous.

Not the guard's fault, not the City's fault, not your fault. Blame it on Osama et al.

9-Sep-2004, 20:23
leonard -

at least the squarebadge didn't call the cops to surround the building, who then used the bullhorn from the street - "put that 'thing' down and come down to the street peacefully, we have the building surrounded". no, that hasn't happened to me yet, but just the other day i was hasseled too ... then again i fit the "profile" young dark haired, olive-skinned 30-something male ... with a camera

at least the security guard was keeping an eye out for suspicious activity.

Alec Jones
9-Sep-2004, 21:23
Alex said: "Also, parking garages are a natural favorite for car bomb; the first World Trade Center bombing and the OK City bombing took place in the parking garages."

WTC - yes. OK City bombing - no. The truck was parked out on the street beside the building. Get your facts straight.

Steve Hamley
9-Sep-2004, 21:41

I just can't resist. Sell that nasty old metal monorail and get youself a non-threatining wooden field camera that everyone loves....


michael Allen
9-Sep-2004, 21:58
Evenston Illinois? I'm a chicagoin , just curious where I should steer clear from. By the way you where on private property, correct?

John Cook
10-Sep-2004, 06:13
Leonard, I have often observed that a major personality change takes place when you put someone in charge of something and give him a little hat to wear. I am sure that psychologists must have a technical medical term for the phenomenon.

In my town, for example, are several school crossing guards which routinely do a superb theatrical impression of Benito Mussolini. Their M/O is to hide behind a mailbox until a long string of traffic is almost upon them. They then jump out, right in the middle of the traffic, and strut their stuff like Il Duce himself amidst squealing brakes, chin stuck way out, waving their little stop sign in the air with great authority.

And donít get me started on school bus drivers. The local school board has spent thousands on consultants to determine the most awkward, disruptive, idiotic places to stop a bus. On my way to work is a major high-volume intersection where every school bus east of the Mississippi River stops during morning and evening rush hour, screwing up traffic for miles in four directions. They then proceed fifty feet and turn onto a quiet residential street with no traffic. But donít stop there.

I suspect that these (and parking garage guards) are the only minimum-wage jobs in which the oppressed under-class can enjoy a little delicious mischief with the Establishment. Kind of like adult trick-or-treat. I always try to react with mock outrage, knowing it enhances their titillation enormously.

Bruce Watson
10-Sep-2004, 07:27

Didn't you get the memo? Good attitudes are no longer allowed. Cripes man, it's an election year! ;-)

10-Sep-2004, 10:53
I get this all the time.

Something that has helped a lot is to have some visual aids for giving a sense of what I'm up to. I always have a few copies of invitations to previous exhibits in my camera bag, so people can see that I'm not A) a terrorist B) a peeping tom C) a commercial photographer who will make millions with images of someone's property and not share or D) a surveyor preparing plans to tear down the neighborhood and put in a superhighway.

In some cases, when i AM tresspassing or breaking laws (stopped by the sides of roads where you're not alowed to stop, wandering into construction sites, walking along catwalks of suspension bridges) I've found a nearly failsafe solution: an orange reflective vest ... the kind that surveyors and engineers wear. Cheap, light, and folds into a tiny package when you don't need it. People see a guy with a big tripod and an orange vest walking along bridge girders and think nothing of it. Cops included. (I have NOT tried this in post 9-11 new york, where I live now, and wouldn't recommend it).

Keep in mind that most people in the world have no idea what a large format camera is, or why someone would use one. So it's not really a good assumption that they'll know what you're doing. Especially with the kind of work that I do, which often involves subject matter that people don't think of as photogenic. They have no idea what I'm up to. And even if they do recognize you as a photographer, that won't be enough to put everyone at ease. Why are you photographing? The process can seem threatening or invasive to people when they don't understand it. If they know you're an artist and are interested in the shadow of the telephone pole, and not in their wives upstairs in the boudoir, they'll be more inclined to make your life easier.

10-Sep-2004, 10:58
One funny story: when I lived in Providence, a cop stopped me and asked what I was up to. After a couple of the usual questions, he started asking me all about my camera and lenses. I looked in and saw a copy of Popular Photography on the seat next to him. He just wanted to geek out! Before leaving, he warned me not to go in the direction I was heading in .. that it was run down and dangerous. I showed him one of my invites, with a picture of a desolate, run down neighborhood, and said I photographed that kind of thing a lot. He said, "well, then, keep going! you're headed in the right direction."

Kevin Crisp
10-Sep-2004, 11:34
Let me let you in on a secret about uniformed, unarmed private security in the US. Though the public thinks these officers are for their protection, their post orders, with near-universality, are to "observe and report." That is the exact phrase drilled into their heads. See something and go report it to real law enforcement -- not physically intervene. In a sense this is protection, though delayed protection, but if they see you being attacked or accosted they are not supposed to physically intervene on your behalf, even though the public assumes they will do that. And for minimum wage, most of them aren't inclined to do it, post orders or otherwise. So to a large extent their being there and physically pressing the issue is all bluff. If you are photographing on private property without permission, and somebody asks you to stop it, they are within their rights. If you don't leave when asked, you risk a citizen's arrest (about the last thing the officer wants to do) or a call to law enforcement, with an eventual response, and an instruction to leave which, if disobeyed, will lead to a real arrest.

Leonard Evens
10-Sep-2004, 12:46
Some of you have raised some interesting points.

The garage is the Maple Ave. garage opposite the movie theater. I don't know for sure who owns what part of it. It may have been built with a combination of private and public funds, and the hotel next to it may have rights to some part of it, but it appears as an item in the City Budget. The same document asserts that various services such as management and security services are contracted out. I think it, like the other municipal parking structures in Evanston, is owned by the City. Since I've now checked with the manager and gotten permission to keep doing what I've been doing, I don't see any reason to check further.

As to the vulnerability of parking garages to terrorists, let's use some common sense. Someone who wanted to blow up this garage would just drive a van full of explosives into it, take the automatically dispensed ticket, park it in a critical location, and leave. Security doesn't check vehicles entering the garage for explosives or anything else, as far as I can tell. There may be video cameras recording license plates, but that wouldn't be much help in preventing an explosion.

I don't object to the security man approaching me and asking me what I was doing. After all, I could have had a rifle or missle launcher mounted on my tripod. I would even have been happy to show him identification if he had asked for it. But once it was clear I was just taking a picture, he should have left me alone. What bothered me is his insistence that I go down six flights to the office to receive permission for what I was doing, something which apparently I didn't need.

Mike H.
10-Sep-2004, 13:33
Room here for a war story? 40 years ago (seems like yesterday) I was invited by Ground Control and Approach (GCA) operator on USAF base in Europe (where I was stationed) to take pictures of him at his console for his Mom. Met him at his job just before he got off work (at midnight). Took the picture. Waiting for him to get off work, saw daily air evac preparing to take off. Set up on tripod and prepared to take cool timed exposure with flashing lights and all. Needed light to set shutter speed, etc. Used headlamp from base fire truck idling nearby - whose driver then informed me that they I wasn't allowed there and they had turned "intruder alert" in to base APs. Sure enough, flashing blue lights in both directions. Finished taking photos (still have them), disassembled everything, took out roll of film and placed in pocket, and waited for three guard dogs and 6 APs to approach, surround, apprehend, search and question me (while face down on ground with hands cuffed behind). Friend saw what was happening and asked "Why?" Same happened to him. Boss came out and explained I had permission, that friend was "on duty". No reasoning with them. We was apprehended. Taken off to slammer. Picked up later by friend's boss. Sargeant at jail was taken aback when he asked where I worked. HQ Intel. Long story. Fun to tell. Pictures were a learning project. Mom got her copies. Talk about security.

Alex Hawley
10-Sep-2004, 18:44
"Get your facts straight"

Sir, yes Sir! Sir, sorry Sir!

Jim Billlups
11-Sep-2004, 21:07
It is what it is... Welcome to America 2004. We'd better get used to it, cause this is just the beginging.

Bob Eskridge
12-Sep-2004, 15:39
Unfortunately this is a sign of the times. I feel that I need to get a portfolio together to have with me when doing photography in public places. Maybe it will keep me from being hassled.

At present there is a man in jail in Charlotte, NC who an alert policeman spotted taking videos of the tall buildings in downtown Charlotte. In his possession he had videos of the downtowns of several southern cites. According to the news stories, about the only thing they will be able to prosecute him for is for immigration/visa violations.

13-Sep-2004, 09:51
There's a bill being proposed in NYC to make photography of any kind illegal on the subway system.

Also, a number of employees of middle eastern embassies have been thrown out for taking photos and videos that were considered questionable.

13-Sep-2004, 15:28

Just be glad you were'nt taking pictures of skateboarding. I was shooting some skateboarding in Chicago a few years ago and a pig (I'm a skateboarder it's ok) came up behind me and tossed me to the ground and made me drop my fisheye for my Hasselblad, he put his knee in the back of my neck, then asked me if I was with "those guys". Then when I said "yes" he put more weight on my neck and laughed when I asked about my camera being ok. He stayed on the back of my neck for about 10 minutes (to make sure I wouldn't get away?) in that time I started to have an asthma attack, I tried to tell him I needed my meds and once again he laughed at me. I ended up breaking the front element and having a major asthma attack and had to be taken to the hospital. Before I get to off track, fuck the police.


John Kasaian
14-Sep-2004, 10:04
So calbee,

Like, how much did you win from your civil suit? Certainly enough for a new 'blad even after the lawyers get thier share, right? And you did file a complaint with Internal Affairs to get that Goon booted off the force(or at least reassigned to the rubber gun squad) like any responsible citizen would. right? I mean, you're paying his salary with your taxes. You have legal recourse if a police officer steps outside the scope of thier authority. You wouldn't let them get away with that, would you?

Our system is one of checks and balances. When the ball is in your court and you stop playing the game, you forfeit your rights and send the goons a silent message that equates to a pat on the back and a hearty "job well done." Maybe the next suspicious photographer who gets taken to emergency won't be as fortunate as you.

Just a thought.

tim atherton
14-Sep-2004, 10:32
"Our system is one of checks and balances. When the ball is in your court and you stop playing the game, you forfeit your rights and send the goons a silent message that equates to a pat on the back and a hearty "job well done." "

Should that be: ours is a system of checks and balances for those who can afford to participate in the game?

Even if you were to try and revert to something like the ACLU in such a case you are likely to find they are far less concerned about free legal support for a "skateboarder dude" photographer, than say a "surgeon" photographer in a similar situation , but who happens to be friends with one of their senior legal council.

Maybe cynical, but unfortuantely that's close to the reality of it.

John Kasaian
14-Sep-2004, 11:17

There are hoards lawyers on the TV who will happily work for contingency fees. There are also lawyers who have a profound interest in justice who will jump on the chance to "check" abuses. There are DAs and Public Defenders who are on the prowl for any cases that will bring place them in the political spotlight. There are also city attorneys who dread lawsuits that drain government coffers and Union attorneys who represent oficer's associations as well. We've got a heck of a lot of attorneys runing around, most of them under employed. Most of these kinds of cases never get into court, but settlements are made, and the paper trail of legal suits that follows any professional, be it law enforcement, medical, legal, you name it, does have considerable importance. That bottom line is, if you don't put up a fight for your rights using the weapons available(the courts) don't whine about it. If a government truly belongs to the people, it is the people's responsibilty to participate in it(like not shirking the responsibilty of jury duty, voting, paying taxes, etc... but thats another rant.) On the other hand, if what you want is to be a victimized and encourage the powerful to think that oppression is the sincerest form of government, so be it. We deserve the government we get.

"Only a live thing can swim against the current"---Chesteron


12-Oct-2004, 17:52
I want to thank all of you who wrote in to this story of Leonard's Pictures.
I 'm doing a paper on ethical useage of surveillance cameras and this supports one angle very well. I was born and raised in the 1970's and I remember people lamenting it was not a good time to raise kids, with the drugs and hippies and what not. I have two toddlers and I wish it was as safe as it was in the 1970's versus today to raise them. As a country we have been slowly losing our freedoms under the guise of security for the people.

27-Jun-2012, 15:01
Keep in mind that most people in the world have no idea what a large format camera is, or why someone would use one.

Maybe, but maybe not.

It would make an interesting experiment in semiotics to present this image to the great unwashed and see what the think is going on.


27-Jun-2012, 15:30
Hi karlee here. Wonderful to read all your experiences
guys. I completely agree with your opinion.Security guard
is a person who have a lot of responsibilities. A security guard must be honest.

This is a rather odd comment. I'll eat my hat if I'm wrong but I bet we'll see some spam from young karlee in the none-to-distant future.

Kevin Crisp
27-Jun-2012, 16:03
On a thread that is 8 years old.

Drew Bedo
28-Jun-2012, 05:25
Mods, Please delete.