Just read another blog post by photographer Rob Smith from Australia about being questioned by police while taking photographs (you can see several notes about this kind of thing in older blog posts here), and this time it seems at least to me that the police were even handed and fair. Turns out Rob was taking photos at a local beach trying to gather images for a local photography art show. Someone complained that there was a 'man with a camera' taking photos of children. Indeed Rob was taking pictures of children amongst other things, and they were really fine photos too. Of course his intentions were innocent, but being a parent myself I can understand the concerns of parents. To me this story is a reflection of our society and where it is at right now.
The first problem was Rob should have been telling parents why he was photographing their children. If I take photos of people in public, even at first if they are unaware, I go up to them and introduce myself, offer a copy of the photo and ask permission to take or keep the photo. This applies to children and adults. I sense Rob didn't mean any harm though. The second problem occurred when whoever complained didn't take it upon themselves to just go chat with Rob instead of calling police. You can solve a lot of questions and allay a lot of fears by just talking to people. I bet those people that complained still feel that they averted a predator. The police arrived, and in my opinion handled themselves very well. Politeness from Rob and the policeman ruled the day and everything was fine.
Go over to his blog and check out his images, they are superb and you should be able to tell right away they are not meant for predatory purposes. I'm sure Rob was humiliated, and that is unfortunate. We really need to come up to a place in our world where we don't automatically assume everyone is a predator and we can all just start talking to each other again. I say this as a parent who's eight year old daughter just received her first unwelcome message on the internet on a site called Moshi Monsters. Someone (not so innocently in my opinion) posted her a message asking if she was pretty and that he was a boy. I wanted to reach through that computer and pound the living daylights out of him. But I communicate with my kid about telling me when things aren't right. I'm not afraid to talk to the grownups in my community about how they interact with my kid and she is not afraid to tell me. I reported the guy on the internet, and I would talk to a photographer face to face if I saw him take a photo of my kid. If I didn't like his answer, you bet I'd call the police. If it was Rob, I'd ask for a signed copy of the photo to hang on my wall.
Bravo to the police for a reasonable response. I'm sure Rob learned some lessons that day and will reconsider is approach the next time he is at the beach.
Also check out this related story of another photographers recent brush with the law.