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No Photos Allowed! Attack of the Pointless Objector.

Posted on November 16th, by Peter Parkorr in Everywhere, Picture Perfect. 16 comments

Have you ever been told ‘No Photos Allowed’? Sometimes it is completely justified. Other times, it can seem a little misplaced.

The Rise of Electronic Imagery.

Digital photography is on the up and up. More and more people use digital cameras everyday, whether that’s the one on their mobile phone, a point-and-shoot, or by purchasing a ‘pro-sumer’ level camera.

Consumers in developed nations, the growing middle classes in countries where electronics are manufactured, and many other new markets have a huge array of image capturing devices at their disposal. The smartphone has been the quickest adopted technology of mankind to date, with India soon set to run out of mobile phone numbers for their 1.2 billion person population, and phones everywhere increasingly having photo capability.

Entry-level DSLRs, micro-four thirds, bridge cameras, usb devices, smartphoneography, helmet cams, and a thousand other contraptions

This electronic deluge translates quite visibly into a rapidly growing quantity of photo and video ending up on the internet every day.

People have become internet sensations overnight, often followed by fame on more traditional media, whether it be for a moment of misplaced enthusiasm or for the most heroic of acts. War crimes have been displayed on international media within minutes of being committed, while still being hotly denied by the perpetrators.

Are These Developments Good or Bad?

On the plus side, the cost of photography as a hobby (or as a useful tool) has come within the reach of many more people. The increasing likelihood of at least one camera being present at all times has also meant the capture of incredible moments, as well as providing individuals with the ability to record and transmit images from even the most extreme situations.

Image credit: Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters, click through for original article.

Conversely, the sheer increase in the volume of images makes finding good quality or relevant items much harder. Hence the rise of people like youtube user ‘twisternederland’; he trawled the internet to compile the below video and many others, each of them receiving millions of views within weeks of being published, before youtube started to systematically ban his accounts. The same problem locating all forms of information on the internet is true, from destination advice to the phone number of your local plumber. And who knows when the appeal of ‘hilarious’ cat pictures will ever end…?

No Photos Allowed: Not Everyone Wants To Share.

Amongst all this willingness to use the internet for sharing digital media, is a growing trend for people to object to photo’s being taken. Admittedly, there are hundreds of reasons a person may wish to not be photographed. Parents may fear for the privacy and safety of their children. Individuals may not like the idea of being ridiculed online, or not knowing where their photo is being shown. Businesses may worry that they are not being portrayed in their best light. And anyone not playing by the rules will want to avoid being exposed. However, I personally have come across at least a dozen people who felt the need to object to a perfectly harmless photo being taken, not specifically of them (in which case I would usually ask) but often of something that they have no obvious interest in protecting.

Have these people not heard of the positive attention a simple photo can bring? What do they think they are protecting? What are they afraid of? Here are some examples from my own travels that not only confused me but were downright annoying.

Paranoid public transport staff.

Terrorism. It gets a lot of bad press. Sometimes however, it is cited in clearly ridiculous circumstances. I was once advised that I needed to stop taking photo’s of some friends while we were waiting at a London tube stop, or the police would need to be called (circa 2009). Maybe, just maybe, this is understandable somewhere in central London (but still…?).

We were waiting at a deserted overground tube stop at the very end of the line, in the not-so-bustling metropolis of Chesham. CHESHAM. A full hour away from London, or nearly two hours that weekend thanks to rail-replacement services. There’s absolutely nothing to attract any sort of terror attack in this cul-de-sac of civilisation, except possibly compassion, but the station staff weren’t taking any chances.

Ornate Japanese vegetables.

This shop in Kyoto, Japan, was full of extravagant ways of presenting very expensive vegetables for sale to the public. A lot of attention was paid to the layout of the store, the packaging of each type of product, and making all the products look delicious! Yet they had also paid equal attention to pointing out No Photos Allowed, and by employing vigilant staff. I resorted to shooting from the hip with auto-focus, guessing how much to zoom, and got one or two nice results. I have no idea why people going to this amount of effort to present their goods would shun the attention of amateur snappers.

Car park attendant in Budapest.

Cycling from the source of the Danube (Donaueschingen, Germany) to Budapest in 2010, I was impressed with the evidence of green energy in use along the route, and eco-friendly initiatives in general. I spotted some cycle parking in a multi-storey car park, which I hadn’t seen in the UK before. The attendant that sits in the booth at the entrance came running out when I took a snap, to insist I don’t take any pictures. When asked why I couldn’t take a picture, he didn’t seem sure, but was adamant the photo must be deleted. He got a little irate that I didn’t immediately delete my photo and unthinkingly obey his authority.  Unconvinced, I checked the picture on the LCD, showed it to him, and left. Isn’t it lovely?

EasyJet ground staff lady.

I must have taken a picture of the plane I’m about to board 30 or 40 times in the last few years, mostly with a mobile phone. From the terminal, from the tarmac, and from the pointless bus that takes 15 minutes to transport you 100 yards. If there is any security issue with a photograph of the outside of a plane we are all in trouble. Once inside a departure terminal, anyone can just look out of the floor to ceiling windows and openly gaze at planes, sometimes several at once. Some airports are even so blasé as to leave airplanes visible from the bars and cafes accessible to the non security-checked public. In this instance, as I stopped a few feet from the aircraft to take a snap, an EasyJet employee (whose arm is just visible in the right of the pic) began running into my shot and waving her arms above her head energetically, in an unmistakeable gesture for me to stop. Either that or she mistook me for a plane that needed landing. Seriously, lady, what do you want?!

1 in 1000 market stall owners.

Most market stall owners are happy for travellers (and even tourists) to take photo’s of them and their stall. I’ve had no problems in Jerusalem or Berlin, Seoul or Rome, Manchester or Marrakech. Occasionally though, there is someone who reacts negatively to your camera, as I found once in Petaling Street market (pictured), Kuala Lumpur, and again in Catania, Sicily. Thankfully, they are literally surrounded by alternative photo opportunities and stalls where the owner is fine for you to snap away.

Churches! For the love of god.

A cheeky video from the Basilica of San Francesco, Assisi.

It seems that clergy the world over have gotten together and decided ‘thou shalt not beget mementos’ of your favourite branch of the almighty’s property franchise. The lord jesus knows why, or possibly not, but it’s annoyingly frequent for photography and videography to be banned inside religious structures. A worry about the damage caused by visitors who don’t know how to control their camera flash is understandable – ancient murals, paintings and other artwork can degrade if subjected to intense lighting. But a blanket ban on all photography? My personal feeling is that the holiday snaps of visitors would be one of the best advertisements for historic buildings (and also that any god is less likely to exist than Bilbo Baggins).

Nervous Flybe stewardess.

Unfortunately, this last example has no photo. That’s the point. On a recent Flybe flight there was a mother travelling alone with her young baby. The stewardesses were being really helpful to her throughout the flight, and one stewardess went what I think is above and beyond her duties. The mother needed to visit the bathroom and the stewardess offered to mind her baby for her while she went. I was impressed! I deliberated the embarrassment, but eventually got up to ask if I could take her photo with the baby. It would have been such a nice shot, the pretty stewardess in her uniform looking after a young baby – especially as they had contrasting skin colours, you can’t write this stuff! But the Flybe lady seemed hesitant and asked “Why?”. Fair enough, I had already explained I was a blogger though. “What will you do with the photo?”. Well, probably just post it on twitter or something. “Oh. I prefer if you didn’t, I could get into trouble”.

Huh? I sat back down, fairly perplexed and greatly peeved. Did she think I’d want the photo for my own enjoyment? Neither of them were that cute. How could she get in trouble, simply doing her job or going beyond the job in my view?? Admittedly, I was going to ask the mothers permission too when she got back from the loo, but it never got that far. Oh well, I put this down to another annoying result of corporate internetophobia, no doubt emphasized by the company’s management from the top down, and in the process denying them what could have been a marketers dream…

Does this ever happen to any of you avid snappers? Am I being obtuse? The next time it happens, won’t you please ask them Why??

I think you may find even they aren’t entirely sure…

Peter Parkorr