Civil Liberties

Boundaries Project. Part 4 by Neil Alexander

For the next image in my Boundaries project, for which I have now I chosen the title "Crime?" I wanted to photograph someone photographing something that in the current climate, would quite likely warrant a stop & search under section 44 of the Terrorism Act or some other similarly preposterous grounds for infringing a photographer's fundamental rights. I figured I'd try and make an image of a "model" photographing planes at the airport around the perimeter fence of Manchester AIrport. So whilst researching, I stumbled across this location on Google Earth. Now I've lived in this area for over 30 years, and spent a not inconsiderable amount of time at this airport over the years. When I was a kid, we used to bike up to the service area of the airport and sit on a large grassy mound literally a stones throw from the main fuel terminal, probably about 1/4 mile in from the perimeter now. Manchester Airport has grown to a bit of a behemoth for us that live around it, it sprawls out in every direction, and there are planes overhead constantly. Anyway, I digress. When I found photographs taken by ordinary people of this area online, I figured that was where I was going to try this from first. I got out the OS maps, and worked out a route. I hauled my camera bag, lights bag, 2 lightstands, tripod & kitchen sink through waterlogged squelchy boggy fields for about 25 minutes. I negotiated a turnstile, rounded a corner and then suddenly the trees stopped and this view presented itself. I was right at the end of 05L in amongst the landing lights, just a few hundred yards from the end. I figured this was the perfect area to try for this shot.

It wasn't quite dawn when I first arrived, probably about 30 minutes to go, but bloody freezing! And I thought I'd go on my own this time and not risk taking a model as I didn't know what lay ahead. But if you've ever tried to photograph someone photographing something else, yet wanted to get both the photographer, and what he's trying to shoot in the frame, compositionally it's really rather tricky! This is kinda where I ended up. I set up an SB900 on a stand just to the front of the fence frame right, 3" gridded it and directed right at my, sorry "the model's" face. I'm zoomed out at about 80-90mm on the 70-200 F2.8, so it was quite a trek to and from the camera to check the frames, and the frost beneath my feet very quickly turned to mush. Eventually I was set up, and happy with my composition and lighting and then out of nowhere the fog descended. It go so dense in the space of about 15 minutes, that all I could see in the frame above was lights. Everything else disappeared! Then unbelievably as soon as it appeared, it went, replaced by the sun cresting the horizon. I am using a cheap eBay purchased remote to trigger the camera, which at the kind of range I was asking it work, was firing about every 7-8th button press. Which meant that co-ordinating a plane in the frame whilst fighting the now rapidly changing light, and checking the camera which meant a trudge through a now muddy trench, it all got a little testy!

So all in all as an image, it kinda works. I think the face is a little blown out, and the white balance may be off a little. However as the wife put it, "You just look like a weirdo plane spotter" - I think it kinda scuppers this from meeting the requirements of the project. Next.....

Civil Liberties, in the UK? You must be joking! by Neil Alexander

Photography courtesy of Antony Bennison.

Further to my previous post on Photographer's Rights, yesterday (Monday 16th Feb), an addendum to the Counter Terrorism Act 2000 came into force, which was bad enough on its own, with the number of abuses of Section 44 on the rise. As photographers, not only are we angry at the introduction of Section 76 of the Counter Terrorism Act and believe it will be used by police to stop and search us in any situation, but also that our civil liberties are slowly being eroded away, and very few people seem to realise or even care. To quote Gordon Brown shortly after he came to power:-
"Too often in recent years the public dialogue in our country has undervalued the importance of liberty," Mr Brown said. "Now is the time to reaffirm our distinctive British story of liberty – to show it is as rich, powerful and relevant to the life of the nation today as ever; to apply its lessons to the new tests of our time."

70 years ago, this once great nation sacrificed tens of thousands of lives to prevent the country falling into the hands of a group of individuals who would have done exactly that and removed our liberty in its entirety, but as this is an elected government introducing these draconian powers, The People don't believe that their own government could not have their best interests at heart. Unfortunately it just doesn't work like that anymore, not in the UK anyway. The new legislation makes it an offence to "elicit, publish or communicate information" relating to any current or ex- members of the Armed Forces, intelligence services and police, which is "likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism".

Andrew Carter, a plumber from Bedminster, near Bristol, took a photograph of an officer who had ignored a no-entry road sign while driving a police van. This might have appeared a somewhat petulant thing to do, but taking a photograph in a public place is not a crime. Yet the policeman smashed the camera from Mr Carter's hand, handcuffed him, put him in the back of the van and took him to the police station, where he was kept for five hours. When he returned to answer bail the following week, he was kept at the station for another five hours. He was released without charge, despite an attempt by the police to claim some spurious offence of "assault with a camera".

This is not an isolated incident. Message boards and Internet forums have been inundated with stories of PCSOs, security guards and Police Officers over-stepping and abusing their powers, and its only going to get worse with the introduction of Section 76.

The exact wording of the new legislation can be found here, and the original Counter Terrorism Act 2000 can be found here.

In fact, even Stella Rimington, the ex-head of MI5 has outwardly criticised Ministers for exploiting the fear of terrorism to restrict civil liberties.
"It would be better that the government recognised that there are risks, rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, precisely one of the objects of terrorism - that we live in fear and under a police state," she said. Read more here.

Mark Thomas who was also at the event outside Scotland Yard has produced a "Stop and Search" card, which can be downloaded here.

More links here:
Photographers angry at terror law - BBC News
Why can't we take pictures of policemen? - Daily Telegraph News
Is it a crime to take pictures? - BBC News
Hundreds demonstrate their freedom to photograph. - NUJ
Photographers’ Rights and the new UK Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 - Photonetcast podcast