An interesting conversation at work today about rights, combined with three years of “Mission Accomplished” and an article or two about photographers who have been detained, reminded me of an incident I experienced in late March 2003. (Both articles via PhotoshopNews.)
There were a number of protests in Boston in the months leading up to the war in Iraq in 2003, and I actually attended one to see what the spectacle was all about. But that’s a story for another day. So picture it: Boston, 23 March 2003. Earlier in the week the U.S. began the assault on Iraq, and (under an “Orange alert”) I set out for my Big Dig tour. My detailed map from the official Central Artery / Tunnel Project web site promised to take me from South Station to South Boston and along the Waterfront.
After walking along Atlantic Avenue to Kneeland Street and backtracking to Atlantic and Summer, I innocently stopped to photograph the American flag waving in the breeze atop a fabulously lit building between me and the Bank Boston Building.
As I packed up my big 200mm lens and Nikon F3HP, I heard a voice over my shoulder.
“Excuse me! What are you doing?” The voice had an air of official urgency to it. Jay of Spectra Security seemed displeased by my answer.
“Photographing the building over there.” A few seconds later I offered, “I’m a photographer . . . an art photographer.”
Jay, a late middle-aged security supervisor (“the head of security for South Station”) informed me that he had called the MBTA transit police about me and thought that I should stick around until they arrived. I wasn’t sure if a rent-a-cop could officially arrest me — and I was technically under arrest — but I decided to comply and have my discussion with the T police, who would no doubt tell me to behave. Despite knowing my rights, I decided to stay pleasant and quiet until the real police showed up.
“Photographing a building with a war on.” Jay mumbled loud enough for me to hear. “Maybe you should get a new hobby.”
“Yeah, we terrorists carry around $4,000 worth of equipment, use tripods to gain the maximum amount of attention, fastidiously clean dust off the front elements of our lenses, and wait for the light to change just so before we trip the shutter using a cable release. We also use film so that we can have the slowest workflow ever.” But I kept these thoughts to myself.
As time went by and it became clear that the police were in no rush to arrive (if they were coming at all), Jay started to make small talk.
“I have this girlfriend, and she’s good, I guess. But sometimes she says funny things. . . .” A sizable pause as I exercised my rights to remain quiet and not to suffer fools. “For example, what would you say if I said, ‘Christ is the creator and ruler of the universe?’”
“Oh lord!” I thought, but perhaps a safer answer was in store. “It sounds like something I hear a lot from my family.” About five more minutes of badgering later and I thought, “I am so outta here.”
Though I’d been told to stick around, I said, “Well, I think I’ll try to stay out of trouble and just be moving along.”
A moment later I left following “I can see that you are a decent man, brother. And, Jeff, I love you.” I just couldn’t bring myself to reciprocate; after all, he’d tried to arrest me for photographing a building from a public sidewalk and then badgered me about Jesus, telling me that he knew where I was going if I didn’t believe his God had created the universe and could save souls.
Minutes later I crossed the Fort Point Channel hoping to sneak a peek and a photograph or two of the world’s largest civil engineering project. I remembered the joke my coworkers used to tell: “Mechanical engineers build bombs; civil engineers build targets.” And people are worried about the photographer.