“Beware of illegal photo taking. Report crime for benefit of all.”
These were the words on a sign at Causeway Bay, a bustling tourist area in Hong Kong. Such a warning isn’t unusual here; wherever you go, you can find signs reading, “No Photos, No Videos, No Smoking and No Dogs.”
There are approximately 60 million cameras being sold in the world each year. And yet, it is getting harder and harder to use them without being accused of being a spy, a pervert, or a pedophile.
The problem is not unique to Hong Kong. A quick Google search reveals numerous instances of photographers in the West being stopped from taking pictures in public areas. For example:
- Earlier this year, a London photographer was arrested under anti-terror laws for photographing a building near his home.
- A Greek photographer was arrested when a woman complained he was photographing her daughter on the subway. He apologized and erased the pictures — but the police still arrested him.
- An amateur photographer in the U.K. was handcuffed and arrested for photographing a policewoman.
- In Australia the local council tried to ban cameras from Bondi Beach, and school councils have banned cameras at children’s sporting events — claiming it would stop pedophiles.
- A photographer was prevented from taking pictures of an oil refinery in Colorado and told that it was forbidden after 9/11.
“You Can’t Take Pictures! Stop! Stop!”
Some time ago, I was making candid photographs on a Hong Kong street when a woman began verbally abusing me. She was convinced I was taking pictures of her infant.
“Madam,” I explained, “I don’t take baby photos.”
On another occasion, I knelt in a roadway to take photos of people who were walking in a crossing.
“You can’t take pictures from that angle,” warned my assistant. “You will be arrested and accused of trying to take pictures of women’s underwear.”
On yet another occasion, I was standing on a footbridge that spanned the main road through the center of Hong Kong. I was there to scout for a location and test the length of the lens I would need for an upcoming shoot.
Suddenly, I was surrounded by three guards.
“No photos!” one of them exclaimed as he planted a hand in front of my lens. Another guard stood in front of me in case I tried to do anything dangerous, as a third spoke rapidly into his phone.
My crime was that I had taken pictures of traffic and tourists crossing the main road through central Hong Kong.
It gets worse.
There is a famous building in Hong Kong that appears in every skyline photograph that is taken of the city. I needed to shoot a picture of the front of this building from the street.
No sooner had I pulled out my camera than a guard came rushing over waving his arms and calling out, “You can’t take pictures! Stop! Stop!”
The Best Camera for Spying?
Everywhere I go I see people pointing their phone cameras at everything and anything — but bring out a Digital SLR and the whole world goes into panic.
I can never work this out. Does it mean that spies only use a Nikon D3 with a large zoom lens? This would make them as obvious as a fly on the end of your nose. Blimey, if I were a spy I’d use a Nokia phone camera. No one would suspect you then.
One time I came upon three girls standing in the street dressed as fairies. I thought it would make a nice stock picture. I wasn’t alone in seeing the moment; so did 10 others who were shooting away with their phone cameras.
And yet, as soon as I put my DSLR up to my face, a guard came running over and yelled, “No pictures! No pictures!”
She then proceeded to jump up and down in front of me, trying to make it to difficult for me to take pictures of the girls. Unfortunately for her, she was a great deal shorter than me and didn’t quite get in front of the lens.
I did, however, miss the picture that I wanted most — a man dressed as a giant condom walking right past the fairies, unobstructed and undisturbed. He was being paid to promote Durex.
Easier in Iran?
You want to know what’s odd? Earlier this year, I worked in Iran. During my time there, I took pictures of babies, women, buildings and tourists.
And nobody accused me of being a spy, a pervert or a pedophile.
That’s right; it was easier to work in Iran, of all places, than in the tourist areas of Hong Kong.