Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Something To Hide?

Plattsburgh provincialism.

Decades ago the city decided to install a few benches along sidewalks in residential areas. This would help older and disabled pedestrians to sit and rest a bit. The benches faced the street.

And how did some Plattsburghers react?

This comment appeared in the newspaper:

“I don’t want strangers sitting in front of MY home.”

Such provincialism is still alive and well in the Burgh.

Today I was walking by MLD building on Miller Street. Across the roofline of the building’s overhang are large free-standing letters spelling out MUNICIPAL LIGHTING DEPARTMENT. The sign has been there for ages; I find it can be photographically interesting depending upon the lighting that nature provides. I noticed two parked vehicles reflecting the silvery lettering with the sky in the background.

Camera in hand, I zoomed in on the first vehicle’s windows, a car, capturing the image. As I walked to the second vehicle, a van, the car owner who was returning to his vehicle asked me what I was doing, expressing concern. I pointed at the MLD sign, saying I was photographing the reflection in his car window. He didn’t understand so I politely repeated my statement, pointing at the reflection in his car’s windows.

“Is it OK for me to park there?” he asked me.

I told him I wasn’t a police officer, I was just a photographer, photography was a hobby. (I could’ve said I was a writographer but he was already a bit paranoid.)

Then I lined up the reflection in the second vehicle, the van, when its owner appeared. She asked me not to take photographs of her van.

Again, a bit paranoid.

Many people – or I should say many Plattsburghers – don’t understand the law when it comes to photography. For the most part, if it’s in public view, I can shoot it.

If someone is worried about someone taking a photo, then just ask if he’s a student or pro photog. Acting paranoid makes one look suspicious. If I was a cop dressed mufti, I would wonder what the person was trying to hide.

Maybe I look suspicious taking photographs of reflections. But I’m open about what I’m doing. Nothing to hide. (I’ve got the images to prove it.) Now if a photographer is sneaking around, hiding behind some shrubbery, furtively shooting, then I would wonder what he was doing. But standing in the middle of a sidewalk in plain view – sorry, I don’t get it.

I can understand issues of privacy. But photographing the exterior of a vehicle parked in a public area shouldn’t fall under that category. Also, why worry about me with all of the omnipresent security cameras from the street to the bank to the supermarket? You’re being surveilled, like it or not.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been challenged about my photography.

One time I noticed the way the sunlight was side-lighting a gnarled tree across the street so I snapped a few and walked away. Later a pickup truck parked near me and its driver asked me why I was photographing his house. Using my camera’s LCD screen I showed him I was only taking images of the tree near his house, not his home.

Here is a shot of that person’s home (the yellow house):

No, I didn’t take this shot. It’s courtesy of Google Street View. I wonder if the home owner will go after Google for passing by in a van and photographing his house, complete with its address, for all the world to see on its website.

So far images of MLD and other Miller Street buildings aren’t available through Google Street View, just a satellite shot. But give it time.

If you’re worried about privacy, live deep underground in the middle of nowhere. And drive an invisible car.

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