Friday, August 25, 2006

Light Painting

Another technique I’m learning. Of course, to make this work, you need dark conditions, i.e., nighttime. So far no overzealous police officer has asked me why I’m pointing a flashlight down on the ground, waving it around. Hey, as long as I’m not waving it at someone’s window or into traffic, I’m not bothering anyone. Then again, maybe I’ll get a ticket for disturbing the bugs and night crawlers.

Letter To The Editor - Re: Police & Photography

Here's a copy of a letter I recently emailed to a couple of local newspapers. Of course, some viewers of this blog are probably tired of this topic. Then again, I'm tired of being hassled by some protectors of the public. While the majority of officers are OK, it only takes an extreme few to provoke an "extreme" response from me.

= = =

Dear Editor:

It’s a Jekyll or Hyde situation. Usually the officers of the Plattsburgh Police Department are helpful and respectful. One time I had a problem with an unleashed dog that almost bit me. The officer looked into the incident and spoke with the owner. He was professional, promptly taking care of the matter.

But on other occasions I’ve encountered officers who treat me like a criminal suspect just because I’m taking photographs during the nighttime. One officer pulled up next to me in his patrol car to confront me. “It’s unusual for someone to be photographing a gas station 12:30 in the morning,” he commented sternly.

Really. Well, I like to take images of buildings and stores at night. Night scenes can be very interesting, especially with the intense colors of illuminated signs and neon lights. More recently I was shooting a scene with a parked ambulance, staying out of the way on a public sidewalk, in no way interfering with the police or the EMT crew. I wasn’t using a flash. But an officer walked up, blocked my view, and told me to move on, even though he admitted there was no law stopping me from taking any photographs.

I have been hassled for taking photographs on four different occasions. I am in within my rights to pursue my hobby –- especially when I’m taking a picture of an American flag. I have contacted city officials about this matter and have only received deafening silence in response.

I am not lurking in the shadows when taking photographs. I’m in plain sight. It’s obvious what I’m doing. Or do some police officers think that when I’m standing there with a camera atop a tripod, that I’m getting ready to launch a cruise missile at the White House?


Luke T. Bush

Plattsburgh, NY

An Evening Constitutional

A late summer evening, not too hot, not too cool, pleasant. Taking a walk, enjoying a bit of exercise. An impressive sunset. But then I remember to keep checking the ground; eyes can’t be entranced by the sky.

Nothing adds to a relaxing constitutional than almost stepping into a soiled diaper left on the sidewalk. This boggy bag was left on the sidewalk running along the so-called “scab” parking lot on Court Street.

The mayor came up with the “scab” appellation. This was in regards to a controversial building project that he was trying to revive. Instead of spending money on another potential white elephant, maybe the city should maintain what it has. You know, put more effort into a cleaner downtown.

(Gee, am I repeating myself? Then again, the garbage problem keeps repeating itself.)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

[Headline Suppressed Due To Security Concerns]

“I run a very open department,” declared Plattsburgh Police Chief X during an interview that may or may not have occurred, depending upon final approval by the Office of The Official Censor.

“I don’t agree with the viewpoint,” he continued, “that we are a secretive police operation.”

Chief X was asked if that was true, then why are some transmissions heard on a police scanner mention a mysterious “Channel 5” where the public can’t listen in, or that officers are told to go to a “landline,” i.e., use the phone, another way to keep the public from listening in?

“Well,” replied Chief X, “we at least leave a few of our transmissions open. Anyway, why do you own a police scanner?”

Changing the subject, this blogger asked the chief if there was any conflict of interest due to the fact that he’s married to a news anchorwoman at the TV station.

“Mrs. X,” he stated, “has no conflict with me. Anyway, there’s the newspaper.”

But the newspaper, this blogger noted, at times runs incomplete news items about car accidents and other such events because the PD would say details about the incident were not available. The word on the street was the paper was intimidated by the police department, unwilling to challenge the department’s efforts to hold back information from the public. In fact, the paper was the PD’s “bitch.”

“I will never confirm or deny,” stated Chief X, “any so-called ‘bitch’ relationship with any local publication that is supposed to keep the public informed on the activities of municipal entities that operate by extorting tax dollars from its citizens and then wasting said dollars.”

On another subject, Chief X was asked why the Plattsburgh Police Department doesn’t like citizens taking photos, especially during a fire or ambulance call. This suggested that the PD was trying to hide something from the public.

Police Chief X sat silent for a moment as he polished his nightstick.

“You own a camera?” he asked, the interview coming to a sudden end.

Parking Lot Traumatized By Mayor’s Cruel Comments

“I’m not an eyesore,” sobbed Lottie, the parking lot that resides on the corner of Margaret and Court streets in downtown Plattsburgh, NY. “The mayor had no reason to say those things about me.”

Recently Mayor Jack Stewart was trying to resurrect a building project that had already been rejected. In justifying the need for the project, he stated the site under consideration was “an eyesore, a scab.”

“I’m not scabby!” declared the parking lot. “My pavement isn’t made with dried, coagulated blood.”

Wiping aside a tear, Lottie continued, “I provide a much needed function for downtown. If I don’t look pretty, it’s because someone hasn’t been paying attention to my needs. And that’s not my ass fault.”

Rumors are aswirling about possible legal action against the city. In regards to such questions, Lottie defers to her lawyer, Mac Macadam.

“I will say,” she added before the interview was over, “that I will not allow Mayor Stewart to tarmac and feather me with such words. I’ll show him my true stripes! I’ll teach him where to park it!”

Thursday, August 17, 2006

It’s Only Black & White

“Hey, you! What are you doing there? Taking photographs of a rainbow? Now why would you want to take a photograph of that? What’s in the bag? Camera equipment? Show me. What do you mean you have rights? Hey, I’m protecting America, our democracy, our freedom. Don’t tell me about your rights. You fit the profile, you guys with cameras. Show me what’s in the bag, now.

“I know what you’re up to. You’re planning to blow up a rainbow!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Saturday, August 12, 2006

No Word & Strong Words

No word yet from any officials in regards to the Plattsburgh city police confronting me about taking photographs (see previous post, Land Of The Free.)

A councilor I had contacted via email said he would talk to the police chief at the Thursday evening common council meeting. I had emailed the mayor and the mayor’s assistant about the matter and asked the councilor to have that email included under “Correspondence” during the minutes. He said he would do that.

I was unaware that letters or email could be included in a common council meeting. I came across that fact while reading the minutes of previous meeting posted online at the city’s website. (God Bless The Web!)

I did consider attending the council meeting in person, but decided against it for a couple of reasons. One reason was that I was still looking into my legal rights and options. The other one is that being hassled by the police for engaging in a legal, non-interfering hobby like photography – basically, being treated like a criminal suspect – pisses me off. I was afraid I would let some of that anger out while explaining my position to the council and the mayor.

Each week a local AM radio station, WIRY, carries audio excerpts from the common council meeting with a summary of what business had been conducted. I listened to the WIRY local news but didn’t hear any mention of the issue I had raised.

Maybe my email was brought up during the meeting but I won’t be surprised if it was never discussed. You see, during the meeting a local developer, John Seiden, addressed the council and the mayor, challenging their decisions in regards to developing downtown. Some of his comments were broadcast by WIRY News. And from what I heard, what happened might have thrown the meeting off its scheduled agenda.

Seiden was upset with the Durkee Street project, an office–parking garage complex planned for the main city parking lot. He was concerned the city wasn’t making the best use of its assets; he said it was “just throwing crap on the wall to see what would stick.” He explained he didn’t want to see another white elephant, but wanted the land to be used for proper development.

In his comments Seiden said that there was once a downtown commission and that another one should be created; there were business people downtown who had good heads on their shoulders.

The anger in Seiden’s tone was obvious while listening to the audio excerpts, his comments becoming more heated as he went on. Seiden questioned one of the proposals considered in the past by the city to build low-income housing on another city parking. He added: “What are you on – drugs?”

At this point Mayor John Stewart interrupted Seiden, telling him to hold his comments. There was a moment of tension as the mayor took a strong stand against Seiden’s vociferous opinions. Seiden backed down, apologizing for his extreme statements.

But that’s how certain actions by the city can affect someone: you’re quickly transformed into a ranting citizen, lashing out at what you perceive to be as stupidity. And in the process it’s so easy to go too far, stepping over the bounds of rational discourse.

Then again, it’s easy for certain police officers to also go too far.

How about some balance?

Friday, August 11, 2006


When I was a kid, grade school age, my devout Catholic parents forced me to attend catechism classes during the summer. Apparently the nuns had no space inside their house that could be used as a classroom. So they would convert the small one-car garage on their property into a temporary indoctrination center, setting up folding chairs in nice straight rows. The garage had a rough interior finish, only cardboard sheets covering the rear wall.

Each weekday we had to sit there and let a nun wield fear and guilt on our young minds to form us into perfect children of God. The nun would go into great detail about hell.

“Did you ever touch a hot stove,” she said, “and get your finger burned? Remember how much that hurt? Well, hell hurts more than that and it lasts forever.”

She also explained that the next world war would be fought with atomic bombs. One bomb would explode, opening up a doorway into hell, and we would all fall inside the fiery pit. Then she added we should make sure to tell the priest all our sins when he heard confession later that day. From her lecture I made the connection: even if there was just one unrepentant sin left on my soul, down the atomic hellhole I would go, straight into the sea of eternal flame.

At some point I was fed up with the fear-guilt crap. One time when no one was around, I took my catechism booklet, almost ripped it in half, and tossed the damaged propaganda into a gaping hole in the garage’s back wall.

Somehow – I don’t remember how – I was able to stay away from catechism classes for a few days. Maybe I pretended to be sick. Whatever. But my parents forced me to return.

On the day I reappeared, I took my seat. The nun came over, holding my ripped booklet, and handed it to me. How did she find it? Supernatural power? I doubt it. She probably happened to see me dump it in the hole.

When the nun imperiously returned the desecrated booklet, I noticed the other kids sitting near me shrink away. Why were they afraid? Maybe it was the prospect of sudden death: a divine bolt striking me down, also killing anyone too close to the blast. Or maybe it was a prolonged, agonizing death: my flesh would start rotting away, no hope of a cure, contagion permeating the air.

But I didn’t shrink back from the nun. It was one of those defining moments: I wasn’t like everyone else. (Thank God.)

I reason why I recall this incident is how a couple of different people seemed to shrink away from me yesterday. On two occasions I explained to someone I knew that the city police had harassed me for taking photographs and how my complaint was supposed to be on the agenda this evening during the common council meeting. I told each person that my rights were being violated, that I wasn’t going to allow the authorities to stop me from enjoying a legal hobby.

Each listener started to shy away, then leave. Maybe they were afraid of being struck and stricken by leprous lightning.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Variation On A Theme

When they came for the writers, I said nothing.

When they came for the photographers, I said nothing.

And when they came for me, for some reason there was no record of it.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Land Of The Free (Just Don’t Take Photos)

Saturday night. August 5, 2006. Approximately 10 PM. I’m hanging around a downtown coffeehouse when I noticed some activity across the street in the parking lot. So I walk over, just wondering what is going on. I stand on the sidewalk, out of the way, while the EMTs and city police do their jobs.

I had my small digital camera with me. I decided to take a few shots. I didn’t use flash (it was too weak to be useful from where I was standing.)

Suddenly an officer of the Plattsburgh Police Department came over and asked to see my photographs on my camera’s LCD screen. I changed the subject, replying that I didn’t know there was a law preventing me from taking any pictures. The officer replied that there wasn’t any law, but someone had been injured and that person wouldn’t want a photograph taken. Blocking my view of the injured person being loaded into the ambulance, he ordered me to move along.

So what’s the problem? Do a few crappy images undermine the investigation? If I had been working for the local newspaper, would I be treated the same way? Does a reporter have more rights than an average citizen?

This is the fourth time I’ve been hassled by the city police when taking photographs at night. On the other occasions I was just shooting scenery, one shot spotlighting an American flag.

What is the Plattsburgh PD afraid of? An amateur photographer with a small point-and-shoot digital camera is a threat?

Friday, August 04, 2006


Plattsy sez,

“Hey, was the circus in town last night? It looks like an elephant was on the loose Thursday evening (or should I say Turdsday evening?). Here I was, plodding down the sidewalk, on the way to the outdoor musical performance, and this stuff is blocking my path!

“Don’t forget: I’m running for mayor. My solution to this problem: if a dog owner leaves a mess from his pooch, then he gets his nose rubbed in it, just like a bad dog!

“Hey, I’m SICK of this crap all over town! Elect me and I won’t clown around about it, unlike all the previous pols who promise action and only bloviate hot air!

“Look at your leaders. Look at me. You have to admit: A CLOWN CAN DO BETTER!”

So Ends Another Hot One

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Chopping At A Problem

Problem: If I expose for the poster in the window, the neon sign will be overexposed. And if I set the exposure for the neon sign, then the poster is lost in the dark.

So I take a shot with the exposure biased towards the neon light. Then on my computer I use a program called Picasa to adjust lighten the poster, making it easier to see. But the fill light option still ends up burning out detail on the KARATE neon.

I save a copy of the file with the properly exposed poster and then using another program, an early version of Photoshop, I combine both copies to produce a new one that represents what I saw with my eye.

And since I was at it, I “cheated” a little, removing the distracting reflections caused by the streetlights. Hey, I think I’m allowed fix an imperfection. After all, the fix isn’t that easy; it still takes some work. If you don’t believe me, try learning on your own to use a digital darkroom program like Picasa or Photoshop.