Friday, January 07, 2005

When Cameras are Banned.....

While Los Angeles actively cultivates the aesthetic experience of the city (see below), New York seems to be moving away from it. Soon, you will need a permit to snap a photo on the sub or bus in the Big Apple:

Graffiti-covered trains fill a Brooklyn subway yard, looking like row upon row of comic strips. A weary passenger closes his eyes, his hands folded as if in prayer. A young couple embraces in a subway car in front of an advertisement that reads, "Don't Give Your Heart to Just Anyone."

Photographs of these separate moments have been exhibited or published over the past year as part of a swelling of interest in the New York City transit system, which celebrated its centennial in October. But the books and exhibitions also coincide with a proposal by transit officials to ban photography, as well as film and video recording, on subways and buses without authorization.

The ban, which is intended to combat terrorism, will take effect as soon as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's board approves it.

Why? Terrorism suspects allegedly had photos of area subways and buses in their possession:

"Nobody is looking to violate anybody's civil rights or deny anybody's constitutional rights," Mr. Kelly said. "But when you check with law enforcement agencies, they have uncovered photographs of subway and rail systems from various terrorist organizations. And I don't believe they were going into somebody's scrapbook."

At this rate, why not license photographs of the White House? Or any outdoor photograph, for that matter. (Photobloggers beware, you might be next.) Followed to its logical extreme, the consequences sound eerily Orwellian, but then again, our president doesn't read the newspapers, let alone literature:

The ban's enforcement could produce unintended results.

Not long ago, Mr. Vergara recalled, he was photographing pigeons that had entered the Broadway Junction station in eastern Brooklyn, where five subway lines meet. "Somebody just put out the word - and this is one of the large stations that have police 24 hours," he said. "They went looking for me. They caught up with me."

Two policemen, Mr. Vergara said, asked him what he was doing. "I said, 'Well, taking pictures of pigeons here.' That didn't sound very believable."

While Mr. Vergara tried to convince the policemen that his photography was legitimate, another passenger began taking snapshots of the photographer being questioned. That annoyed the officers, in Mr. Vergara's account: "Right after they were done with me, they told me, 'We're going after him.' "

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