Here’s Looking at You, CCTV

In addition to all the great things happening in London these days, it’s getting hard to keep up with all the police nonsense; under the guise of terrorism, photographers are being repeatedly hassled and arrested by coppers, and the smart ones have been videotaping their encounters and quickly routing these episodes to the media.

There was a rash of articles in the newspapers last week while I was there, including this cover story in the Independent. The day after this story appeared, Scotland Yard’s Paul Yates said cops shouldn’t arrest photographers under the “everything and everyone with a camera is suspicious” (my air-quotes) clause of Section 44.


Paul Lewis, a reporter for the Guardian, has published a few stories on this, in addition to being his own test-case, the video of which is illuminating.

Yesterday, there was another video posted, this time by an Italian art student who was thrown to the ground back in November for photographing around Paddington Station.

It’s pretty clear how overreaching the cops are with Section 44, but the arrests seem to me to be less about targeting street photography than the overall erosion of privacy in contemporary London following significant terrorist attacks. Wouldn’t you expect that the most highly surveilled city in the world (4.2 million cameras in 2002) would be the first to crack-down on those who want to use their own lenses? Isn’t surveillance (via CCTV) another way of saying “we’ve got you covered, put your camera away”?


Like the Italian artist in the arrest video, there’s got to be a lot of creative potential in making art about CCTV itself, I imagine. How many pictures could a photographer make of CCTV cameras in London before getting arrested? Who’s willing to try? (The making of the pictures would be more interesting than the pictures themselves, I suspect.)

More up-to-date links on the photographer/terrorist issue in the “I’m A Photographer, Not A Terrorist!” group on Facebook.

2 thoughts on “Here’s Looking at You, CCTV”

  1. Interesting post Michael.

    Iranian New Wave film is a good example of how these kinds of top-down threats to creativity (in their case censorship) can not be game-enders but double-dog dares. So you get subtle, you tell your story differently, you tell the story in such a way that goes right over the heads of the bulwarks. Literalness of pictures of CCTV cameras might not be that, but rather pulling out acumen and poetry to show a city/country where media awareness and paranoia combine efforts in ways that trump the finger pointing/hearsay of the cold war.

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