Part of being professional is abiding by all the health and safety regulations and knowing what you can and cannot do. Most of it is simple common sense. I arrange access to a property, sign in, do the job and sign out. Sometimes I have to wear hi vis gear and sometimes I cannot photograph staff. I just do what I am allowed to do. However you do get the jobsworths who think they are more important than they actually are and have more power than they actually do.
A construction company commissioned me to photograph a new office block for their web site. The problem was that the owner of the building would not give permission for me to go on site. My client was keen to get any photos and I was told to get what I could from the main road which was less than ideal as it was fenced off and the main entrance was hidden from view. The job didn’t take long and I was considering where to go for a coffee when I noticed a short fat bloke almost running towards me. He was in a blazer with a tie that wrapped over his fat belly. He had an elaborate lanyard around his huge neck, was sporting a thick Gerald Davies type moustache and carried a walkie-talkie. I assumed he was the office manager and he obviously fancied himself. He was apoplectic with rage.
‘What the hell are you doing?’ He shouted as if he had just caught me red handed sleeping in his bed.
‘What does it look like?’ I didn’t want to be aggressive but I needed to stand my ground.
‘I want to know why you are taking photographs?’ He demanded.
‘I’m a photographer and it’s what I do’.
‘Whats your name? What are you doing here?’
‘None of your business’
‘Tell me why, NOW’ He made a big deal of emphasising ‘NOW’ slowly and clearly like a teacher would talk to a naughty schoolboy. He stepped forward and entered my personal space and I felt threatened. I knew that if he laid a finger on me it was technically assault but that’s not much consolation if I wake up in A&E. It was time to put him in his place.
‘Listen, I am on a public highway and I can photograph what I want, when I want – it’s the law. If you had asked me nicely I would have told you why I am here but I will not be interrogated. If you don’t stop harassing me I will call the Police and I will make sure you lose your job. Now fuck off!’
He didn’t reply. His eyes were popping out of his head and I half expected a punch. He couldn’t back down as he would lose face. We stood toe to toe – it was a Mexican stand off and with that ‘tache he looked the part. I briefly flirted with the idea of taking more shots just to annoy him. I blinked first.
‘Actually I’ve finished as I have all the photos I need so my job is done here. Next time have some bloody manners.’
I walked slowly over to my car. He watched me for a while then retreated back inside the security gates. He had been like a little dog running out of a garden gate, barking and chasing a car down the road. It was over as quickly as it started.
It’s bad enough behaving like a moron to your work colleagues on private property but you won’t get away with it on public land with someone going about their lawful business. I hate confrontation but I wont be spoken to like that. All he had to do was be polite and there wouldn’t have been an issue.
In stark contrast I was photographing a building near The Millennium Stadium – the sun was out, clear blue sky, it was warm and I was having a good day. I was lying on my back to get a dynamic angle when I saw a security guard tentatively walking towards me and he looked embarrassed.
‘Excuse me sir, my boss sent me down to ask what you are photographing?’
I couldn’t resist it. “Tell him to fuck off and mind his own business, the nosey bastard!’
The guard looked gutted but I laughed.
‘I’m only joking mate.’
He looked relieved. I got up and explained in detail what I was doing and we had a chinwag and a laugh before he thanked me and went off to report. I wasn’t obliged to tell him anything as I was on public land in the city centre. He was polite and seemed a good bloke but had been put in an impossible position by his boss so there was not a problem.
TOP TIP FOR STUDENTS: When photographing in a public place know your rights and don’t be afraid to stand your ground but don’t escalate things. Bare in mind that people are naturally inquisitive if they see a photographer so oblige their curiosity just as long as they are polite.