Friday, February 16, 2007


Suspicious Character

Last night [Thursday] I headed down to the 'Pool of London' to take a look at the 'Switched On London' festival. This is supposed to be a festival of lighting, and should in theory be a great opportunity for photography. As others have pointed out though, it's a bit underwhelming. I suspect the designers hadn't taken into account just how much other lighting is around in central London, and also the fact that theatrical haze is a bit scarce outside of theatres. Ho hum. As I'd dragged a tripod and full camera kit firstly into work and secondly down to Tower Hill during rush hour, I was going to take some photographs.

Firstly, I spotted the guerrilla lighting team at work. Part of the festival, they were lighting up a hoarding around Potters Fields, generally having a great time and taking pictures.
Someone obviously hadn't told security.
A man in a fluorescent vest turned up, faced the group of 50 lighting guerrillas, and half a dozen photographers:
"What are you doing here? You can't do this! You can't take pictures!"
Instantly, he found himself the subject of a dozen portraits. Time to try a different tack:
"Who is in charge here?" He bellowed at the torch-wielding horde
"Everybody!" someone gleefully shouted back
Defeated, Mr Fluorescent Vest slunk off to mutter into a walkie talkie.

Which would have been the end of it, had I not started to take some photos of my own shortly after.
Tripod up, large lens in place, I started happily snapping away across the river.
Another security guard approached me
"You can't take photos here," he informed me.
"What will you do to stop me?"
"You cannot take pictures"
"It's not allowed."
"What about those people over there?" [gesturing to tourists taking snaps with digital cameras, their flashes lighting up the riverbank]
"That's different."
"You have this camera, you need permit."
"What camera?"
"It's a professional camera. You're a professional."
"I'm not a professional."
"Yes you are."
"No, a professional photographer is someone who makes their living from photography. I've never profited from my photography. Therefore, I'm not a professional."
I must admit, I was enjoying myself now
"Sure? Not a professional?"
"With, with all this?"
"Yes. This is not a professional camera"
"Just a hobby?"

His argument defeated, he wandered off to do whatever it is that security guards do. I don't know what, but removing incontinent drunks shouting at City Hall ["You think you f***ing own the place! I've got the bullet wounds!"] doesn't appear to feature.
Now at this point, you're probably thinking, 'David, well done, you're a smart alec, you proved your point, and caused a man trying to do his job unnecessary hassle. Piss off.' But wait gentle reader, there's more.

I moved from the river bank to The Scoop, a concrete amphitheatre thing next to City Hall, and part of the More London development. Put the tripod down, started taking pictures again. This time, as well as the big lens, I fancied a portrait orientation and a flashgun for the foreground.
My friend had other ideas, and was back for a second go. He crept up behind me.

"You are sure you are not professional?"
"You can get permit from office..."
"But I'm not professional, I don't need one."
"You are not professional?"
"But you have that, thing, on the side there."
"I'm not a professional."
"You are student?"
"No, I'm not a student."
"You are not student? Not professional?"

Hmm, not student... not professional... taking pictures of City Hall at night with a tripod and a chunky camera. There was one logical conclusion.

"You are a secret agent!" I kid you not, those were his words
"Um, no?"
"You could be secret agent. If you are not student..."
"Look, if I was a secret agent, I wouldn't tell you, and I'd be a pretty crap secret agent. I'm fairly obvious."

We left it at that.

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on second thoughts, maybe I won't consider moving to London!

I picture the security guard looking like John Cleese for some reason...
"Just a hobby?"

I imagine the writer doing the jedi-mind-trick hand gesture while saying that.
I'm sure I had the same guy, and around the same time as you. Same routine, same tired, overused spiel. Like the Vogon guard from Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy who just repeats "resistance is futile".

I tried a bit of banter at first to inject some fun into proceedings, since logic wasn't working. I am a pro, and told him so, but pointed out, truthfully, that this was my day off and I actually did this for fun as well. Eventually it was a battle of patience, and armed as I was with wooly hat, thick gloves, a flask of coffee laced with brandy and a stubborn streak, he cracked first.

Funny thing is, the night guards at Hays Galleria (former dockers, so they told me) are right as rain and have no problems with you taking shots inside.

We should organise a photographers civil disobedience day.
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