So the 28th October 2010 was quite a day, definitely one to remember and to go down on the blog. So here goes. Our day at Parliament came about thanks to the NUJ and the fine people in the freelance office. Didi-Sue and I jumped at the chance to attend a Conference entitled “Who’s afraid of photographers?”. This was hosted by Don Foster MP, http://www.bathlibdems.org.uk/ also speaking through the day were, Anna Mazzola, Solicitor from Hickman & Rose Prof Chris Frost, Liverpool John Moores University. Chez Cotton, head of Police Misconduct Dept, Bindmans LLP, David Hoffman, a social issues photographer and Jess Hurd, chair of NUJ’s London Photographers branch. Other speakers made contributions too. After a short welcome and introduction from Don Foster MP in which he stated his support for the fact that Section 44 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2009/jan/19/terrorism-act ) had been recently suspended and was under review. He also expressed his continued support for the repeal of this section. He was followed by Prof Chris Frost who spoke in-depth about law and the roles of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) and OFCOM ( http://www.ofcom.org.uk/ ) and how their regulations can have an impact on photographers. He was followed by Anna Mazzola who again spoke in great depth outlining how the laws and regulations around privacy and public places had already impacted on working photographers. One of the common misconceptions is that whilst it is NOT illegal to take pictures of children in public places and the misconception that consent MUST be acquired prior to taking any pictures, this is not always the case but it IS ADVISED! More legal misconceptions were also brought to the fore such as The Human Rights Act 1998 only binds public bodies, and NOT individuals, so there still is no general right to protection from invasion of privacy by other individuals in society in public places. Everything we discussed was based around the idea of photography taking place in generally recognised public places eg, the street. The learning process was many and varied amongst those listening, from my relative inexperience of the legal matters to the ‘old hands’ who had been through many a court case and arrest etc. This was evident from the tales of experiences shared by many and the silence of others. The big highlight for me from the entire day was the moving presentation given by David Hoffman hoffmanphotos.com talking about and showing pictures he had taken over the last 30 years of public demonstration and the police response to both him and the demonstrators. Now the only caveat I would put on my emotions and response to Davids presentation is that we only see the tiny fraction of a second of the shutter firing. The interpretation of that moment is partly in the eye of the beholder and that of the presenter and its fair to say that these didn’t show the police in a good light. Who is to blame for that? The police? the photographer? the audience? I think all three have a part to play. For my part I was deeply moved by the speaker and his images. During the 1990’s I was a police officer, in sheffield England and attended as part of my duty several public order incidents. Seeing the images David had taken of similar incidents showed me a different side of things (obvious statement!) and challenged my perspective. Which I think maybe was the intension. Now I’m not going to say that it made me ashamed I know that I didn’t do anything extreme or beyond and above the current norms of what is expected of a police officer doing his or her job with in the law. But it did show me that I had maybe had a blinkered view of how the public and other professionals saw the british bobby. With all this in mind I felt that I had to speak up. So with some conviction I said explained about my past and that David had completely changed my outlook on things, this ended the session. The response was, to say the least, outstanding. The faces looking at me were both startled and impressed and the people who came and spoke to me after the session was concluded, wanted to know more and it looks like I am on for some interviews in the future.
All in all a fantastic day and more details of what happened through the day are best read on twitter under the hash tag #afraidofphotos. Maybe a follow of me on twitter would be good too, @alantshearer