Saturday, November 27, 2010

Land of the Fearful - Home of the Suspicious

I was out doing errands in the late afternoon of a beautiful fall day. As I left the water company building after paying my bill I noticed how the trees appeared to be cradling the water tower and how the slowly setting sun created shadows and shine and how that all made the tower contrast beautifully with the sky.

Before I left the parking lot I took a few shots of the tower ...

About a half hour after I got home there was an insistent loud knocking at my side door. I opened the door and was greeted by two police officers.

"This your car?" asked one. I said it was. The other officer asked if I had been at the water company that day. I said I had.

"You were taking pictures?" she asked/accused/declared. At this point my face must have betrayed how relieved yet confused I was. When you open your door to find the police standing there you assume something terrible has happened to someone you love. When they asked about my car I struggled for a moment to remember for sure that I hadn't accidentally killed someone while backing out of a parking spot.

I invited them in and finally was able to say that yes, I had taken some photos of the water tower.


If you're a photographer and someone asks you why you took a shot of something a long explanation of light and color and composition and feeling springs to mind, much as I said in the opening paragraph. Yet if the person asking why is a police officer with a scowl and a hand on his gun belted hip all thought of sharing your creative spirit leaves you mute.

I simply said - "I take photos of lots of things." It sounded ridiculous even to me.

I asked if they wanted to see the photos and they said they did. I left them in the kitchen to go into my hallway to get the camera. This caused me to slam the door in their faces so that the cats didn't get loose. It took all of 5 seconds to grab the camera but I couldn't help but imagine that they were thinking that I had slammed the door in order to get my weapon.

I stomped my foot to make the cats scamper away and opened the door to the kitchen - my dangerous camera in hand. "Sorry about slamming the door in your face, didn't want the cats to get out." The officer who had looked like it was absurd to just take photos of things now smiled and said he had seen them.

I turned the camera on and handed it over. I couldn't find the review button without my glasses but they figured it out right off. One of them scanned through the photos, all the while nodding her head. I mentioned that I had a photo blog and posted my photos online to share with other photographers. I also said that I was hoping to sell a few at the upcoming crafts fair.

As she handed the camera back to me she explained that people taking photos of a water tower were considered "suspicious" and a "possible threat." I said that I had seen two water company employees drive out of the gated section of the lot as I was taking the photos. "Oh they're trained not to engage" she says. I replied that what I meant was that I had made no attempt to hide what I was doing. In my mind I was thinking - "not to engage" !!!! - give me a freaking break. I was standing there leaning on a cane, in all my overweight middle-aged glory, pointing my camera toward the sky.

Suddenly I was really sick of the whole scene. I scooted between them and went to hold open the screen door. "So we're done?" I asked/accused/declared. They said we were and thanked me. As I leaned out the door to watch them leave I saw their two patrol cars splayed across the street - why is it that they never park? - and I saw several of my neighbors out pretending to check their mailbox or rake some leaves. One neighbor came over and said he had assumed I was sick or hurt and asked if I was OK. Funny how he assumed I was sick or hurt but didn't come over while the police officers were there. I said I was fine and shut the door.

My gift to my neighbors - letting them wonder what I did.

In a wonderful yet sad twist of irony, while the water company employee was calling the police and while the police were running my plate to find my home I was at my last errand - showing ID and signing a document swearing that I needed my Advil for my sinuses and not to manufacture meth. In fact the pharmacist and I were laughing that while I was signing for one pack of 32 gel caps an entire shipment of the chemicals needed to run a really good meth lab were going through the port of Newark without inspection.

So there you have it - the nation is safe from avid photographers and people with stuffy heads. Our border to the south is walled and armed guarded from men with green thumbs willing to landscape the lawns of the very same people who will shoot at them through night vision goggles. Our airports are safe from women in underwire bras and men whose trouser packages hang to low or wide - or too far left.

The officers who visited me were professional and polite. In fact they were so young, and ridiculously attractive.

The Ken and Barbie of law enforcement.

Since this white middle-aged woman with a cane and a registered car was profiled I will assume that if the door had been opened by a person with darker skin or different clothing or an accent that sounded more Baghdad than Brooklyn they too would have been afforded the same cordial treatment.


One neighbor who does know the truth and nothing but the truth suggests I stop taking photos all over town. My response - "Fuck that! It is the land of the free and the home of the brave."



Sylvia K said...

You dangerous woman, you!! Threat to the country with your cane and camera! It does get sillier and sillier, doesn't it?? Try not to get into any more trouble over the weekend!! And have a great one anyway! Hugs to Hope!


ellen abbott said...

Used to be anyway. I'd say the terrorists succeeded in destroying our way of life.

Jay Simser said...

Paranoid Government. They must justify what we ourselves caused. I read somewhere (on one of my liberal blogs) who the Germans told us this would happen if we invaded Iraq. What a mess we have made of things. Take more pictures

Reminds me of Egypt in 1976. We weren't allowed to take pictures of bridges although we could buy postcards with pictures of birdges on them.. go figure.

Linda said...

This is a wonderful post. I'll be referring to it later today in my post. Thanks.

Happy Elf Mom said...

My water tower does not look... girdled like that. Nothing but a six-foot chain link fence to keep you out. You can take pictures here any time.

I have to wonder if there were a certain secret/sexy "part" on the water tower they were scanning for in your pics, and if you had a photo of it, if we would have ever heard from you again.

I will be by to pick up my meth later this afternoon. I want the GRAPE kind of cough medicine, not the cherry like last time. :)

Arlene said...

"It is the land of the free and the home of the brave."

Well, yes and these days you have to be fairly brave to act like you are free.

Life in the U.S. just gets more and more insane!

DJan said...

Just this morning I read about this kid who tried to blow up a van in Portland. I wonder whether we will ever know the country I grew up in, ever again...

Linda Reeder said...

Wow. What an experience! I take a lots of photos, too, and haven't ever though about my potential as a terriorist.
And yet danger is real. A bomb plot was thwarted in Portland yesterday. As ellen said, the terrorists have had success in creating fear. I just wish our own political operatives weren't exploiting it.

Lisa (Mountain Photog) said...

I laughed out loud at your post, Dianne, all the while feeling pissed as hell. Pissed and amused at the same time. . . Congratulations! That's not an easy thing to evoke. LOL!

The officers at your door had no legal right to check out your camera. You were photographing in a public place. At least I'm assuming the water company is a municipal utility and not a military installation. Though perhaps they know something you don't. ;)

New digital camera? Know how, where you can use it

Misinformation about your photography rights continues to spread

The Photographer's Right

I looked this up after Nicole was stopped from photographing some office buildings in Denver (The World Trade Center) for a photography class. If I had known then that she had every right to photograph the buildings I would have told her to keep right on shooting. But instead we just moved along and she chose other buildings.

I understand the need for security, but if you're going to be made to feel that you're doing something illegal, then you should be doing something illegal.

Dianne said...

sylvia - I will do my best to stay out of jail :)

ellen - the terrorists did indeed establish the climate but we're doing all the rest to ourselves. NY Senator Chuck Schumer continues to lobby for better inspection of packahes coming into the ports of NY and NJ and get nothing but resistance yet we're stopping photograhers and groping people at the airport.

jay s - I will continue to take pictures until they rip the camera from my cold dead hands ;)
love ya

linda - thank you!

happy elf - you kill me !! priceless
maybe Ken and Barbie have been spending time up there
I will have the grape ready with a shot of lemon at no extra cost

arlene - insane it is and I will keep on responding to the insanity the only way I know how - with questions and defiance

DJan - I have heard 3 different versions of the Portland van story so far - I wish the media would know what they're reporting before they start reporting it

linda r - I will never forget what Cheney was quoted as saying and the quote was verified by several people - "9/11 is the best thing that ever happened for the Republican party"

Dianne said...

lisa - I love that you always do your homework!! I think I'll start carrying my rights as a photog around with me
I'm sorry about what happened to Nicole
Now we can't even let out kids do a class assignment?

SouthernSass said...

UNBELIEVABLE! Don't you also just love nosey neighbors? Thanks for posting our rights - I will print it out as well.

Ron said...


I'm sitting reading this; going, WTF?????

I'm totally speechless!

I was first going to ask you if these cops even had the right to check out your camera. And then when I read Lisa's comment, I realized they didn't.

"My response - "Fuck that! It is the land of the free and the home of the brave."


You GO, girl!

Btw, I LOVE the photos!

X ya!

Linda said...

Seriously? Water towers are targets for terrorists? I honestly would have never thought about that as they're water towers, right? They aren't flammable and I doubt there's enough water in them to cause the next biggest flood since Noah. I mean, sure, it would be darned inconvenient but a target for terrorists? I must be behind on the times. Way behind.

The only thing that I've ever been told to watch out for when taking pictures is Amtrak and not being on their property while taking pictures of their trains. Of course, I didn't know this until AFTER I had spent a good part of an afternoon taking pictures at the Amtrak Station down in New London! Not that I was bothered by anyone there, a friend of mine who is an avid railfan sent me the email laying out Amtrak's policies for photographers after I had showed him some of the pictures I had including several of the very friendly conductors I chatted with!

I guess I've always thought that if it was in public view then it was available for public photography. Guess not, huh?

By the by, I think that you should be flattered that the water company employees thought that you were up to no good - that means you don't look nearly as old and infirm as you think you do!

Jan said...

Great post. I was questioned once when taking photos at the Farmers Market. I stopped patronizing them.

MaggieGem said...

I have to agree with the statement above... you have to be BRAVE to live FREE anymore! We've become the land of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) look at the airport scanning/pat-down treatment. We have become the country that we feared!

Great photos by the way!

Lynilu said...

I came here via Linda at A Slower Pace, and I'm cracking up and shaking in my boots at the same time over this post! I'm a camera fanatic, taking all kinds of shots, anything that catches my eye, living or not. I'm amazed I haven't been tracked down, too!

Well, keep it up. I think it's still a free country, even though it seems we lose more of that all the time.

Au and Target said...

You may live in the land of the free and the brave while I live in an Asian Democracy that is regularly featured on the top 10 enemies of the free press but I can take pics of anything I like no questions asked. Now how's that for weird???

Dianne said...

southern sass - the fake concern was so obvious it was comical :)

ron - I offered them the camera so they didn't violate my rights, I offered because it seemed like the easiest way to show them that the photos were artsy fartsy and not diagrams for poisoning water towers
what a world!!

linda - apparently they fear water poisoning, as if the water in NJ isn't toxic anyway
read the links Lisa left in her comment, I don't think Amtrak can regulate photo taking although it's probably not worth fighting over, there are just so many battles
perhaps I have a career as an undercover Jhadist

jan - my local garden center always smiles when I come to take pics, they're nice that way
thanks for the visit :)

maggie - exaxtly!! we have done just what we said we wouldn't and that is stopping the way we go about our day

lynilu - I'm always happy when people laugh at my stuff - some folks don't get me ;)
check out the links Lisa left in her comment about our rights to take photos and keep on shooting :)

au/target - weird and ironic and a bit sad
then again we supposedly have a free press but most of them are owned by large corporation and they ouright lie all the time

Rambling Woods said...

Not surprised as living near the border on the Niagara River and Lake Erie we have been warned that taking photos of things like river Power Intakes on the river is not a good idea...I will go check on the rights of the photographer..I am so sorry that this happened...what a world...

ds said...

The mind boggles...nice shots, though!

Mike said...

Blogger strikes again with disappearing comments (mine). Unless....... it's THEM!

Scott Oglesby said...

You had me at the title… love that title. At least they didn’t bring you in for questioning, extraordinary rendition yo ass then waterboard you until you made up stories involving the Jack of hearts and poisoning the water supply of greater NJ.

Tabor said...

I am so on your side on this. PHotography is a wonderful break for me and I will continue to do it until someone proves I am breaking the law and then I will start a campaign to change that law! If someone was a terrorist WOULD NOT KNOW. Great photos can be taken with hidden cameras. Why do our technology bereft security people not know that?

Tracy said...

Wow, you sound really dangerous...I don't know if I should follow your blog or not. I wouldn't want to be guilty by association :) Linda referred me from her blog and I think I'll stay, thank you very much!
Despite the incident, I love your photos...who knew a camera could be such a dangerous weapon!

Micky-T said...

Thanks DICK!

Dianne said...

rambling - Lisa left good links in her comment and I posted them over on the photo blog too
basically if it's visible to the public you can take photos of it, it's that simple
in a funny way I'm not sorry this happened, it gave me reason to know my rights and made me more intent to not give in to stupid fears

ds - my mind boggles on a daily basis :)

mike - I'm sure it's THEM

scott - I like the title too if I do say so myself
thanks :)

tabor - 'technology bereft' is one of my new favorite terms, thanks!!

tracy - I'm dnagerous but fair - and oh so adorable according to my granddaughter - hehehehehe
thanks for visiting

micky - exactly!! his evil grip reaches far and wide

Cezar and Léia said...

Oh gosh, this is paranoid!
In our tourist trip to USA in 2006,in NY, more than one time people offered to take our pictures in front of buildings or streets.
It would be very sad if people start refraining from kindness because of feeling threatened by everything.

Thanks for sharing your story.
( purrs from little LUNA - WE LOVE LUNA )

Jackie said...

Oh give me strength, this is happening over here too (there are frequent flickr threads on this very topic). The world's gone mad.

Akelamalu said...

How bloody ridiculous! :#

Anonymous said...

Amazing story! I came to you via Linda of A Slower Pace. I guess you never know what kooks lurk about! I'm glad you let your nibby neighbors ...debbie

Hilary said...

I very often hesitate to take some photos out in public for fear I'm invading someone's privacy. It would never have occurred to me to resist taking a photo of a water tower for fear of being perceived as invading someone's security.

I would hope that no matter your ethnicity, the police would have treated you the same once the matter evolved to prove benign. I really would like to think so...

Grayquill said...

You tell a great story! Please, please, please when you drive to take pictures around your airport be sure to drive your neighbors car, yours, I am pretty sure is marked and now on an FBI no fly list or would that be a no drive list. I feel bad for you because you will now be stopped at random times for random reasons, your grocery purchases will be viewed by some low level TSA, FBI, CIA, ERA, NOW, NRA, BGCOA, NSA, EBAY, NEA, and lastly FOX operatives. If I were you when I went out I would be looking over my shoulder. NOT THAT SHOULDER, THE OTHER SHOULDER! In fact you might consider putting yourself under voluntary house arrest just to be safe.
Good Luck! I can’t help - they are watching me.

Jay said...

I doubt the terrorists know who big they won this war.

KathyA said...

As a woman who travels frequently and wears an underwire, I've been frisked so many times, I've come to like it.
You think they would have complimented you on your work, at least!!

Dianne said...

Leia - NYers are a sturdy bunch, it's one of things I love most about living here all my life
even after 9/11 we went about our days
I wish the media would calm the F down

jackie - give me some strength as well ;)

akelamalu - yep! that covers it

happy days - and I will continue to let them wonder LOL
thanks for the visit

hilary - I do the same
I remember one time there was an amazing group of birds and I really wanted to get some shots but there were all these children playing in my field of vision so I just let it be
in this case the only things around was the sky and the tower

grayquill - I can't stop laughing!! not that shoulder, the other shoulder killed me!!!!
I adore you
Hope sends hugs and wants to know if you'll drive her to see me in the big house

jay - somehow I think they do know, and they're laughing

kathyA - that made me laugh, thanks

Lily Hydrangea said...

That was some experience! I've had people question me or tell me not to photograph something (most of whom I ignore) but never the police.
That's a little intimidating. I'm glad you stood your ground.
Thanks for sharing this Dianne.

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

I'm speechless! I wonder if "they" are monitoring your blog for dangerous content now -- have you noticed your numbers going up ;>)...

So much to think about here! (sadly)

Matt-Man said...

Ha. That's fucking hilarious. I am assuming you be taking even MORE pictures now. Cheers Di!!

troutbirder said...

Sad but what a hoot!

ellen abbott said...

I agree with you completely. We are doing it to ourselves. gotta admire that. trick your enemy into doing your dirty work for them.

quilly said...

I am very much afraid this isn't the home of the free and we are all going to have to learn to be very, very brave.

Lynilu said...

Thanks, Dianne, for the notation about Lisa's comment, and thank you, Lisa for the links! Yay!

faith said...

Good night! What a tale. Love what Quilly said.

HermanTurnip said...

I've been hassled as well while taking pictures in public. There have been a few times I've had to physically protect myself from overzealous, crazed individuals (and one security guard on a downtown sidewalk!). When approached by people claiming that I'm now allowed to take photos of a tree/statue/building etc... I hand them this:

It's impossible to argue against the photographer when the law's on your side.

Judy Sheldon-Walker said...

The photos ARE stunning. I have many people look at me oddly, but no police have hunted me down - YET! If they did my husband would probably retire my camera and I would go berserk. :-)

Daryl said...

I wish I had been there .. no wait better that I wasnt or I am sure they'd have locked me up

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

The whole thing is incredibly shocking! What a waste of time and energy and the Tax Payers Money---they should be out catching Thieves and Murderer's....!
Like you, I take pictures of everything..and I would hope that we, and millions of others like us, could continue to do that without harrassment or suspician. What a world we live in now....!

Vinny "Bond" Marini said...

We live in a different world now, don't we?

Trisha said...

Who would have thought? So glad everything is cleared up and you aren't being held under the Patriot Act!

Let the neighbors wonder . . . it is good for them!

Linda said...

After reading through Lisa's links again, I've got to wonder about Amtrak as technically I think they can prohibit the photography if you're actually doing it while on their property as long as they've made that their policies be known. At least I think that's the way I'm reading the information.

I had forgotten about this before but there was a time when Amanda and I went over to a cemetery in Providence so she could find the grave of H.P. Lovecraft, one of her favorite authors, and I was told by a security officer that photography was prohibited when he saw me taking pictures. Turns out that it's listed on the sign in the front of the cemetery right under "no videography". I found the whole thing rather odd as it's not like the people buried there are going to complain that you took a picture of their headstone but I can see where one would want to prohibit pictures of services and burials that were going on.

I think, in reading through the rest of the links, that the Swan Point Cemetery Association is within their rights to prohibit photography as I guess even though the public has access, it's a private cemetery ... or at least I think it is. That's where the whole "Photographer's Rights" gets very confusing as apparently it's okay unless you've been told it isn't okay?

Either way, someone once told me to make sure I kept a copy of Amtrak's policies regarding photography with me in case I was questioned and I think I'm going to burn off a copy of the photographer's rights, too, and keep that along with Amtrak's in my camera bag "just in case".

Barring that ... I'll come down and bail you out if you'll promise to come and bail me out, too! And if you need a character witness at your trial, I'll be happy to tell them that you are, indeed, quite the character!

Anonymous said...

I just added your feed to my favorites. I really enjoy reading your posts.

fermicat said...


For the record, I love your subversive photos. And all the other ones, too. ;-)

Volly said...

The pictures are lovely and you are right about the trees appearing to cradle the tower. Wonder what all those little satellite-receptor-looking things are all over the tower? Or are they (o please say yes) solar panels?


Anonymous said...

Che un bel post. Adoro leggere questi tipi o articoli. Posso? T aspettare di vedere ciò che altri hanno da dire.

Mare said...

I am amazed that this escalated into what it did. On the other hand, if someone was taking pictures to cause death /destruction...we would be glad that people were paying attention. What a world we live in now. It's sad.