Yesterday I spent about an hour sitting in a car on Aitken Street in Thorndon, Wellington, while waiting for someone who works in a building near the National Library. I knew I might have to wait a while so took my camera whose controls I’m still not sufficiently familiar with. I aimed to practice using the controls.
After catching up on email and Twitter I took out the camera and spent a while pointing it at various things, including a pohutukawa tree in front of a building across the street, a street sign, my keys in the car’s ignition, and buildings across the way. I fiddled with various controls, trying out depth of field, Aperture Priority mode, changing the ISO and exposure compensation, and discovering that whatever I did I couldn’t get the flash to work.
The flash thing was bizarre, and I thought perhaps the camera, a new Fujifilm X-M1, was broken. A visit to some forums for Fujifilm cameras though clarified that if you turn the camera to Silent Mode so it doesn’t beep every time you press a button then the flash won’t activate.
I turned Silent Mode off and sure enough, the flash came back to life.
That was reassuring. As for the controls: sometimes I just pointed the camera and at other times I took a photo or two, reviewed it and then deleted it. After all, these weren’t shots I was aiming to keep.
Then I received a text: the person I was waiting for was ready to leave and would be with me in a moment. At the same time I saw a police car come down the road, do a U turn and pull in a couple of spaces behind me. Then two officers emerged from the car and walked towards my car, one on the road and the other on the footpath.
A young bearded male officer spoke to me, saying they’d had a complaint I was taking photos of people. I clarified what I’d been doing, showing him the empty playback on the camera. He said he thought that was probably what I was doing, and they left again.
What hadn’t occurred to me until that moment was that Aitken Street in Thorndon is very close to the High Court, Defence headquarters, Parliament, and other potentially
sensitive buildings. I imagine there are surveillance cameras all over the place around there.
The brief encounter made me think. For one thing, I have no reason to fear the police. I’ve never had any bad encounters with them and in fact, when I owned a car that was a trouble magnet, they were very helpful. One morning they rang me at 06.30 to tell me my car had been broken into and they had a tracker dog on the job.
My experience is not typical though: many people have had bad experiences and would probably regard the approach of a police officer with concern or alarm. I know a few who would fall into that category.
I’m also aware of my privilege: as a middle-class, middle-aged white woman I was treated with respect, and a probable presumption of innocence of wrong-doing. I know for sure that if I’d been young and dark-skinned there would be a much higher chance of being regarded with suspicion and doubt.
I also thought about what it’s like to be a Kiwi. In New Zealand the police aren’t routinely armed with guns and nor are the general public. When I went to show the officer my camera I just turned around and fished out my bag from behind the seat.
knowledge of US police comes from TV cop shows. I’d say that’s a highly unreliable source. I imagined though, later, that my innocent action of turning round and reaching for an unknown item in the car may well have triggered a different response in the US. I was thinking about how relaxed and trusting we are in New Zealand.
As I planned to write this blog post I visited the Police website where I found this interesting item from the FAQ:
What are the rules around taking photos or filming in a public place?
It is generally lawful to take photographs of people in public places without their consent. However, you must not film or take photos of people if they are in a place where they can expect privacy … However, you can take and/or publish photos or film of people where there is no expectation of privacy, such as a beach, shopping mall, park or other public place.
Now, isn’t that interesting! The
complaint was that I was taking photos of people, which in fact I wasn’t doing. Given that it was on a public street though, those people wouldn’t have an expectation of privacy, and so there would be no reason to complain.