Amelia’s Magazine | I’M A PHOTOGRAPHER … not a terrorist!

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Photographers are a funny lot… put a load of them in one place with no-one to photograph but themselves and they get thoroughly confused. Thus was the situation this morning when I rocked up to New Scotland Yard with about a hundred other photographers, to make a stand against the new Counter Terrorism Act which comes into force today.

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Sliding slyly past the general public without much of a fuss this act makes it a criminal offence to take photos of the police or the armed forces if you are suspected of “terrorism.” Given the already alarming attitude within some quarters as to what exactly constitutes terrorism (I was effectively branded an eco-terrorist for my involvement in Climate Camp last year in a story that ran in the Observer, before it was pulled with an apology) photographers have a right to feel concern about this depressing development.

For someone who has been on the receiving end of unnecessarily aggressive behaviour from the police, who are often heavy handed in their efforts to curtail freedom of speech and the right to protest, this feels to me like yet another big stride towards a police state. And I don’t say that lightly. Protesters and activists of many persuasions already have to put up with the intrusive and threatening presence of FIT teams, who follow our every move with an arsenal of big cameras whenever we challenge the misbehaviour of both our government and big corporations (who are often in collusion), and thus far our only weapon against any possible misdemeanours has been the ability to photograph them back. This could now be an arrestable offence in itself, despite the obvious neccessity to keep a watch on our police. The police habitually lie about the necessity of force, as was evidenced by the excessive policing that was seen at Kingsnorth Climate Camp. The truth about the “injuries” – a few possible bee stings and diarrhoea – of the police officers (which were used as justification for the disproportionate amount of money ploughed into the operation) surfaced in December, and reinforce the need for unbiased footage of demonstrations provided by freelance photographers. This is obviously now at risk and is yet another serious threat to the civil liberties that are being gradually eroded by our government.

But back to the sea of slightly bewildered photographers, obviously more used to being provided with something to photograph than having to create their own.

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Instead photographers turned in on themselves, devouring each other’s lenses with gigabytes. It was down to a few random souls to provide some colourful diversions amidst a sea of black.

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My friend climbed aloft and posed in her police hat and a red jumpsuit, before she was joined by a crafty photographer, garlanded with sexy old cameras of the type that I love to shoot with. He was soon relishing the turn of tables and firing away in front of that iconic New Scotland Yard rotating sign.

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The biggest frisson of the morning was provided by a photographer in a motorized wheelchair, who manouvered gallantly down the middle of the road, which the two coppers on duty were bound to keep clear. For a moment everyone spilled into the road, jostling for the best shot, before backing politely away again.

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Mark Thomas, the alternative comedian who has based much of his work on the right to protest, spoke for the rolling cameras, calling for an exhibition of photos of police officers. Perhaps he knows that FITwatch, set up to counteract the FIT teams, have already called for such a competition, with awards based on the most scary, funny and effective photographs taken (this last for photos which have had the most success in defending civil liberties – an issue never far away.)

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It was a strangely post modern occasion but one that was desperately needed to mark this most scary of developments. Long may we continue to defend our right to take photos of whatever we please. After all, as the stickers being given out announced, I’M A PHOTOGRAPHER ….NOT A TERRORIST.

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