Monday, April 29, 2013

When Can't You Snap The Shutter?

I was giving my sister-in-law a ride down to one of the New York airports this morning and she was telling me this story about how she had gotten in trouble taking some pictures over at the local mall.  Now, mind you, she was taking pictures of the swans swimming around in the retention ponds outside the mall, beyond the parking lots.  A security guard (???) went over to her and said she couldn’t take pictures, it was against the law.  Yeah, right.  Today’s image presents sort of the two sides to that story.  It is a photograph, taken with a digital camera and “photoshopped” to look like a sketch.  The house is the Mark Twain House at Nook Farm in Hartford Connecticut.  It’s on private property as is the mall in this discussion.  If today’s image were a “real” sketch, the artist could have sat at the same spot, put up an easel and sketched away.  (Would have been a really nice pencil sketch, but you can probably find a hundred artists who could do it justice.)  At times, the (whatever it is) Nook Farm Association or Mark Twain Society or something invites/sponsors/encourages artists to do “en plein air” work in the yards.  I don’t know that the mall does the same type of thing, but it’s certainly something they “could” do.  So, the question is:  Canvas? Yes. Camera? No.  Hit the “Read More” to find out what’s up. 

It seems like, in this post 9/11 world that police (and security guards) are a little froggy about stopping people from being citizens of our fair country.  They’ll hop right in even when they have to make up a law.  In the case of my sister-in-law there is a little bit of a gray area.  Most parking lots at a mall are “public areas”.  They might have an area designated for valet parking if you live in a more uppity area.  In
“most” open parking lots you’re free to do “most” casual things.  I doubt if you could have a parade or lay out a picnic spread in a parking space, but walking in the parking lot to get some exercise?  Sure, why not, as long as you’re not obstructing traffic. 

At the Mark Twain House?  There’s a small parking lot, maybe eight or ten cars worth.  It’s not exactly someplace to hang out.  Besides, the lawn is the first thing you come to when you step out of the lot.  The grounds are open until sunset according to the signs.  So, what does “open” mean?  They’d probably frown on you pulling out the garden hose, creating a mud pit and starting a mud wrestling flash mob.  But, you could probably get away with setting out a blanket and having a little picnic.  It probably happened there often when Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe were the neighbors.

One of the reasons why the police come down on photographers and not sketch artists is that more bad guys would use a camera to grab a quick snap.  Chances are you won’t find the baddies spending an hour idly sketching away to get the detail for their nefarious intentions.

But, when in doubt, check in with the defenders of all rights, the ACLU.  They have a web page devoted to photographers titled “Know Your Rights: Photographers”.  Apparently they have all sorts of “Know Your Rights” pages for all sorts activities. 

The “big takeaway” is probably that you the right to stand on public property and shoot (photographically) just about anything you want.