Photographing Architecture is Not a Crime, Thomas Hawk vs. Building Security Episode 118

45 Fremont, #4

So today there I was minding my own business shooting 45 Fremont in downtown San Francisco when all of a sudden a Shorenstein Company employee security guard decides to give me the finger in my photographs of the building. Next thing you know I get the typical hassle. Except normally when the guards come out all polite like and all this guy instead comes out middle finger a blazing and telling me that I’m not allowed to photograph the building from the public space.

He goes on to tell me how he doesn’t like to have his photograph taken, etc. (hint, if you don’t like your photograph taken, probably best not to come swaggering out of a public building middle finger a blazin’, remember any old asshole can have a blog these days). And insists on telling me how if I want to photograph the building I’m going to need to get approval from building management. blah, blah, blah.

Well, this guy got off on the wrong foot with me in the first place so I politely inform him that despite his objections that I’m on public property and as such have every right to photograph whatever I want and if he’d like he can feel free to call the police and the three of us can have a conversation. Of course he asks me why I need to be such an asshole and I remind him that he was the one giving me the bird, etc. etc. All I am is a lowly photography hobbyist but that since he was being so nice and all that he could look forward to his photo being on the internet.

He asks me if I *really* want him to call the police. Again, I answer nicely, yes. At this point he goes back inside. I go around to shoot the other side of the building and his boss comes out and he’s pissed. You’re not allowed to photograph this building he says. “Says who,” I say. “Says me, I’m the owner,” he says, you’re on my property.”

Now I’ve seen Walter Shorenstein, San Francisco’s real estate mogul, before and this guy definitely ain’t Shorenstein. So I object. I remind Mr. fake Shorenstein that I’m on public property and that I have every right ot shoot the building. He asks me why I’m shooting the building and (only because I’m pissed at this point) I tell him that this is none of his business. Now with this he flips it. Some third party seems it’s his business to chime in and sides with the security guard and tells me, you know he’s right, your not allowed to take photos of this building (um. ok Chet).

The security guard then seems fit to chime in, post 9/11 you know. They don’t want photos of the building.

So I politely tell this 2nd security guy, the fake Walter Shorenstein, that I’m actually allowed to take photos of the building and suggest that he call the SFPD if he’d like and he gives me one of these straight on looks and asks me if that’s *really* what I want him to do because I’ll be arrested and all that and I say yes, please. He then asks me if I’m going to be there when they arrive and I say, certainly of course, and with that he pouts off and heads back into his building.

I then finish my shots and when I’m done go about my way.

Now. First off, this happens to me all the time. I’m not sure why I feel so inclined to post about it today. Perhaps it’s because my blog traffic’s down. But probably the fact that the first security guard decided that his initial approach to me was the finger thing and that the second one was such a prick that I figure what the hell, may as well blog it. Can’t hurt after all and I did tell the finger security guard guy that I would post his photo to the internet so a deal’s a deal and all.

But. What the hell? Post 9/11? What’s that supposed to mean? Let’s see, ok, so I’ve got photos of a building. Yep, there’s the door, yep, guess what, it’s got glass windows. Wouldn’t want those top secret photos of the building’s revolving doors to get out there now. Just imagine the strategic advantage that that door shot would give a terrorist! He could, well, he’d know how to get into the building for pete’s sake.

It’s just stupid. I’m tired of dealing with security at almost every single building that I shoot. News Flash! Photographing architecture is NOT a crime. It’s not illegal! And while 98% of photographers probably just let these fake Walter Shorenstein type cops push them around it shouldn’t happen. And I think that from now on I’m going to start a collection of these mugs and hopefully, at least in San Francisco, after a while the harrasment stops.

In the meantime, I got my shots today which you can see in this Flickr set and do plan actually on going back in the next few days and especially at night to try and get more shots of this building. Oh and the other good thing that came out of this is that about two weeks ago lovely figment on Flickr invited me to the flickr group GFY. You might be able to figure out what it stands for but it’s basically a flickr group devoted to people flipping the bird. Since I haven’t got a shot of myself flipping the bird yet I guess I finally got myself an official submission today. Thanks dude.

Oh, and by the way, I’d definitely recommend the latest issue of JPG Magazine, #5, Photography is Not a Crime. Not only is it a great collection of issues (disclaimer, I’ve got a shot in there of another of my run ins with building security at One Bush St.) but it’s got a great photographer’s rights pull out card by Portland attorney Bert Krages which does a great job of spelling out what your rights are as a photography enthusiast.

Update: I just spoke with Andrew Neilly who handles media relations for The Shorenstein Group with Gallen.Neilly & Associates. According to Neilly, the individual photographed here is not a Shorenstein employee and he advised me that Shorenstein outsources their security guards — while admiting that the action on behalf of the security guard was inappropriate. He said that hopefully my experiences with Shorenstein properties would be better in the future and said that while he could not guarantee that I would not be approached by guards in the future that by explaining who I am and showing them a card that he felt I should not have this type of problem shooting their buildings in the future.

He also referenced an advisory by the Department of Homeland Security sent to real estate firms regarding photographers shooting buildings but was unable to site or reference the specific advisory.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    An all too common story these days, but well told.

  2. bitblue says:

    I liked the picture of the building a lot. Nice shot of the moron with the finger, too. But I would have *really* liked to be there with you, arguing with those clowns. I regularly get into these “discussions” too. Once I had a pastor running out of a church telling me I was not allowed to take photographs of “his” church. When I started laughing so much that I had to sit down on the ground, he silently went back in and that was the end of it…

  3. Ade says:

    Yep, this old chestnut. I’ve had the same thing several times here in the UK. This whole paranoia / climate of fear thing is simply tedious and counterproductive.

    If this business really has a problem then they should set up shop underground, with a camouflaged entrance. Besides, their premises will already be clearly visible on Google Earth and if you had a telephoto lens you could photograph all the details from a ‘safe’ distance anyway.

    bitblue – being told you’re not allowed to photograph a church? Now that’s just rediculous…

  4. Morven says:

    Increasingly, people seem to treat photography as an assault.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I do freelance scouting for movie and TV productions. And one of the things I do is take digital snaps (I use a tripod and other photographic equipment) of buildings to pass onto directors and production companies to consider using in their productions (which they will later contact the management in charge of said buildings they choose to use).

    You wouldn’t believe the amount of hassling I get these days, and I always make it a point to take the pictures while standing on a public street. The people who bother me the most aren’t security with the building in the question but people on the street. 911 changed everything, and every punk is out thinking they can be a “hero”. Originally, I was quite patient and explaining what I was doing legitimately, but most of the time the response is that I’m b-s’ing them. Really, I’m quite tired of what has become of our country.

  6. Ryan Russell says:

    I used to work in that building years ago. I wonder if Bechtel is still a tenent? (They took up almost all of 45 Fremont and 50 Beale at one point.)

  7. Tank says:

    I’m a security guard and bouncer, and there’s a number of reasons why I personally don’t like people taking photos with me in them. I’ve been told while doing the training for the job to do everything I can to stop photos being taken. One reason is that you don’t know where the photos will end up and whether you or your venue will be misrepresented with yourself involved. Another is that occasionally when you throw people out of a venue they may want revenge for being humiliated, and they may use the photo of you like this. There are more… In any case, the man you dealt with there was being an asshole, especially if its the building that he’s objecting to being the subject of the photo. In my experience, photographers will accommodate my wishes if I just explain to them why.

  8. Jim Webb says:

    It would be fun to print screen that photo, drop by and see if I can get it autographed.

    You’re very brave for snapping a photo of that guy. Someone needs to infiltrate the security cop world and find out what kind of propaganda they’re feeding those stuffed suits.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Great story! I’ve been harassed taking photos too.

    Once, before 911, I was in front of the Pete Domenici Courthouse with a camera and the guard ran all the way across the lawn telling me I couldn’t take a picture of his building. I insisted that I was on the sidewalk taking a picture of the sidewalk plaque, and he backed off. Then he volunteered that I could go ten feet across the street and take all the pictures I wanted to of his building.

    Last year I had the same problem in the Washington DC subway. The lady in the booth told me I couldn’t take pictures, I asked her name, and she responded by calling the the Metro police. The Metro police told me it wasn’t illegal to take pictures, and then directed to a website, and told me about a book, with all the pictures of the Metro I needed if I wanted to do any damage (his words were a little more explicit).

    It just doesn’t make any sense. The attitude against taking photos is extreme enough these days; but the extraneous advice of both the security people goes beyond bizarre.

  10. Anonymous says:

    fear climate, enough said.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I dont understand what is wrong in photographing the architecture? I mean first they spent millions to make a good building that can be appreciated well. Now if someone likes it, then only he/she will would wish to take a picture.this way the building is actually being appreciated. this is total nonsense to stop someone from taking picutre!!!

    Harjeet singh
    Outsource Architectural renderings and vitrual tours from india

  12. Deano says:

    That guy looks like an extra from The Sopranos.
    Good on you for taking the photographs and don’t let the cnuts grind you down!

  13. Anonymous says:

    Dear Smartass photographer. People like you who use your camera to try and be controversial or provocative seem to suffer mental retardation. Do you think you have some sort of artistic license that allows you to go around and photograph every building you see? be realistic, you might look back at the photos once. thats it. but photography for you idiots is basically masturbation of technology, utterly useless to everyone but yourself. Moreover it is motivated entirely by a desire to be noticed and get attention in your blog.

    Stop filling the world with you rubbish please. This goes for anyone reading who disagrees with me.


  14. Anonymous says:

    Dear Smartass photographer. People like you who use your camera to try and be controversial or provocative seem to suffer mental retardation. Do you think you have some sort of artistic license that allows you to go around and photograph every building you see? be realistic, you might look back at the photos once. thats it. but photography for you idiots is basically masturbation of technology, utterly useless to everyone but yourself. Moreover it is motivated entirely by a desire to be noticed and get attention in your blog.

    Stop filling the world with you rubbish please. This goes for anyone reading who disagrees with me.


  15. tangram says:

    Dear Smartass photographer. People like you who use your camera to try and be controversial or provocative seem to suffer mental retardation. Do you think you have some sort of artistic license that allows you to go around and photograph every building you see? be realistic, you might look back at the photos once. thats it. but photography for you idiots is basically masturbation of technology, utterly useless to everyone but yourself. Moreover it is motivated entirely by a desire to be noticed and get attention in your blog.

    Stop filling the world with you rubbish please. This goes for anyone reading who disagrees with me.


  16. stomv says:


    What about public infrastructure? Could you go into a subway station and take photos? How about photos of a police station? How about from inside the police station lobby?

    I know you can photograph private structures from public space, but what about public structures? What if the public space isn’t open to all people 24/7 (such as inside structures like subway stops or police stations)?

  17. Anonymous says:

    Rock on!

  18. Anonymous says:

    someone needs to organise another flickr party down there… and bring along some shots from google for when they starting whining 9/11. course terrorist dont use google do they?

  19. pauldwaite says:

    I wouldn’t mind so much if these terror-noiac photo-phobes could tell us when a photograph of a building assisted a terrorist attack.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I guess this is the sort of thing you can expect more of when you elect a leader who relies on generating fear and terror as a counter to his anti-terrorism agenda…

  21. bec says:

    Man, when did Vince Vaughan get a job as a security guard???

  22. Anonymous says:

    I used to take photos for liability cases – I’d have to sneak my camera into buildings to document the broken staircase etc. – and security guards were SO much fun. Sometimes in NYC they’d get pretty physical; those guys would get the blank roll of cheap Konica film I palmed =)

  23. Definitely seems like people react as if everything in front of them is their fiefdom. The same would happen in India regardless of 9/11 or not. Be safe…and better keep some company while you take on these building gurkhas 🙂

    If u like computer problem cartoons, do come by sometime to

  24. Anonymous says:

    Keep up the good work. Fuck the NAZIS

  25. Anonymous says:

    Ahhh…The level of professionalism in the security sector astounds me. As an architecture student, all structures and public spaces are fair game. I tend to have more problems when unavoidably getting passerby in the shots who, for whatever reason, think that they are important enough for me to be specifically photographing them. All I can say is ‘Look, don’t flatter yourself and get the f*ck out of the way’ (only to the angry ones that bother to approach me)

    If I were really “studying” a building, I would be sketching, not simply taking snapshots for trace fodder. The security guards should fear the sketchbooks and pencils!

    ^Ohh – Triple post FTW!^

  26. Anonymous says:

    Nice Photos! Being employed in television I’ve had to deal with my fair share of over zealous security guards.

    However, one thing to think about… Alot of times the sidewalk may actually be private property especially the part right next to the building. The dividing line between public and private may not be well marked. I’m thinking specifically of a building in Boston that I was shooting once from the sidewalk. A security guard approached me and told me that I was on private property and directed my attention to a small brass marker set into the sidewalk showing where the public way ended and the private property started. the marker even said Public/Private. I had to move my tripod about three feet and I continued my shooting. The security guard got to exercise his authority, I still got my shots and nobody was a dick. Sorry to hear about your experience.

  27. HappyYoga says:

    It seems like a little thing you have done, but it is not. It is a big step toward not letting our rights be trampled. Each and every person who says “I am just doing my job” when stomping on anothers rights, needs to stand up to these stupid policies as well.

    I am very tired of “post 9ll” being an excuse for ridding the USA of our rights.

  28. mns says:

    Do you ever get tired of intentionally provoking low-paid security guards, then whining about it online? I know I get tired of reading about it…

  29. Anonymous says:

    In terms of photographers’ rights, there’s also this gem:

  30. Thomas Hawk says:

    msn, I shoot photos. It’s what I do. As long as they keep hasseling I suppose I’ll keep posting. Perhaps at some point they’ll get the message.

    It’s actually been a while since I’ve posted on this but these guys were particularly assholish about the whole thing.

  31. jpc says:

    Hey this don’t-photo-my-building thing is older than 9/11. I used to be a real estate and hobbyist and professional photog in Memphis, and it happened pretty frequently. This was in the late 80s-early 90s. It’s generally somebody with a burr up their butt or who wants to show-out for his friends.

    Mr. Tank has a good point, and that’s why we should photograph cops and bouncers as much as possible. Certainly photos have been used where I live now to put a bouncer in jail who beat a college student to death outside a bar. Glad those photos were taken. New York is installing a London-style “Ring of Steel” as I type this–cameras all over downtown watching us. It’s only fair that we get to watch back.

  32. dataguy says:

    BTW – Thomas, like you, when I grew up we referred to this expression of anger as “flipping the bird”. I’ve noticed that my kids call it “chucking the finger”. However, it’s possible that it’s just an East Coast phenomena. 🙂

    Thanks for blogging about sticking up for your rights. Hopefully it will inspire others to do the same.

  33. Zaun says:

    I think you are an idiot, personally. I wouldn’t go around inciting people and causing shit just because Its legal. Yeah, thats right, go piss off the security guards for fun. What are you, 16?

    Grow up. Theres no reason to do this.

  34. since1968 says:

    Thomas, good on you for keeping a steady hand and getting that shot—that guy was close if you were shooting @ 24mm!

    FWIW, I’ve noticed here in DC it’s a tripod that often sets off alarm bells. I think Nikon and Canon give kickbacks to security guards to encourage their VR/IS technology. (joking here).

  35. bloggersucks says:

    Zaun, I think that maybe you missed something. Since when is taking photos from a public sidewalk “inciting people and causing shit just because Its legal”. I think that maybe it is you that needs to ‘grow up’ and see what is happening to people’s rights in this country. What are they going to complain about next? That we are breathing their air? That we are thinking impure thoughts?

  36. Thomas,

    I waas almost pummeled by some jackass who was pissed that I took a photo of his car (without him in it). He damanded “his picture” since it was a Polaroid. I informed him that it was, in fact, my picture. He said he would call the police so I did it for him. I dialed 911 and told them that I was being threatened. He left a few minutes later and the police were very understanding. Don’t let them push you around! They are all buliles!

  37. bb says:

    Notable buildings are a main element of a cities gestalt. One may have the desire to photograph them the same way that rural dwellers would want to photograph mountains or forests or rivers.

    Besides, just take a look at all the historical building and street scene photgraphy books in your local Borders or Barnes & Nobles and youll find that people in cities have always had great pride, respect and desire in having pictures of the great architecture that surrounds them day to day.

  38. Anonymous says:

    WHAT HAPPENED? He went into call the cops, and then…. entry ends. TALK ABOUT CLIFF HANGER KTHXBYE!

  39. magpie says:

    It’s funny how the knee-jerk reactionaries who have posted negative comments didn’t actually bother to read your article.

    Anyone who RTFA would clearly see that you were photographing architecture, not people.
    Tangram triple poster: this photographer was in no way trying to be controversial or provocative. RTFA. He was taking pictures of a cool looking building & essentially minding his own business. He was in no way trespassing or trying to provoke the building or any of its contents. It was the over-zealous low-minded security person that engaged in controversial and provocative behaviour (i.e. verbal and gesticular assault). The situation only proceeded to this point entirely due to the actions of the security person and the faux owner. If we went by Tangram triple-poster’s rules, no one would be allowed to take pictures of anything. Any photograph that anyone takes contains 1000’s of elements that the photographer does not own. Should we need to get signed release forms from every blade of grass?

    But I guess you can’t be too careful in this post-1933 world.


  40. Levois says:

    This happened to me at a ritzy suburban Chicago shopping mall. At least the security man was nice about it. When I said OK when he asked me to stop, he was almost shocked. Almost as if he expected me to have a fit. LOL

  41. dan bennett says:

    I recently went on vacation to New York City. while taking a photograph within the Coney Island MTA subway station, I was approached by thisgroup of MTA police goons. They confronted me with the following; ” Hey, don’t you know that its illegal to take pictures in the subway?” I said I did not, to which he replied that “ignorance is no excuse”.He then demanded to see my I.D. The officer threatend me “I’m gonna write you a 60 dollar summons and confiscate your camera”.
    I went back and read the rules, and it turns out that there is no law against photography in the subway. I was threatened by a “professional” policeman with fines and confiscation of my camera based on a law he made up on the spot! What heck? Is this Chicago?
    Are these police people professional or volunteer? Is ignorance an excuse for harrassing tourists? Is there any recourse?

  42. Anonymous says:

    It is all to common these days.
    The Security paranoia will reach new heights as the goverment and corporations utilize the fear of a populous to make a profit.
    Does anyone find it wierd that citizens are no longer allowed to photograph buildings, bridges, etc. but the goverment is putting up more and more cameras because it will make us safer. There seems to be something wrong with that. Take into consideration that 9/11 involved the utilization of something as common as an airplane and a boxcutter. They used our own transportation system against us. Could this network of Cameras not also be exploited? Ohh my…
    The sky is falling the sky is falling…

  43. Anonymous says:

    Thomas. I remember the last time this happened to you, and you organized the Flickr party and got your 15 seconds of BoingBoing-linked fame and all. You have every right to photograph buildings in our city. (Yep, I’m in EssEff too.) But dear God, you must have the most boring collection of photos on the planet. Methinks this is for the purpose of re-educating pissy security guards rather than making good pictures. Lemme guess, one of these guys shoved you in front of your girlfriend once and made you feel small. Now you’re getting them all back through the power of snapshots. Sigh… If you really want to `man up’ and own your right to shoot photos of buildings, do this: Don’t explain anything about your rights to the next pesky security. Just tell him “Shut the fuck up you low-paid inbred. I do what I fucking please.” That’s how real men excercise their rights. If you want to have THAT type of impromptu flashmob photo session, I’ll be there and I’ve got your back. If you’re going to bring along a hardback edition California Civil Code and get all pinheaded about it, I’m taking your camera, your flash cards _ an your wallet!

  44. I personally would love to find more on the net about legal vs. illegal photography. I recently went to NYC and while crossing the GW Bridge, there were signs posted “No cameras allowed”. Is that legal? I just don’t want to get sued by some idiot I took a photo of, even if he does look like a moron. 😀

  45. Anonymous says:

    You are an antagonist, who the hell wants to take pictures of buildings? However, I don’t know the legality behind this, you may have a right to take pictures of anything you like from a public place, I think the guard has the right, not to be photographed (or for the photo to be used) if he doesn’t want it (unless he is included as a by product of life). Maybe the guard has as much right to do what he wishes in the public place. I’d probably give you the finger too, if I wasn’t laffing so hard!

  46. Anonymous says:

    I’m a security guard and bouncer, and there’s a number of reasons why I personally don’t like people taking photos with me in them. I’ve been told while doing the training for the job to do everything I can to stop photos being taken. One reason is that you don’t know where the photos will end up and whether you or your venue will be misrepresented with yourself involved. Another is that occasionally when you throw people out of a venue they may want revenge for being humiliated, and they may use the photo of you like this. There are more…

    This moron would dirty his pants with glee if his employer decided to put security cameras all over the building so he wouldn;t have to do as much “work.”

  47. Anonymous says:

    I enjoyed your story and think you did well to keep your nerve. I take photographs of listed buildings (archtichtural merit) in the UK and must have been very lucky to have had a positive response from most people. I’m sure the bad reaction you got was caused by an underlying insecurity sometimes documents and identity cards can make all the difference.

  48. Anonymous says:

    Since you posted this (I use the term loosely) person’s picture I assume you got a standard photographers release. Otherwise he can sue you for posting his picture on the net. Publishing people’s photographs is always a tricky proposition.

  49. dan bennett says:

    more misinformation above. One does not need a release to take a photo, or post it on the net. Only commercial use of a photo requires a release. Furthermore,if the photo is for journalism, then you don’t even need a release for commercial purposes. Its protected speach. In france one needs permission to photograph a private residence. But we dont live in france.

  50. Thomas Hawk says:

    Anonymous, I did not get a model release and he’s welcome to try and sue me all he wants. You don’t need model releases for either editorial use / news reporting or artistic endeavers. I’m a published editorial photographer and am practicing citizen journalism.

    Despite my being legally able to publish his photo. I do feel a certain sense of ethics surround the issue of publishing someone’s photo who clearly does not want it published. But then again this guy was a prick so I’m not so inclined not to print his photo. He can feel free to sue me. I look forward to that one and the resulting additional publicity his graceful portrait will provide.

    As a general rule of thumb I’d recommend not approaching people with cameras with your middle finger extended before having a conversation with them. They just might take your photo. I’m not sure either that this would be the way that The Shorenstein company would best like itself represented.

    I’ve been hasseled and shot many security guards and not published their photos. This guy and his partner were just especially pricks about it all.

  51. Black Jack Shellac says:

    There really are 10 people in the world, those who understand binary, and those who don’t.

    There are also a lot of law and order type idiots commenting on your article. I really can’t see how anyone could be offended by your describing what happened to you while you were taking your pics. These are the same assholes who would have reported you to the SS in nazi germany though, so be careful, cause they are dangerous to the freedoms espoused by your constipated American consitution.

    A friend.

  52. magpie says:

    Getting each and every fan at the Superbowl to sign a standard photographers release must be a real bitch for sports journalists and the TV netwerks.


  53. VolleyJosh says:

    I work in the building, and I can offer some insight into the security company:
    they are super hard-ass about ‘policy’, but their enforcement isn’t so great. Example: you can’t take a box out of the building without a signed form from an authorized signer on your floor. However, if you just walk out the back entrance they’ll most likely not notice that you have a box.

    Now, I can tell from the pictures that you were most definitely on private property, as the little brass placques mentoined previously are outside the pillars and the overhang that you were under. Of course, the no-pictures policy is stupid. Even if someone was trying to sneak or break in, they could just go into the lobby and mill around for hours.

  54. Anonymous says:

    And yet the building security people have no problem taking pictures of **you**…

    It is an amazing bit of irony that security guards will rush out of buildings bristling with security cameras pointed all around the building to hassle people taking pictures. For some reason they assume they have a legal right to take your picture but not the other way around.

  55. Anonymous says:

    I work in this building. I took pictures of this building with floors 14 and up lost in a thick fog (stunning!), I got yelled at too. I quietly said “No problem”, walked away and took 5 more fantastic shots of the building, from the PUBLIC property. Now I get to look at those shots and enjoy them untarnished by some negative energy surrounding them. Many years from now, you may look at these pics and probably regret wasting your breath arguing with someone who was doing his job (poorly, mind you). It was not even a windmill 
    Your work is very nice, please spend your time wisely, making the world a better place. On the other hand, it is your time…
    P.S. You were technically ON the private property, you know, just look down on the ground, you will see those little copper signs, which remind you “this ain’t your land, this anin’t my land”.

  56. Anonymous says:

    I was visiting New York recently as a tourist (from the UK). I took a picture of the Tweed Courthouse from behind a security gate on the road, the guard then very aggressively told me to delete the image because it featured some of the security gate in it. I didn’t bother to argue, but did he have the right to do this?

  57. John says:

    The last time I was given a hard time about taking photos was in Bangkok Thailand. I was near the US embassy and figured that as I’ve never seen a US embassy before I’d take a photo of it. Heck, I’m a US citizen and I might need to get back there one day. So I snapped a photo with my tele lens on my D70 (I was taking some photos of other buildings in the area at the time so it’s what was on the body at the time). No problem, I move to another location just down the street and take a few more shots of buildings and then one more of the embassy entrance. As i was waiting at the bus stop that is across the street a man walks up to me and demands that I not take photos of the embassy. My wife was rattling off Thai faster than I could keep up with, saying that I was a US citizen and that he was a jerk, etc… She wasn’t helping the situation out much. The guy was pretty miffed that I had taken a photo of what my tax dollars had built so to let him feel that he had done his jack booting for the day I showed him the last image I had taken and then deleted it in front of his face. I think he was expecting me to surrender my ‘film’ and not have a digital camera but he was satisfied that I didn’t have any secret embassy photos in my camera. As he left I snapped a few more shots of him and the embassy. He looked to be a hired Thai citizen so I’m sure his boss drilled into his head that he had the utmost authority with matters like this. I’d guess that the typical Thai citizen would be more than happy to surrender their film to an authority figure if asked for it.

  58. Phil says:

    I’d love to drop by and get that autographed by him, what time does he work?

  59. des says:

    I had a similar experience photographing buildings in London’s Docklands for a slide-film project on ‘the surveilance society’.

    The project obviously required some examples of CCTV cameras mounted on buildings so I set out with a friend to photograph a few. Within minutes of taking the first shot we were surrounded by plain suited security personnel who sternly warned us that Docklands , an area that’s home and workplace to some 100,000 plus people, was ‘private property’ and that we required permission to photograph in the area.

    This issue isnt just about photography and art , its about our right to capture and document the changing environment we live in and question the relentless corporatisation of public space.

  60. A very similar thing happened to me last year in Pittsburgh at the PPG complex. Initially the security claimed I wasn’t allowed to photograph their buildings for security purposes, but later when I contacted their management I was told it was due to copyright restrictions. They claim to own the copyright on the appearance of their buildings, and even if you’re standing on public property when you snap the photos, they claim that you’re not allowed to take any pictures. It’s ridiculous how companies think they can rewrite the law!

  61. Anonymous says:

    I’m a photojournalist. As you are obviously aware you can photograph anything (that can be reasonably seen… i.e. you can’t shoot through a tiny gap in someones closed curtains even if you are standing on public property. That violates one’s right to a “reasonable expectation” of privacy) you like from a public space. You should always fight for your right to do this. Just be aware that the other party can also go apeshit and attack you. Not legal, of course, but if they bash you over the head with a pipe and you don’t have hard evidence that they did this, you WILL lose in court.

    I was attacked by a crazed redneck while shooting an assignment about zoning violations and property inspection officers. We fought, I was injured after landing on a broken bottle, I filed charges, the charges were thrown out. Why? I had photos of the guy charging at me but nothing of me actually getting hit. The police report (which I got through our police reporter) said that I had slipped and fallen all by my lonesome(argh! Damn cops… and nothing you can do about this). Remember, cops generally don’t like photographers. Even the property inspection officer I had been photographing claimed he hadn’t seen anything (which was not true. He acted all embarrased about it in front of me but still insisted that, for the 5 minutes the fight carried on, his back was turned and he heard nothing).

    The upshot, I had to spend a day in the hospital, my clothes were ruined, I had to suffer the indignity of a drug test (as I was on the clock) and I had no recourse other than to be even more suspicious of cops and to despise knuckle dragging, mouth breathing, inbred rednecks for the rest of my life.

  62. Anonymous says:

    Rob says:
    i think that flying cars are the way of the future.

  63. Anonymous says:

    With a certain amount of courteous respect to Tank for being an early example of a security guard who can read and write, why do you think these guys are security guards? It’s pretty low on the employment chain. Yes, I’m sure there are some readers who worked as a security guard once whilst they were students, but be honest, it’s a career that attracts the intellectually challenged. Like Tangram. Can you check a badge? Yup. Can you act thuggish and leer at women? Yup. You’re hired. Really, if you think they are going to know law and respect your rights, you’re expecting too much. You want the moon on a stick.

  64. germanjulian says:

    all i can say is respect. nice post haha
    stupid security guards

  65. Anonymous says:

    This reminds me of two incidents in my own life.

    When returning from a Gay Pride parade in Toronto on the subway, I saw a man assaulted for supposedly taking pictures of some other man and his girlfriend. (He was taking pictures of the subway as he was a tourist from Russia.) His camera was seized and the film torn out by the offended party. The friend of the man who was accosted begged for this not to happen as it was this man’s only pictures of the Pride parade.

    Another time when I was in Texas, I pointed out some interseting wall decorations in a cafe to a friend. A man who was with his wife or girlfriend demanded to know what we were taking pictures of and demanded proof that he was not in the pictures. My friend demonstrated his pictures were free of this person and was allowed to continue to take pictures.

    What are people so afraid of? Cameras do not steal your soul, and not everyone is a private eye out to catch uou doing something illicit.


  66. magpie says:

    RE: Intellectually challenged security guards.

    Hold up there, the man with the highest IQ in North America works as a bouncer.


  67. Is that Vince Vaughn?

  68. tank says:

    I just read jpc’s reply:

    Mr. Tank has a good point, and that’s why we should photograph cops and bouncers as much as possible. Certainly photos have been used where I live now to put a bouncer in jail who beat a college student to death outside a bar. Glad those photos were taken.

    This perhaps highlights a bit of a problem with the security industry as a whole, namely its image. I have heard a number of stories about crackheads who will headbutt a wall just to put the blame on the bouncer. In a justice system which often rules against the bouncer, you can see that a concern might be how that photo is going to be used. And yes, I know a lot of bouncers are violent thugs, but thankfully we in the UK now have a licencing system which may help get around that. But this is a whole new can of worms and beyond the scope of what you’re trying to discuss here.

    I just ask people to think about it from my point of view. I’m just there on the door, trying to keep the place safe. If someone comes to take my photo, it concerns me how that photo is going to be used. People generally don’t take photos of us for artistic reasons, in my experience.

    In response to these carefully-considered thoughts:

    This moron would dirty his pants with glee if his employer decided to put security cameras all over the building so he wouldn;t have to do as much “work.”

    You have just demonstrated that you have absolutely no idea what my job entails. I’m also concerned about the level of CCTV in city centres, too.

    And in response to a number of comments on here, we’re not all violent thugs who want to be cops, and we’re not all thick as pigshit either.

  69. smallerdemon says:

    I had a similar incident happen to me on MUNI in San Francisco one day (and most of us have heard about the big variety of MUNI idiocy regarding this issue).

    But… it wasn’t a MUNI employee. It was a passenger.

    Anyway, here’s the LiveJournal post about it from September 2005.

  70. Des says:

    That’s an unhelpful and misleading generalisation as the security guys who asked me to stop taking photographs in London’s Docklands, a vast district not a small commercial complex, because it was private property were anything but low brow. Had they been morons I would not have minded, they were not, they argued their case very well , albeit from a position of power, and gave me a straight choice, stop taking photographs or leave the area.

    You can be sure that my friend and I naturally argued with the security people, who were polite and anal not aggressive, about the right of their employers to covertly film us without our permission. Needless to say, they intellectually subscribed to the idea that there is a hierarchy of rights with those backed by the most money being paramount and did so not because they were stupid but because it paid them too.

    I agree with an earlier poster , we have to discriminate between property rights and what can be seen without invading other people’s privacy and captured on film.
    For example, I was looking at pics of the devastating aftermath of the 1906 San Fransisco quake earlier today and now wonder what insight we’d have into that disaster or indeed the history of America or anywhere else if everytime we pointed a camera at something security personnel rushed out to prevent us taking pictures.

    Perhaps buildings designed to be seen and dominate the skyline have a right to privacy?

    Perhaps Corporate America or Europe or Asia for that matter fear that if we capture pictures of our changing urban and rural environment we will somehow ensnare and imprison their souls?

    What do I know?, perhaps we need a new Law to prevent outsiders looking in.

  71. smallerdemon says:

    Of course, the odd thing is this: Camera Phones.

    All you need to do is even slightly know how to use your camera while you have it next to your ear and act like you are talking.

    Take all the pictures you want. No one will ever know.

    Will they do this to someone slowly walking by acting like they are having a conversation? Probably not. More ironic is the fact that a secretive activity done like this to specifically take pictures without their knowledge would, mostly likely, go unacknowledge and unnoticed.

    What is the photographe were an attractive, fliratious female?

  72. Anonymous says:

    The security guy looked like a terrorist

  73. Davao from flickr says:

    For what it’s worth,I think you handled it quite correctly. This paranoia has gotten totally out of hand.
    This blanket obsession against photographers is utter bullshit.

    Keep shooting,Amigo.

  74. Des says:

    Huh? Whats the point of having camera phones if you are not allowed to use them?

    See other blogs for more on this issue.

    Lets get back on track here, the whole point of photography , not the science the social aim, is the ability to capture how things really are ? If we cant do this lets revert back to high priests interpreting everything.

    Can I be one of them please.

  75. mns says:

    Mr. Hawk;

    Odd how the one thing everyone online associates your name with is “causing hilarious trouble by taking pictures of buildings from public spaces”. I suppose that’s all part of the Vast Anti-Thomas Hawk Conspiracy, though, as, if you say it’s been a while since you posted this dupe story, then who else do we have to believe? Ourselves?

    I have to give it to you, though; you’re an expert at drawing out the Indymedia Tin Foil idiots. Congratulations, the people who are most supportive of your cause are nutjobs. Keep fightin’ the good fight, and making sure we all have the liberty to take photos of buildings. If we can’t take pictures of things, then the terrorists have *already won*.

    I presume it’s you that sends these links to BoingBoing, though, quite honestly, it could be that they read your RSS feed looking for the next time you’re wandering around some industrial area taking pictures and security guards come to Oppress Your Right To Free Speech.

  76. magpie says:

    Yeah, I hate it when people exercise their freedom too. Freedom is so unamerican.


  77. turkey says:

    magpie said: “Getting each and every fan at the Superbowl to sign a standard photographers release must be a real bitch for sports journalists and the TV netwerks.”

    That’s a pretty dumb thing to say, considering that by entering the facility, you agree to be photographed. Quite a different story entirely. Read the back of a ticket sometime, mmkay?

  78. magpie says:

    Dearest Turkey:

    Sorry, never attended a sporting event in my entire life, mmkay?

    How ‘bout I say:
    It must really be a bitch getting every person walking by behind “on the street” news reporters to sign a standard photographers release. Or what about those glass walls that some morning shows have that let you see people walking by on the sidewalk? Each and every pedestrian seen on the Today show obviously needs to sign a release form. Same with all those folks zipping about in ‘Koyaanisqatsi’. There is no other way.

    In America you can only take pictures of your own body – no clothes though, you can be sued by clothing companies for copyright issues. Every other thing in the universe belongs to someone else, so it is illegal for you to photograph it.


  79. Anonymous says:

    One guard will tell you yes, another will tell you no, they are security gaurds for god sake, goon nature.

    You should try and take a few pictures of oil installations and blog about that.

  80. Anonymous says:

    Sorry, your story doesn’t add up. You state that the incident begins with the security guard flipping you off; you argue, then you go around to the back of the building, where you argue some more. But look closely at the photo; the door sign reads “exit only” – that’s because when you took the photo, you were obviously on the back side of the building, not the Fremont Street side. I know that building well. So your account does not seem fully accurate; the incident did not begin with him flipping you off. Certainly the guard should not treat you that way, but I rather wonder if you provoked him more than you let on.

  81. nickzedd says:

    Lowlevel fascist cocksuckers eat shit and die.
    Photograph whatever you want.
    Nazi shit heads are unAmerican I say.

  82. Anonymous says:

    The shorensteins can go FUCK themselves…they are a pack of vampires sucking this city dry of blood…the sooner they go FUCK THEMSELVES the better.

    Someone needs to take them out, and when they do I will piss on them good. and as for that SHIT that flipped you off for taking pics in public, well he’s a traitor and i hope to GOD he dies soon of cancer, leukemia, or best of all AIDS, and dies soon…faggoty cocksucking queen!

    I hope the Shorensteins die and I hope Feinstein their patron saint of bullshit dies too….it’s time for the wealthy landowning class to suffer for the sins they have committed…and oh yeah their lackeys suck all the balls ever!


  83. Jesse says:

    Seems people don’t understand that there is no privacy when your in a PUBLIC place. Security Guards really don’t know what they’re talking about. Thanks for the fun read!

  84. des says:

    The irony is the authorities arent employing thousands of Thomas Hawkes to photographically invade the privacy of well known buildings , they are installing thousands of CCTV cameras on the sides of buildings in public and private spaces to keep an eye on you.

  85. Yolise says:

    I recommend cross-dressing before you go out to shoot. I’ve never been stopped, harrassed or refused permission to photograph anything anywhere – either in the UK or US.

  86. Jim Webb says:

    Des, excellent point.

    My latest encounter was when I stopped to take pictures of FLOWERS (outside) at Kaiser hospital in Oakland. After about 30 minutes I noticed that I was being watched by several people, some in uniform. That’s when my pulse started racing. And when I was asked to leave, I just about broke a blood vessel.

    I need a T-shirt that has “TOURIST not TERRORIST” printed on both sides.

  87. Anonymous says:

    I’ve run into the same thing in L.A. anytime I’m near a Scientology building. Their security guards come running.

  88. I actually had naivete once to use my brand new birthday gift, a digital camera, while in the airport traveling back home, only a couple years after 9/11.

    I didn’t realize till later that some people were uncomfortable with that. i was filming the skyline and someone told me to be careful because i looked suspicious. I probably did. taking photos of buildings is clearly a different circumstance though.

  89. Thomas Hawk says:

    Anonymous: “So your account does not seem fully accurate; the incident did not begin with him flipping you off.”

    Actually it did. His action was the first I’d received in the entire sequence of events. I was shooting from the Beale St. side of the building. If you know the building like you say then you know that you can approach the building from Beale St. and through the passway on the left then get around to the other side to the front of the building.

    This is exactly as happened. I work in the Ferry Building and was walking up Market St. on my way to shoot. I was actually going to cut through the property there (public access) after shooting the building and walk over to the Transbay Terminal. My approach, first at Beale St., then around to the front of the building on Fremont St. is entirely consistent with my story as that was the way it happened.

    I ended up not shooting the Transbay Terminal that day and instead went home afterwards because the Fremont St. incident took longer than I’d hoped. I did get a few decent shots though of 444 California St. and 333 California St. afterwards though on my way down to BART.

  90. Patrick says:

    This is a GREAT story and GREAT photo! My only disappointment is that you didn’t wait until the police arrived. You may have been arrested, but you would have been in the right. It would have been a big hassle…taken a bunch of time, but it would have been well worth it just to make your point, get in the news…and the FACTS about taking photos in public places would have been put to the actual public’s attention, and perhaps educate the public, property owners of these buildings and their security of the law.

    And…. a false arrest might bring you a nice bit of money in a settlement to buy you more camera equipment.

  91. Anonymous says:

    Hey Thomas, Send the lovely picture to the building management, and it’s a damn shame the finger almost disappears into his forehead being almost the same value of his finger, still legible none the less.
    Certainly an odd paradox, here’s the face that greets those that enter the building and yet throws the bird if you’re shooting images. Doesn’t this guy have a clue? Did he really mean to convey his Fu*k you TO YOU for his employer? Some greeting, better to have someone throw you the bird than wave a pistol!

  92. Anonymous says:

    The picture I took, while driving down the highway, got us a visit from the FBI. As we drove down the turnpike, we passed a flatbed trailer that was carrying a huge canister. The placard on the trailer said “Radioactive”. I thought it would be cool to have a pic of that so we slowed down, took the snapshot and took off. The next day, the office got a call from the FBI and a visit from an agent the day after telling us to destroy the pic. It’s no secret that radioactive materials are shipped on our highways, and they sure weren’t hiding it so I figured it was fair game.

  93. Pecunium says:

    I’m a photographer (in Calif.) and have been dealing with this sort of hassle for more than 20 years.

    It never gets any better. I do know that my response to people who start off yelling at me isn’t as congenial is it might be (the kids at the beach who threatened me, they got an earful, and came off looking like wimps to their girlfriends).

    I find the best way to shut them up is to offer the use of my cell phone. I happen to keep the local (to my house) PD in the phonebook (and have used that to defuse, mostly, a couple of situations; when I said they were crossing the line, and I was going to call the cops if they didn’t back off).

    Having them see you really don’t care if the cops call helps a lot.


  94. Pecunium says:

    Magpie: The release is written into the ticket. If you look at the back by entering the stadium your, Image and Likeness, are released to them for whatever purpose they wish.


  95. Pecunium says:

    Magpie: The release is written into the ticket. If you look at the back by entering the stadium your, Image and Likeness, are released to them for whatever purpose they wish.


  96. Anonymous says:

    That’s funny, but the paranoid “nut jobs” seem to be the people that are trying to stop the photographers. Hmm… also, I don’t wear tinfoil beanies, they don’t work, I prefer Mu metal.

  97. lisa says:

    This first happened to my husband and I very soon after 9/11. We were photographing a federal gov’t building, true, but just the cool gargoyle frescoes and detail on the outside lamp fixtures. Our two mutt dogs were with us. This security guard (female) came out and went nuts on us, threatening to have us arrested, etc. We politely questioned her rationale, but the more we did that, the less rational she became.

    We soon began hearing stories like this from many quarters.

    People are such frickin’ idiots. That seems to be what changed on 9/11: Everyone became an idiot.

  98. magpie says:

    Thanks, Pecunium double-poster, but I got the whole “ticket as release form” thing when Turkey pointed it out about 22 posts ago.

    BTW – posting many copies of the exact same comment generally dilutes validity in the eyes of the readership.


  99. Sam Spade says:

    rock on Thomas! you are my hero.

  100. kevin says:

    you rule – thanks

  101. kevin says:

    btw – I think 9/11 has opened up a whole new chance for employment and false importance for thousands of former hall monitors.

    I sent a link to this webpage to the property owners (and their PR firm) last night saying their employees had behaved badly, I suspect that’s what got the response.

  102. katherine says:

    It’s true that photography is not illegal, and exercising our right to photograph in public places is our obligation.

    Be as nice about it as possible, and be aware that misinformation is everywhere. The security guards and other officials think they know, though many times they do not. So it’s your responsibilty, know your rights. Carry a copy with you if possible. Be professional in your approach, stay calm, know the facts.

    Educate your friends and family. Persuade them it’s the very fabric of our country that’s being ripped here. It may seem small, but we must form a rip stop. The snowball effect could make it huge in no time at all. Public is STILL public, for the time being. Let’s keep it that way.

    Here’s a story from the National Press Photographer’s web site on the subject.

    This is an interesting 2004 Seattle Times story about a photo student who was harassed.

    I read some disturbing comments here, and though I realize at the moment keeping our right to take photos in public places may seem less important to some. It’s just one way that our rights in this country are being threatened.

  103. katherine says:

    Just remembered this quote … slightly appropriate I thought.

    “Each time someone stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.” ~ Robert F. Kennedy

  104. Kudos to you for standing up for yourself and taking pictures! It’s too bad you’ve had some real jerks leave comments, but I suppose you could delete them.

  105. Anonymous says:

    What is it with people and cameras anymore? Being commissioned to perform some wedding ceremonies in recent years, I’ve noticed a growing trend. Guests, usually female types, keep complaining and asking the photographers to quit taking pictures?! “I’m not comfortable with the camera. Could you not photograph?”

    What the hell, no, I can’t stop taking pictures you dumb azzes, I’m the photographer. If you’re so ashamed of your body, why don’t you go stick a bag over you head.

    Also, the strangeness of our current social climate has forced me to only use ultra small hidden cameras in public places; people are plain nuts!

    As for where and what you can photograph, I believe anyone or anything that is in public view is fair game. Photography should be added to the constitution. It is the only way to document a lot of criminal and political corruption. It should be a god given right to photograph anywhere at any time.

    Here in the US, I really think this is indicative of a growing social decline. People seem to have psychologically deteriorated in recent years.

    Personally, I’d just like to back-hand a couple of these people. Usually I just make a remark about how they probably would have damaged my lens anyhow.

  106. Anonymous says:

    Anonymous said…

    Dear Smartass photographer. People like you who use your camera to try and be controversial or provocative seem to suffer mental retardation. Do you think you have some sort of artistic license that allows you to go around and photograph every building you see? be realistic, you might look back at the photos once. thats it. but photography for you idiots is basically masturbation of technology, utterly useless to everyone but yourself. Moreover it is motivated entirely by a desire to be noticed and get attention in your blog.

    Stop filling the world with you rubbish please. This goes for anyone reading who disagrees with me.

    Dear prick:
    Get over yourself, and your imposing paranoia.

  107. Anonymous says:

    Is it happen in THE STATE?

    Then you said: ‘See you in the court’


  108. bjorke says:

    I used to be a movie location scout, many years ago, and NEVER encountered this sort of crap. I had actually forgotten about that until the anonymous comment above. Might have to make a posting about it, because it seems a natural way to answer such bozos who demand an explanation: “I’m scouting real estate properties” or “I’m scouting locations to potentially rent short-term for TV commercials” meaning to Mr Gurad: “$$ for the company if you will get out of my way” or “you will get in trouble if you chase away my $$$ my harassing me”

    Heck, the guard might even offer to help you out.

    You can always honstly say you’re THINKING about buying.

  109. Anonymous says:

    I’m sorry, what planet do you people live on? I live on a planet where security guards have a high school diploma at best and are trying to get through the day without having some snarky camera toter make them suspicious. The idea that you’re going to get into some sort of rational debate over citizen’s rights with said security guard is laughable. Notice how Thomas never really wants to talk to someone of his seeming equal at the building, i.e. a high-rung property manager or a Shorenstein executive. Why, because they’d dress him down and make him feel small. Thomas enjoys small victories over people he feels are small. He’s sold about three photos in his life, which by the way makes him a hobbyist with his little full-frame-Canon-with-the-oooh-it’s-“L”-series-glass. Thomas, what exactly do you do for a living? I’m really betting it’s not in the following fields a.) photography b.) law or c.) property management. I’ll bet you’re a techie snark still sapping away at pappy Hawk’s trust fund trying to find you’re calling. Normal people simply don’t invest this type of personal time beefing with secruity guards. Please leave them alone and go get a real job. But that would require giving an employer your real name and God knows what the big bad guvernment would do then! This site is a nerd fest and that’s 5 minutes of my life I’ll never get back, but all of you needed it. You may now resume MMOPRG-ing.

  110. Anonymous says:

    Anonymous above:
    To you: ‘One thing you can’t hide is when you’re cripled inside!’ John Lennon

  111. Bill Rogers says:

    I read the majority of the comments, and what appears to be missing is good old common sense. I’ve been taking photos for 50 years and I’ve experienced this problem just once, at a public school playground — and I can understand why. People are very protective of children.

    When I take pictures in public, many people are just curious. If I take time to explain what I’m doing, it’s usually OK. But if somebody doesn’t want his or her picture taken, I respect their wishes. There are many other people who will not mind.

    Most private security officers are doing what they have been taught to do. They are trying to make a living in a difficult, low-paying job. Some of them are assholes. But then, some photographers are assholes, too.

    There are many buildings and people in the city. Move on to the next one. Life is too short.

    Bill Rogers

  112. Anonymous says:

    it was asked earlier that someone wanted to see photos of buildings that terrorists have attacked, we I happen to know for sure taht every embassy or train station or building that has been attack have had pictures taken by terrorists. maybe you photo guys should open your eyes to what is happening around the world. I do not agree with the guard, but they have a job to do just like you. They want to keep everyone safe and that includes you, just my 2 cents

  113. Peter Blaise says:


    Ahhh … Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.

    Welcome to the U.S. – where photography is FREE SPEECH!

    Public or private, your photographs are your own. None of this “is’t okay to photograph in public but NOT in private”. BS. Your photographs are your own immediate copyright intellectual property regardless of where or when you make ’em – on public OR private property, of public OR private property, even of so-called “trademark” or copyright properties, or of people with or without recognizable “identities”.

    PUBLISHING is a different matter, but still, there’s NO PRIOR RESTRAINT – they have to sue afterwards! Prior restraint would be “censorship” – oooo, that sounds like Communist China, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Iran, and so on – you know, the Evil Empires! Is THAT where these people think they live? 😉

    But takin’ a photograph is totally unrelated to PUBLISHING a photograph, which I think many people are afraid of and want to control – they cannot, except after the fact by a lawsuit. Welcome to the U. S. Of A.!

    If you’re on private property, the owner (they CAN identify themselves as such, can’t they?) can ask you to stop or leave, but they have no right to take YOUR pictures away from you, and no one has any right to take your camera, ever – especially the police! Also, even if they ARE the owners, they can’t treat you any differently than everyone else if there’s public access to their property, like in a restaurant – otherwise, it’s akin to restraint of trade, especially if OTHER photographers have EVER been “allowed” to photograph there (“allowed” really equals “not prohibited” – are there pictures on the wall taken from inside the place – see?!?) – like news photo journalists on the subway, where trying to ban other photographers would be restraint of trade, monopoly practices, and so on, and the state has NO COMPELLING INTEREST to do any such thing, and actually CAN’T, considering that PHOTOGRAPHY is FREE SPEECH!

    Taking a photographer’s pictures away from them is copyright and intellectual property infringement – THEFT! No one has any right to your pictures unless you consent, and that is usually accomplished by a negotiated, WRITTEN legal contract AND an exchange of monies, otherwise, especially without MONEY, most judges throw out a so-called contract and return the property to the original owner, by the way.

    Also, though it may be a social ploy to explain to any curious onlooker what you’re doing with your camera, even to police or so-called security guards, no one takin’ pictures has ANY obligation to explain or even TALK to anyone who accosts us for taking pictures. IT’S NONE OF THEIR BUSINESS what we’re doin’ with our cameras.

    Geesh – don’t get me started!

    Doesn’t anybody READ the U.S. Declaration of Independence (“… unalienable rights … life, liberty, pursuit of happiness …”), the U.S. Constitution (especially the COPYRIGHT section!), the U.S. Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address (“… of the people, by the people, for the people …”), U.S. Supreme Court decisions from way back in the 1800’s from when photography first became argued over, and so on?!? There’s NOTHING NEW HERE – photography is FREE SPEECH!

    No one can even MAKE a law prohibiting photography since it’s a FREE SPEECH RIGHT – unalienable.

    And remember – laws do not GIVE us rights – we already have them (“… endowed by our creator with …”) – laws can only prohibit. We already HAVE all the rights, and all the power (supposedly).

    Ahhh … eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.

    Welcome to the U.S. – where photography is FREE SPEECH!



    Try this response so someone who ask us what we are doing with our cameras, and saying we can’t photograph here:

    “- Oh, are you interested in photography?

    – Do you collect photographs?

    – Would you like to buy some of my photography?

    – Are you a photographer?

    – Have you published or sold any photographs that I can see?

    – Perhaps we can meet someday and share stories and look at each other’s pictures – how about meeting at the Starbucks on the corner next Thursday noon and swapping photo stories and showing our portfolios?

    – Oh, and about prohibiting taking photographs – you’re not trying to restrain free trade, OR free speech, are you?

    – Since photography is a free speech right protected in the U.S. Constitution, especially under copyright law, you’re not trying to prevent Americans from making a living, are you?

    – THAT would be sheer terror if I felt anyone was trying to prohibit me from an opportunity to make a living, let alone to exercise my free speech rights.

    – You’re NOT trying to do anything illegal or un-American in trying to restrain my legal rights as a U.S. citizen, are you?

    – Can I see your identification, please? I may want to document this incident to make sure nothing illegal is going on here – do you have a government-issued photo I.D. with you, or do you need time to go and get it – I’ll wait. Let me take your picture in the meantime.

    – SMILE!

    – Click!

    – Thank you”


    Hey, we have to get PROACTIVE here.

    Photography is FREE SPEECH – so, c’m’on everyone, please carry your cameras with you everywhere, and photograph EVERYTHING, ALL THE TIME!


    Love and hugs,

    Peter Blaise
    Photographer (English is my SECOND language – AFTER photography – actually THIRD language after photography and music!)

  114. Bert Maddox-Brown says:

    We live in interesting times – a time of Corporate Paranoia – if any terrorist organisation intends to blow something up ,it will do irregardless of taking photos. It can plant ‘moles’ with completely clean records and pasts to survey the premises from within.

    This is all about the Corporate Power Trip of “Listen Little Man…”.

    I was once taking photos of the BBC Broadcasting House in London – a fabulous art deco confection, only to be told by a security guard that if I continue to take photos of the building he would smash my camera. I said that I could do what I like as I was in a public space, I carried on snapping. He did not do anything.

    All well and good if security came up to you and politely told you that you can’t snap the building because “…”, but this corporate rudeness is a load of bollocks.

    Loved the photo of the berk that tried to have a go at you, the accompanying commentary was also very funny.

    Remember Adolf Hitler’s dad, he was employed in a similar job!

  115. Anonymous says:

    thanks for sharing this. as a photographer, i’m really bothered by this.

    here’s a situation i would like some feedback on…

    i was at a rodeo the other day and got what i thought was a fabulous shot. i inquired with the rodeo about selling the photo to the contestant. to my surprise, the rodeo officials claim they have shared copyright to MY photograph and i cannot sell them if i’m not part of the PRCA (professional rodeo cowboy association).

    WHAAA??? i said. i never heard of this. does anyone else know anything about this? they claimed that it’s no different than say getting a great shot at an NFL game. apparently you can’t sell those either.

    so i asked how do you get into the PRCA. well, you know… it’s an exclusive club, they replied in so many words. and if you’re freelance? tough shit. and oh by the way, you’ve got to pay $$dues. of course.

    is there a restraint of trade issue here? anybody know?


  116. Anonymous says:

    UIn theuNited States you can take pictures of biukdings outsidacross the street. If a security guard said “No photos” I will tell them. “I willburn your fucking building down?

  117. Mr. Bentor says:

    I was with a friend who was taking pictures of buildings due to the way the light and reflection can make the buildings appear. He has some very cook pictures. Same kind of thing happened but here, “You can’t take pictures blah-blah-blah, you must give me that camera now blah-blah – – Illegal – blah-blah- now erase those pictures or else – the guard got huffy and tried to take the camera away from the photographer.

    Queue Seattle PD. The cop responded that there is no law against taking pictures, especially from a public street; and asked us if would like to press assault charges against the rent-a-guard for trying to take the camera away and for menacing.

  118. Mr. Bentor says:

    For the guy taking pictures of the rodeo. Uh, no. You do not share the copyright with them. You took the photo, its your photo. They are either misinformed or lying to you. The rodeo officials do not have shared copyright to your photograph. I’d go ahead and sell the photo as you see fit.

  119. Andi Devlin says:

    Mr. Bentor above is right. There is so much misinformation in the comments above his. To address,whether Thomas Hawk was on technically on private property doesn’t make an iota of difference in whether he was allowed to take the photos or not. It only makes a difference in whether they can ask him to leave the property. He can take as many pictures as he wants even as he’s leaving, and any security guard trying to confiscate the film or take the camera could be criminally prosecuted for assault and/or menacing. Any question of fair use of the pictures would be a civil matter, as Thomas has tried to explain, requiring them to file suit in a civil court afterward. This is what makes threatening to call the police such ridiculous action on the part of the guards. The people excusing the outrageous actions of the guards by citing the low pay are doing a disservice to the legions of low-paid service workers who don’t flip off everyone they disagree with every day. I’ve worked as a security guard before, and most of my co-workers developed a superiority complex (a la the “I own this building” guy in the story) from the small amount of power the badge gave them. Rock on, Thomas Hawk.

  120. okto says:

    If you shoot JPEG rather than RAW, and use a Mac, the free tool EXIF Untrasher can save you even if you are forced to delete your pictures.
    That’s how I now have pictures of an Air Marshal on duty. *wicked grin*

  121. jez says:

    I had a security chap manhandle me last year too for taking a photo of Tower Bridge, London, in the reflection of his building.

    One of his lines was ‘i have the power to call the police’, which was fairly remarkable since i was able to get my cell phone out and offer the same.

    All the way through the security guy wanted to know what I knew about the building (nothing, except a nice reflection) and he wouldn’t tell me what it was.

    So my interest was piqued and as soon as i got home I googled the address, images and found out that the building was the office of national UK newspaper, the Daily Express (one that would think nothing of photographing anyone or anything they please, whenever they want)…

    keep up the good work.

  122. sc-19 says:

    To Peter Blaise

    Extremely well said !

    My hat is off to you, I only wish more people would educate themselves about the laws and freedoms that are supposed to be available to us as U.S. citizens and that they would have the fortitude to stand up fight when they see them trounced on.

    R Walker

  123. Anonymous says:

    If you are out in public, you have no expectation to privacy, and can’t expect people not to take your photograph.
    If you take your car and put it on a public street, you can’t ask someone not to photograph it.
    If you have your house or building in full view from a public street, you can’t expect it to be considered private.

    Inside building, cars, etc. is a different story. But frankly, people are all concerned about these imaginary rights getting violated.

  124. Anonymous says:

    I love this blog… it is so funny and soo true!!

    I remember when I used to work at a theater… We used to get on people who took photos during the show and also of the stage before and after… because of copyright issues…

    But I believe that being in a public place and taking a picture of a building is nothing to get worked up over.. you know?

  125. Anonymous says:

    It is disapointing to me that you’re unable to put yourself in the owners/securety gaurds shoes.

    Last week a man took a picture of my car/licence plate right infront of me. From his point of view this was a harmless act of photography, but this made me feel very uncomfortable threatened so I immediately confronted him and ask him delete the picture from his digital camera. He explained the he meant no harm, however he respected my wishes and deleted the picture since it was of my property. He did not try to exercise his right to take pictures even though legally he did nothing wrong, however as I said he respected my wishes because of common courtesy.

    If you acted more like this man did then I bet you will come across less disputes with security gaurds and owners.

  126. rick says:

    The future is now………..

    Everyone will be walking down the street with their miniature, Bluetooth camera lens embedded in their clothing (front and rear), which streams everything it/you see to your WiFi cell phone.
    Your WiFi cell phone will store everything on its 1 terabyte hard drive while at the same time streaming this video you see via WiFi to a “tracker network”. The tracker network is a social group of similar people ( by geographical area,interest..etc),numbering from 2 or 3 to tens of thousands in size. All of these tracker networks will include retail facial recognition software that will be 10 times more powerful than anything currently available.
    The TrackerNetwork facial software works by taking every face that is inputted into its database and giving it a unique number.
    Then the face is identified in two ways.
    1. The TrackerNetwork facial software has so many thousands of “hits” on any face over a period of day/weeks it identifies where this person starts his/her day, works, shops etc. It does this all automatically without knowing who the person is.
    2. People who belong to the TrackerNetwork input faces and identify them by name.

    With the above two, anyone belonging to the TrackerNetwork can track just about anyone by belonging to a network from that city. Just input the name ( or unique ID the TrackerNetwork software assigns to an individual) and the software will either allow you to watch them live or can show you history from as far back as recorded on that individual.

    The upside:
    Modern Neighbor Hood Watch: Hit and run? captured on numerous cell phones, instantly uploaded to a tracker network and within seconds the car and driver are identified and sent to the police.

    You are walking down the street, a drug addict asks you for money and when you refuse, he starts to get violent. Picked up by someone watching from a store, driving by in a car and from the person waiting for the bus ½ a block away. Instantly sent to a tracker network.

    The downside:
    Anyone can track anyone all the time! You can track: politicians, celebrities, neighbors, spouse……etc.

  127. Anonymous says:

    hey Tank, why do you hate the first amendment, why do you hate america?

  128. randygerdes says:

    I got the sh*t scared out of me when I was photographing a park in Cairo and a military guard pointed his rifle at me and started screaming. I came to find out that a portion of a bridge over the Nile was in the park, and bridges are considered military installations in Egypt.

    On the plus side, an escort from the government allowed me to take my camera into King Tut’s tomb, which is ordinarily prohibited (so not all Egyptians are a**holes). I took a no-flash picture and was really happy.

  129. Anonymous says:

    I’m a police officer at an airport. People stand outside the airport all of the time to legally take pictures and video of planes landing and taking off. I don’t see any harm in this at all, especially since it’s legal. The Department of Homeland Security along with TSA are a total joke. The U.S. Constitution does not seem to apply to them. I think they create this fear of photography just so they have something to do, to justify their existence. They literally are out of control, and operate above the Constitution.

  130. Mr. Bentor said…

    For the guy taking pictures of the rodeo. Uh, no. You do not share the copyright with them. You took the photo, its your photo. They are either misinformed or lying to you. The rodeo officials do not have shared copyright to your photograph. I’d go ahead and sell the photo as you see fit.

  131. Apologies for previous post – cut/paste mistake.

    magpie said

    Getting each and every fan at the Superbowl to sign a standard photographers release must be a real bitch for sports journalists and the TV netwerks.

    Back of ticket. I’ll guarantee it says somehting about photos. It’s a binding legalk contract.

    VolleyJosh said

    Now, I can tell from the pictures that you were most definitely on private property, as the little brass placques mentoined previously are outside the pillars and the overhang that you were under. Of course, the no-pictures policy is stupid. Even if someone was trying to sneak or break in, they could just go into the lobby and mill around for hours.

    Irrelevant. The building has no “reasonable expectation of privacy”. Even if you’re trespassing (which, until being told to leave the property, he wasn’t), the legal standard is “reasonable expectation of privacy”.

    Mr. Bentor

    For the guy taking pictures of the rodeo. Uh, no. You do not share the copyright with them. You took the photo, its your photo. They are either misinformed or lying to you. The rodeo officials do not have shared copyright to your photograph. I’d go ahead and sell the photo as you see fit.

    I’d take a look at the back of the ticket before i said that/did that. it may say exactly what the rodeo officials said, and by buying and using the ticket you have entered a contract that is probably legally binding.

  132. bronney says:

    that middle finger shot is awesome, dude. Yesterday I was taking a shot of the PRADA flgaship store here in Hong Kong and all I got was a mean looking security with a waving hand wearing an expensive watch lol. But I think that’s when I fire the shutter though.

    When I first started taking street I get pissed off when they’re mean to me. Now, I am calm and fires the shutter exactly at the middle finger moment to capture the goodness :))

  133. Zach Meyer says:

    this is such a good example of what fear mechanics have done to this country. the security guard is thinking; “if i dont go get rid of this fucker he is gonna blow up the building some day and it’s going to be all my fault.” I guess in a sense he IS just doing his job, but he had to be a dick about it, even though part of him knew you had no intentions of committing an act of terrorism agains the place.

  134. Anonymous says:

    dude u should send this pic to his boss! ask him is this the type of employees you hire? great story!

  135. Hi, just happened on your blog and flickr account. Great stuff. I love it when I invite the rent a badge guys to call the cops so that we can all have a talk. I had a similar run in shooting Radio City Music Hall. see here,
    I have to say, great post! When I was in DC this last week, nare a soul said a thing. But in NY, LA, SF I hear it about half the time. Great Photography! Great Blog.

  136. I’ve been to Seattle a few times and have taken a few shots of various buildings (albeit from afar). I’ve also wandered around most of Vancouver shooting most of the interesting buildings from inside and out. Never had any trouble at all. Particularly in Canada where I’ve probably been filmed on security camera more than a few times shooting buildings. It seems pretty unfortunate that you’ve had these experiences. I’m returning back to the UK in a month and by all reports photographers are getting into all kinds of trouble, being accused of taking photos of kids (their own or otherwise), trouble from security staff for shooting buildings so I’ve got that to look forward to. All I can say is get yourself up to Vancouver if you want stress free and fantastic photo opportunities.

  137. Anonymous says:

    I figured I’d point out one camera friendly place in SF that you wouldn’t normally realize—inside the 9th Circuit Courthouse. Of course, you have to ask the courthouse manager for permission to bring your camera in, but she was really nice and had no problems with it. The architecture in there is amazing and the intricate marble carvings in some of the courtrooms are beautiful.

    BUT, don’t try to take your camera in to other federal courthouses, most won’t allow it for any reason.

  138. Anonymous says:

    “explaining who I am and showing them a card”

    A card!? What card? What does that even mean? You don’t need to “show them” anything.

  139. Riyad says:

    I’m just glad there are people like this guy in the photo stopping terrorism. Someone should give him a Superman cape to wear around while he fights crime.

    On a side note I’m going to start using “Post 9/11” for everything ridiculous I do. Next time I run down a puppy in a cross-walk “well, it’s post-9/11 now you know…”

    what a load of crap.

  140. moldor.the.flatulent says:

    Thomas, by doing this you are only exercising your democratic rights in a public place.

    We have a stink here in Australia over Gogle StreetView – people are demanding that their properties are blanked out. Sorry, public street, you have no expectation of privacy.

    By building “owners”, security guards and the Department of Homeland Absurdity getting all shitty about this, then the terrorists have won. We are expending more time and energy “defending” from these hypothetical attacks that we are probably giving Osama and his pals a good laugh.

    What are we leaving unguarded while we run around like headless chooks ?

  141. Thatmanrobert says:

    By the way loved the color balance of the photo

  142. Rachel says:

    I had this happen to me in Prague. It was the most beautiful building. It was also a bank! Who knew,I had a KBG’ish person come out of no where and rip the film from the camera.I’m a petite girl who was just a tad scared. It was clearly a bit “1984” in feeling. Hate to see it happen here but the camera’s are everywhere. Not yours or mine,it’s THEM!

  143. […] out and instruct you to stop shooting. While I don’t have any really crazy stories (though Thomas Hawk does), we did get scolded for taking this photo. We didn’t put up much of an argument because […]

  144. Binky says:

    I was at a friends 30th birthday party, enjoying the great weather and shooting the bull on the deck while we waited for a couple more friends to show up.

    While we were waiting, the guest of honor’s (who also owned the house) neighbor showed up. GOH’s neighbor happened to be a cop. In full uniform. So they were chatting, and the officer was eating a brat and drinking a pepsi. No big deal.

    I got a text message from another friend who asked if there was gonna be food there or if he should grab something to eat on the way. I looked over and saw that GOH had the grill opened and was flipping the burgers. Officer Friendly immediately piped up, “You don’t have permission to take my picture!”

    “Really? I wasn’t aware I needed ‘permission’, first of all; and second of all, I was only taking a picture of the food on the grill.”

    “Yeah, you need permission. The Minnesota Peace Officers Bill of Rights says that you can’t take a picture of a police officer without their permission.”

    Now, as an invited guest in someone elses house, I wasn’t gonna pick a fight with another invited guest, but:

    The officer was wrong and I knew it. The “Peace Officers Bill of Rights” is actually referred to as the “Peace Officers Disciplinary Procedures Act”. This act doesn’t prohibit the photographing of police officers by an average joe on the street; it does prohibit a department or government agency to release or publish photos or other information as a result of misconduct or a dispute.

    Furthermore, several Courts have ruled that an officer, as an officer and a public servant, in performance of his duty has no expectation of privacy up to and including that they can be subject to video recording against their wishes.

    Whatever the case, I took the non-confrontational route.


  146. Kostik says:

    Well, never happend to me. Not that i take good pictures, but i attempt :-).
    Any case here in NYC guess everyone is used to a guy with a camera.
    I do get the looks when I take the pictures for my investigative work outside of NYC, but never a confrontation.

  147. Will Dwinnell says:

    Good for you! Don’t give in to people who think they can make up and enforce laws on the spot.

  148. Jim McCarty says:

    My brother was in Rome last fall and when he tried to take a tourist picture of the American Embassy from across the street, a guard came over and told him not to…

    The place is on Google and Live Maps and who knows where else? This is symptomatic of our paranoia.

    Think of the hundreds of times you have heard or read the phrase ‘for security purposes’…it means nothing without defining the purpose. It’s mindless secure-speak. We give up like babies when someone cites that ‘reason’and we simply back off…

  149. […] of us. And to the extent that we are able, we need to take a stand. We need to know our rights, document the fact that we’ve been wronged, and work for change. And if we fail to enact change, the […]

  150. Tom H. says:

    Good for you. I was a private security officer at one time and NEVER was told anything about denying a photographer the right to photograph from the outside. If these clowns are representatives of the building, client, etc. they ought to take a course in public relations. There is NO excuse for their inappropriate actions. GO FOR IT!

  151. […] between m&#1077 &#1072n&#1281 a security guard wh&#959 came out &#959f 45 Fremont middle finger a’blazin’ t&#959 insist th&#1072t I n&#959t shoot th&#1072t […]

  152. […] linking m&#1077 &#1072nd a security protect wh&#959 came out &#959f 45 Fremont middle finger a’blazin’ t&#959 insist th&#1072t I n&#959t shoot th&#1072t […]

  153. […] particular nasty altercation took place between me and a security guard who came out of 45 Fremont middle finger a’blazin’ to insist that I not shoot that […]

  154. […] Click through for the rest of the story……. […]

  155. […] Click through for the rest of the story……. […]

  156. […] particular nasty altercation took place between me and a security guard who came out of 45 Fremont middle finger a’blazin’ to insist that I not shoot that […]

  157. […] Click through for the rest of the story……. […]

  158. that experience would be a lesson for you, i think theres nothing wrong with what you did, but i guess it would be better next time that before you get some photos you should let know the security assigned and ask for permission….Toronto Security Guard Companies but for the security, you’re overreacted.

  159. Tom B. Taker says:

    I loved the photo and the story.

    The “not our employee” is a pure line of bullshit. I know a major newspaper where the carrier broke the window of someone’s house delivering their daily paper. The subscriber complained, naturally, but the newspaper told their subscriber, “Hey. Not our problem. The carrier is an independent contractor.” That’s one hell of a way to treat your customers.

    There are web sites about photographer’s rights. I learned about this sort of thing when angry parents got in my face when I was taking pictures at the park. They thought I was taking pictures of their kids. People can be way too uptight sometimes.