Transamerica Tower, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.
Wandering around downtown San Francisco last night taking photos, my tripod and I managed a “two-fer”: we were evicted from two locations. Now, the lot of the night photographer is to get kicked out of places. I’ve been told to move on by park rangers, cops, transit police, airport security, irate private property owners, and private security guards. And for some reason my poor, innocent tripod seems to trigger the worst of this harassment. Nobody seems to care if you pull out the old point-and-shoot, but stop for a moment to expand the legs of your carbon-fiber Gitzo and you might as well have a target painted on you for every two-bit officious official.
I’ve heard all kinds of reasons, from invocations of national security in a post-9/11 world to interference with foot traffic (when there’s no one around). What’s a poor tripod to do?
The general rule of law in the United States is that you can take photos of whatever you want in public places, with a few slight exceptions for things like military bases and nuclear installations. I carry around in my camera pack an article written by attorney Bert P. Krages II, Your Rights and Remedies When Stopped or Confronted for Photography that makes this pretty clear, so I can show it to people who try and stop me from photographing in public places.
The security guards last night were having none of it. Inside the Ferry Terminal the light was great, but they made me and my tripod leave without an articulated reason anyway. On one of the bridge overpasses in Embarcadero Center, the security guard said my tripod was a “tripping hazard”—hard to see with no one around, and me off to one side. You could make a pretty good argument that both these places are public: they are open to the public all the time, and largely paid for with public money. But the private security people can pretty much do what they want, it seems.
When I got to the tram platform on Market Street (below), I was afraid I would get a third tripod eviction notice, but it didn’t happen.
Wandering around this part of San Francisco at night is an interesting experience. There’s obviously tons of wealth: glossy people, glossy buildings. But everywhere I looked I saw people sleeping in alleys and parks. It is like I wandered into the “bad” alternative universe in the Back to the Future movie in which the evil bully Biff rules everything, and the future has gone sour.
Don’t we have better things to worry about than night photographers with tripods?
So I say, tripods of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your shutter speeds.
View this image larger.