IF you care about Photographers’s Rights and our rights as US Citizens, please read. You can go to the bottom for a call to action and a link to Photographers’ Rights.
“All that’s necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.” -Edmund Burke
BP Oil Spill, Gulf of Mexico, 2010
I have been reading a fair bit about the recent “War on Photography”. I knew this was going on because I have had friends tell me about encounters recently that they have had. Remembering the first tale I heard about this. A friend of mine used to be an AP stringer in Kentucky. Hearing about a mine collapse/explosion, he went up to the gates of the facility, along with other photographers, and shot as the miners came out of the mine from the accident. He was standing on public property (the road) and shooting into the facility. Well, someone didn’t want the images to get out, so they instructed the law enforcement to confiscate the images. My friend had time to put his roll of film down into his pants (I never really asked him where) and put another roll of film into the camera and fire off several frames. When the officer told him to hand over his film, he replied by opening the back of his camera and strip the film out of the canister and then handing it over. No way for them to know that he had hidden the originals. The story went on to when a Pulitzer Prize. I probably would have stuffed film in my pants for a Pulitzer Prize. This was not recent, not even in the past 15 years, so law enforcement taking liberty with citizens’ rights is not a new event.
Flash forward to 2001. Specifically 9/11/2001. We all know what happened that day. Many of us watched in person or on TV the events that start the War on Terrorism. So why do I mention this? Because, since the advent of Homeland Security and the heightened sense of vulnerability to terrorism, many LEOs have quote the 9/11 Law as reasons to ask photographers from making images in public places in completely legal venues. There is no such 9/11 Law that prevents a photographer from taking images. There are certain places where photography may be limited for national security (certain areas of military bases, certain areas of nuclear facilities) but trains, bridges and buildings are not on the list. But photographers have been arrested for taking images of all of these. Almost all the charges have eventually been dropped and some of the people are bringing suit for false arrest.
Why would I, as a nature photographer, be worried about this? Aren’t these examples of people taking pictures of law enforcement or of oil refineries or trains or buildings? We usually don’t take these kind of pictures. Oh, but we might, depending on the story.
I was fortunate to photograph several different times along the AL and LA coast after the BP Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. I was not accosted during the process and count myself fortunate. Places were limited at times, but I usually got access by going through the channels. I was even able to photograph the Fort Jackson bird recovery facility, even inside, with a Press Pass. But not everyone was as blessed.
I had friends who went to photograph the results of the BP disaster and were threatened with arrest for photographing on a public beach of the clean up process. They were told that it was against the 9/11 Law and could be considered an act of terrorism. I had other friends who were denied access to areas (that are public land). There are reports of photographers who were denied the right to fly over public land and public ocean during this time period of the BP disaster.
Which leads to me the reason that I started writing about this. Denali National Park has introduced a new Road plan. This plan regulates access along the road within the park. Historically, professional photographers could apply for a road pass and be put into a lottery for a pass that would give them access to the Park in a private vehicle for a certain period of days. Some of these photographers were part of a Pro Photographers focus group that met on teleconference with park officials to help the park understand the position and needs of professional photographers. It has been reported to me by several photographers on those calls that at least one park official stated that they saw no need for photography within the park as there were enough pictures of the park to be used for any needs. Also the park has denied any business permits for photography workshops within the park for several years.
Denali NP, AK
The Denali Road plan wants to take away road passes from professional photographers and give them to tour companies to run more buses through the park. I have been told that the Cruise lines have an active lobbying presence talking to the Park officials and have been requesting that the professional photographers’ road pass be done away with and the road pass permits be given to the tour companies to run more buses through the park.
The ProPhoto committee actually agreed to not have any road passes during the high tourist season (summer) in exchange for a couple of extra passes during the early summer and late summer/early fall periods in which tourist presence is diminished.
Here are comments from Tom Walker, professional photographer in Alaska and a member of the Workgroup:
“Denali National Park Planning Change to Road Access that will impact Photographers
DRAFT DENALI PARK ROAD VEHICLE MANAGEMENT PLAN open until October 31 for comment.
For almost two decades large tour companies, through the Alaska Tourism Industry Association (ATIA) have lobbied for increased bus access to the park. For over ten years, for example, they have pushed to have Denali’s Professional Photographers Permit System (ProPho) revoked, and that vehicle allocation replaced with tour buses. The new DRAFT DENALI PARK ROAD VEHICLE MANAGEMENT PLAN (DRMP) seems designed to meet these tour operators’ desires to the detriment to other visitors, especially photographers.
Since 1972, Denali has had a Professional Photography permit system that has allowed private vehicle access to the park for qualifying individuals. Last winter, at the request of Supt. Paul Anderson, a PROPHO work group met with the park planner, Miriam Valentine, to develop a win-win scenario for the program scheduled for change by the new plan.
After hours and hours of work and tele-conferences the group felt headway had been made and expected reasonable adjustments to the current program. When the DRMP was published, the group was shocked and dismayed to see its input completely ignored and the Alternatives identical to what Valentine outlined the very FIRST day of the meetings. The group determined from this experience, that once again public concerns are being discarded and the outcome of the “public process” is mere window dressing.
Also troubling, Alternatives B and C in the DRMP calls for maximizing bus capacity, in short filling every seat on every bus, making any photography from such a bus almost impossible.
What is most troubling is that if Denali adopts Alternative B or C, a whole new level of monitoring bureaucracy will be established that will cost at least $1 million more per year. A very problematic issue since already the park administration is concerned with next year’s budget cuts.
Alternative A, No Action, is the only Alternative favorable to photographers. Comments may be emailed to: DENAfirstname.lastname@example.org”
In addition to Tom’s comments, in reviewing the 300 + page document, it appears that Denali NP would decrease the number of Road Permits from current 610 to 448 in Plan B (but you only get to travel part of the road, so realistically divided the number in half) to 366 in plan C. What is interesting is that the ProPhoto group suggested 7 full road permits a day, but only in the early and late season for a total of about 350 permits, so more permits could go to buses during the peak tourist season in the mid summer.
I am calling on all photographers to go online and read the Denali Road Proposal and then respond to the request for input at the DNP website.
Since it is almost to easily find the Proposal from the Denali NPS website or even from the link that they have on the website to Proposed Plans, I have included quick links that will take you directly to
Denali Draft Vehicle Management Plan
Comment page for Vehicle Management Plan
If you want to read more about the War on Photography, attorney Morgan Manning wrote about this in the Tennessee Law Review for the University of TN, Knoxville, College of Law. Morgan Manning, Paper on Photographers’ Rights in TN Law Review from UT, Knoxville, College of Law. Also listen to NPR interview with Morgan- NPR.
And attorney and photographer Bert P. Krages II has listed photographer’s rights, in general. Click Here from Photographers’ Rights.