Now I was always under the impression that it was the duty of the police to keep the peace, catch criminals, return truculent toddlers to their frantic parents, and direct lost tourists. But apparently, Long Beach police are also the gurus of good taste and the overseers of all that is aesthetically pleasing. If they see someone taking photos with ‘no apparent aesthetic value’ it is their policy to detain the photographer.
Please note, oil refineries are not considered to be of aesthetic value and therefore you can be stopped and questioned if seen photographing one.
This is something that Sander Roscoe Wolff, a photographer and writer for the Long Beach Post, discovered to his cost at the end of June. He was stopped by officer Asif Kahn when he was snapping pics of North Long Beach oil refinery. Apparently because his subject wasn’t pretty enough.
Taking photos of subjects ‘with no apparent aesthetic value’ is something that can contribute to a Suspicious Activity Report, along with asking about an establishment’s hours of operation and taking notes. Not forgetting attempting to purchase anthrax, or owning explosives for illicit purposes, or laying your grubby mitts on uniforms that could be used in all sorts of nefarious ways.
According to Police Chief Jim McDonnell, police officers don’t receive specific training in what can or cannot be considered aesthetically pleasing, but that they make these calls based on ‘their overall training and experience’ and what they consider to be behaviour regularly indulged in by tourists.
Now, forgive me for the shadow of doubt here, but I’m not sure that basing suspicions of criminal – or potential criminal – activity on the highly subjective value judgement of what a police officer considers to be aesthetically pleasing, beautiful, attractive, or photo-worthy is entirely valid, because, well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
In case this needs reinforcing, I should like to direct Police Chief McDonnell to Flickr, where searching for ‘industrial decay’ yields 78,627 results. Type in ‘windfarm’ and 40,282 pictures are spurted back at you. Go for the alternative spelling of ‘wind farm’ and there are 70,608 matches. Jeez, I’m not exactly turned on by photos of rubbish bins, but there are still over 14,000 of them on Flickr.
And dammit, if anyone were to see half of the photos that I discard following a shoot, I’d be locked up and the key thrown away for the offence of taking an ugly shot.
(Headsup to A Photo Editor)