Long-time readers of this blog, in its various guises, will know that I'm an enthusiastic amateur photographer. Over the years I've published hundreds of my snaps here and in online galleries. I have 550 in my London galleries alone, and more than 40 gigs worth on my hard drive.
But how many of you knew that every time I've taken a snap of the London skyline or St Paul's Cathedral or any other British street scene for that matter, I've risked the wrath of the law?
I've long been aware that police have been using Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to prevent photographers, both amateur and professional alike, from taking pictures of public places. Which is why I tend to be a little circumspect about when I pull the camera out, and why I particularly love my BlackBerry because I can take pictures quickly and easily without it looking too obvious.
But then yesterday I read this post on the BBC's Viewfinder blog, which highlighted the perils of taking photographs on the streets of the UK. And then I watched this interview with BBC photographer Jeff Overs, who was collared by police for taking photographs of the Millennium Bridge and St Paul's Cathedral last week, and I suddenly realised it could easily have been me in Mr Overs' place. I take photographs of the bridge and the dome of St Paul's all the time (see here and here and here and here -- and that's just in the past three months). I wander the streets around work every lunch time and take photographs of the cityscape, not because I'm on a reconnaissance mission for a terrorist organisation, but because I love the buildings and places I discover and want to show them to a wider audience -- my blog readers.
It's all a bit ludicrous really. I could perhaps understand the security risk of taking interior shots of public buildings, such as banks and shops and government departments, but the outside of them? Have the police not heard of Google Street View or Google Earth where everything is pretty much viewable on demand without leaving the comfort of your home -- you just switch on your computer and fire up your internet and the world's there for the taking?
For a city that has more CCTV cameras than anywhere else on earth (there's one camera for every eight Londoners if you believe this story), it seems ironic that its citizens are not allowed to use their own cameras in public places.
So, when I heard, via @LDN, that a "protest" against these infringements of photographers' rights was being arranged for today I thought I'd pop along. And that is how I found myself posing for a picture in the misty rain outside the Tate Modern late this afternoon.
Did today's exercise achieve anything? Probably not. No one had any banners or signs to explain what we were up to. I assume most tourists trundling by thought we were just another coach party taking the stereotypical London tourist shot. But if one person reads this blog post and gets angered by what's happening here in the UK and then spreads the word further then perhaps it will achieve some purpose.
To find out more, you can visit the I'm a photographer, not a terrorist! website. The Guardian's Henry Porter has written a good post about the issue on his blog, and author David Hewson also weighs in. I'm sure there are loads more. Do leave me a comment with appropriate links if you know of them.