About Thomas Fitzgerald

Thomas is a professional fine art photographer and writer specialising in photography related instructional books as well as travel writing and street photography. 

Attacked for (not even) taking photos on the street

Attacked for (not even) taking photos on the street

So I had a scary experience earlier today. I went into Dublin City to get some photos to finish off a video I was working on for my YouTube channel. I had taken out my camera to shoot some photos, and just as I was walking down the street, some guy on a bike came up behind me and started giving out to me for taking photos of someone, and then proceeded to grab my camera and push it into my face.

Here’s the full story of what happened.

Earlier this week I had recoded an episode of “Street Photo Diary” in which I had shot some street photography on film. I wasn’t completely happy with the shots I had taken, so I wanted to get some more. I had a few shots left on a roll of film in my other film camera, so I figured I’d use that up. I also grabbed my Canon 5d while on the way out the door.

When I got into the city centre I realised the battery was dead in the film camera (It still looks like it has power until you go to take a photo) so I switched to the 5D as I didn’t want the morning to be a complete waste. In my haste leaving, I hadn’t checked to see if that was working either, so the battery was low on that too. As I was walking down Grafton Street in Dublin, I took a quick shot to check that the camera was working. I almost always do this, and it was a throwaway shot of nothing. I wasn’t even paying attention to the subject because I wasn’t ever going to use it.

The next thing I know this scary looking guy came up beside me on a bike and started barking at me wanting to know if I was a photographer. He was really thin with eyes that looked like they wre bloodshot, and broken or very bad teeth, and a thick inner city Dublin accent. I don’t want to stereotype anyone, but if you’re from Dublin you will know the type. I was understandably concerned, so I played dumb and pretended to be a tourist. He then started accusing me of taking a photo of some “girl” (a woman) who I hadn’t even noticed was there, claiming I was “invading her privacy” (in the middle of a busy street in the middle of the day)

I just again said I was just a tourist and I was taking a photo of the Disney store (as it was right there) but he kept insisting I was taking the persons photo and I was invading her privacy. He then started getting increasingly aggressive and wouldn’t let me pass, so I went to take his photo for evidence, and then he grabbed my camera - pushing it back into my face and hitting me in the nose. At that point I just said “leave me alone” and hurriedly walked away in the opposite direction.

It’s perfectly legal to take photos on the street in public, including of people. If it weren’t there would have to be a lot of people arrested for street photography. But the thing was, in this instance I wasn’t even taking the person’s photo, and I hadn’t even noticed her there.

I was pretty upset and in shock after this, as I thought he was really going to assault me. I got back on the tram and headed home, but once I calmed down a bit, I decided I should report it, so I stopped in my local Garda station (Irish police force) and told them what had happened. They gave me the option of filing charges, but I didn’t do that, as I would have to go to court, and I didn’t want the hassle, but I thought it best that they had a record of the incident.

This seems to be happening more and more lately. There was another article recently about a street photographer who was photographing at a fair, and he was attacked on facebook for it (not a physical attack obviously). Photoshelter recently ran a piece about it asking if “Street Photography” should be illegal. I kind of dismissed it at the time as being hyperbolic, but now I’m beginning to think they’re on to something. Not that it should be illegal, but that it’s something you need to think about before doing it, especially when there’s an increased paranoia among the general public, even if this is totally aimed at the wrong people, and somewhat ironic given how people gladly share their information on facebook.

I don’t think this guy was some social justice warrior by any means, but it wasn’t something I will forget any time soon. I know some people would have stood their ground and fight for their rights as a photographer, but I’m actually a pretty introverted person and totally afraid of confrontation. Also, the guy was pretty scary looking. I wish I was one of those people that say something like “this only heightens my resolve and I’ll be back out first thing tomorrow” but I’m really not that strong. It’s totally shaken my confidence. I’m actually still pretty much in shock and upset even now a few hours later. I’ve been shooting photography on the street for 20 years and I’ve never had anything like this happen before.

Cover photo by Jude Beck via Unsplash

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