Camera Lens Incites Paranoia (letter)

(In July, 2014, I wrote a blog about infringement on photographers' rights and, in particular, my experiences. These letters are part of the story.)

County Executive Laura A. Neuman
44 Calvert St.
Annapolis, MD 21041

Director Rick Anthony
AA County Recreation and Parks
1 Harry S Truman Pkwy.
Annapolis, MD 21041

Dear Ms. Neuman and Mr. Anthony:

This afternoon, during a low-key photography session at Downs Park with a fellow camera club photographer and two modeling friends,  we were approached by a park ranger and informed of "procedures for professional photographers" requiring pre-approval by the superintendent "for each occurrence." We were told that a concern was that professionals are making money by using the park setting. Please note that we do not pay our model friends nor do they pay us.

Having taken photographs at this park two miles from  my home for more than 30 years, and supported it through county property taxes and the purchase of county parks passes—annually at first, and in more recent years holding a lifetime seniors pass—I was disturbed at the implication that we were doing something requiring special permission.

Photography is one of the most popular pastimes in America, and these days people can take high-quality images with tiny cameras, phones and iPads—or, as we prefer in taking people pictures, with Nikon equipment and hand-held light reflectors.

This activity on a hot weekday afternoon, with relatively few visitors in the park, took place in a public area and did not restrict access to any area of the park by anyone.

I was handed a slip of paper listing "procedures for professional photographers"—although the ranger had no way of determining whether we were professional or amateur photographers -- except, perhaps, making an assumption based on the use of a hand-held light reflector.

The concerns listed note that activity cannot restrict public access—and, in fact, did not. It further states that "the Park Superintendent and/or ranking staff in his/her absence has authority to deny or halt any activity they deem inappropriate or a hinder to the general public at anytime with no explanation."  

I would like to know what was inappropriate about two female photographers—or, for that matter, any photographer—taking tasteful photos in a public park. Was the use of a light reflector inappropriate? Or was it, as one of our model friends wondered, the fact that they are African-American in a county park where diversity is rather minimal?

The "procedures" also state that the photographer and "clients" have to purchase permits or an entry fee to enter the park. Well, I have that. It covers the entry for my car and its passengers.

I often take my video camera and tripod to photograph nature in the park. Would this video camera with an external microphone and the use of a tripod (off the path) create suspicion? Would I need to notify the park every time I do this? I often do this on the spur of the moment, depending on weather and my schedule. Would I not be allowed to do this if the office were closed because it would be impossible to receive “pre-approval?”

While the ranger was polite and stated that the activity under way could continue on this particular visit, I object vociferously to the suggestion that this should ever require advance approval from the park superintendent.

I could see a concern should a movie crew turn up with a truckload of equipment -- but four people in a car, with two cameras and a light reflector? Where does that make sense?

The county parks system should be encouraging photography and all art, not interfering with it. What about an artist who might set up an easel and later sell those paintings of the park? Will this artist also have to jump through the bureaucratic hoops? If indeed I were ever to make some money from photos taken in the park, that would benefit the county—by increasing my local income tax.

I believe that Downs Park is a treasure. In the past I have taken hundreds, if not thousands, of images  of and at Downs Park. Before my retirement as a county teacher, I conducted student photography outings there. One book that I found on mentions Downs Park as influencing successful projects of my students. I have participated in park photo contests. When talking with friends, I have often credited Downs Park for helping me maintain balance while teaching middle school during the day, walking two miles on trails in the park and then going to graduate school at night. Obviously, today there was no balance for me at Downs Park.

Increasingly, I have seen growing government intrusion in ordinary and reasonable activity, and find that disturbing. It also makes me wonder whether county officials know who they work for.

Answer: The public.

I hope for a speedy response to my concerns.

Dr. Bonnie J. Schupp


Response to my letter:

Dear Dr. Schupp:

Thank you for your letter of May 29, 2013 regarding your unfortunate experience with a park ranger at Downs Park concerning professional photography at the Park.

I appreciate you bringing this matter to my attention and I apologize for any inconvenience this has caused you. Unfortunately, there have been many issues at Downs Park with professional photographers setting up shop at the Park for profit. I agree that Park Rangers and Park Superintendents should use better judgment regarding this matter, and I have informed the Chief of Parks Operations to meet with the Parks’ staff and instruct them to use more discretion for the casual photographer.

Again, thank you for bringing this matter to my attention and for your many years of support. We look forward to you returning to the Park soon and often.


Rick Anthony

cc: County Executive Laura Neuman

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