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Veloise

Kentwood water tower kerfuffle

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This incident also made the War on Photography blog on Sept 26. I won't rehash all the comments there or Mlive, but... If I sat up an easel in the parking lot of the landfill and started to paint a representation of the 'octopus' with my watercolor set, do you think anyone would even bat an eye at me? I know different resolution and all - but I get get some really detailed info, versus a snapshot. I could monitor the comings and goings, etc for a long time - and no one would care a lick.

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I wonder if the mayor of Kentwood knows that people take photos of the Mackinac Bridge all of the time without any goons assuming that you are going to blow it up.

With the pathetic urban design and traffic of the place, I would think Al Qaeda would need pictures to know to avoid it.

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I wonder if the mayor of Kentwood knows that people take photos of the Mackinac Bridge all of the time without any goons assuming that you are going to blow it up.

With the pathetic urban design and traffic of the place, I would think Al Qaeda would need pictures to know to avoid it.

My favorite MLive comment: the person who spoke with the Straits-area Coast Guard. Also the one who called up Mackinaw City PD. "After they stopped laughing..."

On the Reddit site, someone provided a link with the comment, "Yeah, no one ever takes pictures of that bridge. The Mayor must think that the coast guard has an entire unit devoted to people who take pictures of that one bridge." 42,100 results!

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I have some experience in anti-terrorism from when I was in the service, and I have some sympathy for Kentwood in this case... Remember, this guy didn't just take one shot of a public utility site; he was walking around it, taking many shots... Say what you want, such behavior looks like surveillance, plain and simple... And it's no wonder he drew attention on himself. You can laugh all you like, but the FBI doesn't just worry about Al-Qaeda; they watch domestic terrorist groups too, and you never know with those guys.

Yes, I agree the city overreacted.

Yes, I agree utility workers shouldn't stop people for questioning. They should have left that to the cops.

Yes, I agree Kentwood owes the guy an apology, regardless of good intentions. They were still wrong.

Yes, I agree the mayor's comment on the Mackinac Bridge was incredibly stupid.

But, if this guy was smart, he would have let the Kentwood Public Works Department know ahead of time he would be taking those photos, so no one would have had any reason to get suspicious, and hence no misunderstandings. Sure there's no law against a person taking these kinds of photos on public sites; but if you're self-aware enough to realize your actions could easily be misconstrued, why wouldn't you want to save yourself the headache? Communication is a two-way street, and a little foresight & initiative go a long way.

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But, if this guy was smart, he would have let the Kentwood Public Works Department know ahead of time he would be taking those photos, so no one would have had any reason to get suspicious, and hence no misunderstandings. Sure there's no law against a person taking these kinds of photos on public sites; but if you're self-aware enough to realize your actions could easily be misconstrued, why wouldn't you want to save yourself the headache? Communication is a two-way street, and a little foresight & initiative go a long way.

I'm a friend of the person in the story, so take this as you will...

On the one hand, you're right, if a person's aware their actions will be misconstrued, they should let people know beforehand.

On the other... Well... communication is a two way street. If they'd posted a sign saying "No Photography Without Permission," he might have contacted them. The hazard of growing up in the US is that you tend to believe that unless it's been posted, you can do what you want.

In this particular case, the city had no policy, but that city employee was worried that vandalism that had happened in another, nearby community might have been terrorists. How do you anticipate that? You can't.

People have taken pictures of the water tower both before and since and haven't gotten the same reaction.

I'm a little bit of a photographer myself, and the only time I've ever been prevented from photographing something was while visiting the Soviet Union while on a college choir tour. They didn't want us to take pictures of train stations, airports, and other public infrastructure, but it was a policy and they told us beforehand.

It still annoyed me on a gut level, and I made a point of taking a few shots of exactly that sort of thing anyway (but thanks to their warning, I knew I was doing something stupid).

Jim

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Hey folks. I followed a link from Jim's blog here. I'm the photographer in question.

Something I've noticed in the reaction to the incident is that people often say something like "well, he did X, which was very suspicious. Of course they were suspicious of him."

Except I didn't do X. The person in question just read that into the story -- not intentionally, I don't think -- I think that people just imagine how it must have played out in their minds, make some reasonable assumptions (i.e. "the city workers saw something to make them suspicious...It must have been X") and then react to the scenario they've imagined.

A very reasonable thing to do -- the article didn't have every single detail of what happened, and it got some very minor details wrong.

In this case:

Remember, this guy didn't just take one shot of a public utility site; he was walking around it, taking many shots... Say what you want, such behavior looks like surveillance, plain and simple...

No, I stood in one place -- on the sidewalk -- and took about a dozen pictures in a row, only moving the camera slightly to do so. I couldn't have been there for even a minute when the guy pulled up beside me and started questioning me.

Similarly in other discussion fora I've heard people say "he should have been polite" "he should have told the guy what he was doing, instead of just refusing to answer questions" etc. In fact, I was polite, and I told the guy exactly what I was doing and why; I also told him where I lived, where I'd just walked there from (the library), what i was doing at the library, why I'd taken a walk, where I was going afterwards (back to the library), what I was doing there (working on my computer) -- after getting all these answers, the guy still was not satisfied. He clearly still believed I was up to no good. At *that point* he demanded my name. At that point I had no reason to believe he'd be satisfied with anything I said, and giving personal information to someone who was determined to find something wrong with what I was doing seemed stupid. I wanted to just go away and stop the conversation, and I did so.

If that was all that happened, even, I wouldn't have been so outraged. It's just that about a half hour later while I was in the library working on my laptop, that guy and another guy pulled up chairs next to me and sat down, blocking me into the corner, and started demanding my name and wouldn't take no for an answer -- well, that part was in the paper. I won't repeat it all.

The point is -- a lot of people are reasonably assuming I did something to trigger suspicion or hostility on the part of the utility workers. That's a reasonable assumption -- usually people aren't hostile or suspicious without good reason -- but sadly in this particular case it happens not to be true. This really was out of the blue, at least as far as I could tell at the time and can remember now.

It's possible there are suspicious things I did or hostility-triggering things I said at the time that I wasn't aware of and/or can't remember now -- memory is fallible -- but I know I did not walk around taking pictures from different angles, nor was I impolite (up till the point where I broke off the conversation and walked away) nor was I evasive or mysterious about what I was doing. Those are reasonable things to assume happened, but they are assumptions and they are not in fact true.

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Mr. Heil,

Thanks for the clarification, and I apologize for the faulty assumption. The main purpose of my last post was that I saw a lot of comments on MLive and elsewhere ridiculing Kentwood for daring to be cautious over possible (however improbable) threats to their facilities, which I thought was unfair... But in the process I was unfair to you as well. Clearly you weren't doing anything unreasonable, and I had no doubt all along you deserved better from the city in its treatment of you.

On the other... Well... communication is a two way street. If they'd posted a sign saying "No Photography Without Permission," he might have contacted them. The hazard of growing up in the US is that you tend to believe that unless it's been posted, you can do what you want.

In this particular case, the city had no policy, but that city employee was worried that vandalism that had happened in another, nearby community might have been terrorists. How do you anticipate that? You can't.

My suggestion wasn't about permission or policy, it's about adopting a mindset of covering your arse. You don't have to ask permission if you want to take photos of something... But the government doesn't have to ask permission if it wants to gather intel on you when you're in public. Again, if you want to avoid that headache, that's solely on your initiative.

Of course you couldn't have anticipated what that city employee was thinking, but you could anticipate that people in general will get touchy around utility sites, when they're considered potential targets, such as they are. You're still right and the city is still wrong... but what's better than being right is avoiding the fiasco all together.

But to both Mr. Heil & JZEE, I see where you're coming from, and I really do appreciate your taking the time to respond directly, with so many forums abuzz about this!

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The two city workers sound like a couple of wackos. If I saw something I thought was suspicious, I'd let law enforcement know and leave it at that. Following and confronting Mr. Heil was totally out of line. The mayor's comment about the Big Mac, well................ :rolleyes:

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The mayor's comment about the Big Mac, well................ :rolleyes:

The mayor's quote is one not to be forgotten any time soon, right on the level with this:

(And ironically, quite a relevant quote, too!)

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The two city workers sound like a couple of wackos. If I saw something I thought was suspicious, I'd let law enforcement know and leave it at that. Following and confronting Mr. Heil was totally out of line. The mayor's comment about the Big Mac, well................ :rolleyes:

Welcome, Ed! This is as good a forum as any to correct misinformation.

As someone who's repeatedly photographed tall municipal installations capable of supporting wireless antennas, the Press story touched a nerve. (I've also worked for local governments, as well as around them, and have sometimes wondered about what's in that water supply and if someone perhaps hasn't consumed too much of it.)

My MO was: don't request permission or provide advance notification. Attempting to reach out elevates someone into having authority with which they are unfamiliar.

"Hey, water department person, I need permission to take a close look at your water tank." Add several weeks or months to the timeline.

What's baffling to me: If the city workers truly believed that Ed was a threat, why would they corner him in the library and confront him? And how can someone as clueless about one of our fair state's biggest tourist attractions get elected?

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Because there's no IQ test to get elected and people don't pay attention to such small elections unless a friend or family member is running.

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