Arrested for Photography – Past and Protest

Photography is NOT a crime (yet)

moscow coca cola ad
A photo worth jailtime?
Chinese photos
Chinese: anti-photography
photo policy
Photos are “against policy”
See this innocuous advertisement for Coca Cola on Moscow’s Arbat Street. Does it look like a Russian state secret? Like it would have any value to a Chechen spy? Or be the basis for arrest if you took a photograph of it?

I was arrested for taking a photograph of this very sign when I lived in Moscow and I refuse for that to happen in America.

It was a damn cold night in Moscow, -34C. I know this number for the bottom of that Coke ad had a thermometer and when I saw just how cold it was, I pulled out my camera to document the moment – a tropics boy in the frigid north.

No sooner had the flash illuminated the night that two of Moscow’s drunkest finest stepped out of the shadows and asked me for my documents. A standard small-time bribe shakedown I’d easily brushed past before. This time, they didn’t quickly return my documents.

This time, they asked me to come with them, a request I quickly questioned. The conversation (in Russian) went something like this:

Wayan: What? Why? My documents are in order.

Officer 1: No, they are not. It says you are American, but you are a spy! We saw you take that photograph.

Wayan: Spy? For taking a photograph of an advertisement? It’s a Coca Cola ad, not the Kremlin. And you can take photos in the Kremlin too!

Officer 1: You are a spy, a Chechen spy. Your Russian has a Chechen accent. You are wearing a Chechen hat. You’re take photographs at midnight. You are spying on Russia!

Wayan: I am an American, here with the Peace Corps. My Russian has an American accent and I bought this hat at Izmailovsky Park and I am taking photographs because I’ve never seen a thermometer read -34C!

Officer 1: You are a spy, get in the truck.

Officer 2: Go! (Officer 2 then pointed his AK-47 in my direction)

And then I spent a long, cold night in a Russian holding cell waiting for the police day shift to arrive and straighten things out. Yes, I was quickly released, unharmed if a little hungry and sleep deprived, when sober minds took a look at me and my paperwork. But that’s not the point.

The point is that this experience, while maybe expected in Russia, is now playing out in America. A country founded on freedom of expression and a right to public discourse. A country where unrestricted photography by private citizens has played an integral role in protecting the freedom, security, and well-being of all Americans by contributing to improvements in civil rights, labor practices, and police activity.

In addition, people (including children) on a public street have been found by the courts not to have an expectation of privacy and their photograph can be taken and even published without their consent. Using such images of the public for purposes of general commentary and criticism is also well established, and supersedes any organization’s “policy”.

Yet American photographers are being stopped, harassed, and even intimidated when expressing their freedom to photograph under the guise of “security” and misguided fears about terrorism. Even when the proliferation of digital camera and camera phones are actually preventing crimes, catching criminals, and generally preserving public order.

I was recently harassed for taking photographs on a public street in Washington DC, and have often be questioned when photographing WMATA. And now a private company who took over a public street in Silver Spring, a DC suburb, has banned photography and hassled a photographer who tried to take photos.

To me that is one step too far. One photographer harassment too much. And its time for a protest. Its time to join Metroblogging DC in a declaration of photographic freedom, a Silver Spring Photo Outing to remind Washingtonians that photography is NOT a crime.


Over One Million Served

Thanks for reading my website

the good life
Fans who love me
the good life
Fans who scare me
the good life
Fans new to me
Nine years and six hundred or so posts later, and I just passed a amazing milestone. By my calculations, the humble Belly Button Window has just past one million readers. That’s one million people who’ve read about my life, many for just a few minutes of course, but others who’ve been following my adventures for years.

Thank you.

While I don’t write this site for others really, its just to remind myself of all my adventures, and let my friends and family know what I am up to, I am always amazed that others find Belly Button Window worth reading too.

Even better, my writings on Belly Button Window have helped me get real-world jobs as well as fun gigs writing for other websites, Metroblogging DC is a great example.

To celebrate all the great accomplishments of Belly Button Window, I redesigned the site. Yes, that means I spent even more time and money developing this labor of love you read now.

With this fourth major overhaul, I’ve cleaned up the presentation, bringing it into a modern look and feel. I hope you like the new style.

I’ve also had to turn off comments on my older posts, due to the overwhelming waves of computer generated comment spam that clog up my website’s underlying systems. I forget to mention it in my Movable Type re-mastery recommendations but comment and Trackback spam is my number one complaint about Web 2.0 technologies.

Spammers were quick to figure out ways to try and trick Google and us with fake comments linking to their spam sites and Movable Type is too slow in changing its systems to be of use.

That means that if you’d like to comment on older posts, you have to email me directly and I’ll post them, old school Web 1.0 like.

Regardless of the format changes, don’t worry about the writing style changing. The Wayan Vota experience is definitely here to stay! For another million readers just like you.