TRAINS, CAMERAS AND THE CONSTITUTION

It was Labor Day in 2009 when I became aware of just how bad things have gotten in the US.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’ve been naïve.  I’ve been a student of free speech and the political landscape of the US since high school, but Labor Day was the first time I have come into contact with a violation of my civil rights in a very real way.

Our office had a loaner 5D Mark II, and I took it for the weekend for a test drive.  I’ve had a fascination with the Houston light rail since they started laying track, and shooting it with the 5D seemed like the thing to do.  So my friend and I were standing on the platform when an angry homeless guy came up to us and starts harassing us for change.  I look to my right, and there was a Metro Police Car.  I waved at him hoping he would keep this guy moving who was now becoming belligerent.  I’m usually not so nervous in these situations, however, I did have $3500.00 worth of camera  strapped around my neck.  The cop yelled out something:  ”NO PICTURES OF THE TRAIN!”

Could he actually be serious?  After several calls to the Houston Metro Police Department, I come to find he was.  However, it seems there is no law on the books prohibiting photography of a train.  Nevertheless, Homeland Security has endowed local police departments nationwide with violating the first amendment rights of would be train photographers by harassing them and/or detaining them.

When I hung up the phone, I knew for the first time, I wasn’t dealing with some rogue cop or an over zealous police captain, I was dealing with the New American Police State.  The kind of police state they warned us about in speeches on Veteran’s Day when I was in elementary school.

It turns out, my experience isn’t unique in any fashion, except I might have gotten off easy.  Last February in New York,  Robert S. Taylor of Brooklyn was taking photos for fun in a subway station. Police saw him and cited him for unauthorized photography, even though the crime doesn’t actually exist.  Taylor states that charge was dropped, however, they also charged him disorderly conduct.  Ironically, Taylor works for MTA.  He was off duty at the time. More recently, on the other side of the country in California, Andrew Cichowski was taking pictures of the Diridon train station in San José.

I was taking a picture of the barbed wire fence, I heard someone shout “TURN AROUND SLOWLY!” I said “excuse me?” confusedly, and then slowly turned around. To my surprise, two police officers were staring at me. They asked what I was “suspiciously photographing industrial stuff for…” After about 30 minutes, they realized I wasn’t some sort of strange train terrorist, but were still asking me questions. A third officer and third and fourth squad car then arrived. Eventually, they copied the entire contents of my CF card to their police laptop and two flash drives, I told them they could have a copy of the photos as long as they didn’t sell any of them. They smiled and promised not to.  Aside from this being a terribly obnoxious waste of time, it was an interesting experience, and I’m now very likely on some sort of terrorist watch list for being a suspicious photographer…

Just today, someone posted the image at the top of this article which is a sign on a train in Chicago.  It asks citizens to call 911 if they see any suspicious behavior, and it explicitly lists photography and video as one of those suspicious activities.  So where does this leave free citizens who wish to maintain their Constitutional rights?  It leaves us with the burden of asserting ourselves I’m afraid.

Sometimes, the only way to keep a right is by exercising that right.  Therefore, take pictures whenever possible of everything possible, especially of trains, planes and buses.  We must report any police officers, security guards or other so-called officials who attempt to infringe upon our rights to their superiors and watch dog groups such as the ACLU.  Become locally active in photography groups in your area and most importantly, talk about these issues.  Post your experiences online using blogs and social media.  Above all, write your mayor, congressman and senators and tell them if they are incapable of stopping these attacks on our civil rights, we will elect someone who will.

The bottom line, there is now a real threat to the rights of free citizens everywhere, and no one is going to rescue you.  If you want to enjoy the freedom to use your camera when and where you want, you’re going to have to fight.  It’s up to you.

Other sites to check out:
http://tinyurl.com/nopicsinca

http://tinyurl.com/nopicsinny

http://carlosmiller.com/

http://www.nycphotorights.com/

http://tinyurl.com/nopicsintx

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THE DEATH OF THE 35MM ADAPTER

  

    HD camcorders gave us the freedom to shoot without the expense of film and development cost. The drawback was the inability to achieve shallow depth of field. With a fixed lens HD camcorder, everything is in focus down to the smallest detail. In the late 90s, filmmakers using HD video, were forced to use tricks such as lighting in layers with the subject lit the brightest.

   Without these creative but limited solutions, the audience can become distracted by a pretty extra in background or billboard that is part of the set. The result: your scene loses its impact due to lack of control over the image. The advent of the DOF or 35mm adapter gave us the ability to achieve a shallow depth of field giving you more artistic control of the image. For those who don’t know, the device works like a telecine using the macro focus of the camcorder to capture the image on a ground glass screen. The glass is spun using a miniature motor.

   The shear weight of these devices and their components can be in excess of 20 pounds. This paved the way for an entire industry of camera support systems to redistribute the weight of the device, the lens, the follow focus and the HD monitor, which is critical to ensure clear, sharp focus.

   Enter the 1080P Full Frame DSLR The Canon 5D and now the 7D have only been on the scene for a short while, and now video shooters everywhere are ditching their EX1s, HVX200s and even their XHA1s for the affordable full frame DSLR. Indeed, many fortunes have been made by those manufacturers of the 35mm adapter, but I’m afraid it’s all over now. Prices are falling, and it’s no secret why.

   You can buy a Sony EX1 for $6.5k with a Letus Ultimate for $4k, totaling more than $10k without support railings, lenses or an HD monitor. Those accessories could easily jack up the price another $10k depending what you get.

   However, I can buy a 5D Mark II and a good lens with an ikan monitor for under $5k. If you’re still convinced you have to have a traditional video camera with a 35mm adapter, but your on a budget, you can buy the Panasonic DVX100 for $2.7k and get a Redrock Micro M2 Encore DOP Adapter and support system for $2k bringing you in just under $5k with no lens or monitor.

   On the other hand, you can go to B&H and get a 7D with a lens for under $2k. That leaves some extra cash to get the V5600 from ikan for $630, and then you’re ready to shoot for under $3k. Final Analysis The Canon 5D Mark II ushered in a new era of video production that has left Sony, Panasonic, JVC and even Canon’s Video division standing on the sidelines to make way for the multitudes who are literally grabbing them from stores before they can be shelved.

   In the meantime, the DOF Adapters are not moving, and the prices are dropping. Some are 50% cheaper then they were just six months ago. How low will the prices go in the coming months? Who knows. One thing is certain; the full frame DSLR revolution has rendered the 35mm adapter irrelevant and obsolete. The question isn’t, “Will they stop manufacturing,” but “When.”