The following is the complete text of a letter to the Editor I submitted recently.
On July 2nd, I went to Ray Winder Field to see Bob Dylan. What I didn’t anticipate was bullying and theft from the security staff. When I arrived (dropped off to avoid the parking nightmare), my backpack was searched, my water bottle was tossed but my still film camera was passed over without mention by the gatekeepers. That and the dozens of other cameras and photographers (not to mention camera phones) reassured me that I was alright snapping a few shots of the show. So I did just that, during the opener and through Willy Nelson’s show. When Dylan, my main interest in attending, took the stage I took a few shots, noticing the grim security guy in the corner of the stage.
A few minutes later, a young man with a radio pressed through the crowd to where I was standing and demanded my camera. Over the roar of the crowd and the music I attempted to ascertain who he was and why he thought he had rights to my property. He continued to assert that cameras were “not allowed” and that there had been signs to that effect.* I didn’t want to leave the show I had paid to see, nor did I have any place outside the arena to stash my camera. When asked why I had been singled out, the man pointed to another man dressed in black, on stage who had apparently selected my camera for confiscation. Somewhat stupidly, I gave up the camera after getting Dave’s name and his assurance that I could pick up my camera at the gate. I was pretty sure I had been conned out of an expensive camera until I saw Dave on stage with the man in black finding more cameras. Though I did get my camera back, I never received an explanation as to why they were forbidden or why mine was chosen over the dozens of others. I know many performers, especially older ones like Dylan, dislike flash photography as it can temporarily blind them. I hadn’t been using flash for that reason. But it didn’t occur to me that they were attempting to stop all imaging of the performance. When I checked my film after leaving I found that it had been stolen.
I use the term “stolen” because, after a bit of research, I confirmed my suspicion that in America, the seizure of property, such as film or a camera, is only lawful with a court order or in the context of an arrest by a police officer. Ray Winder Field and its employees are certainly within their rights to withhold permission for photography (as they were likely asked by the performers to do so). However, “taking your film directly or indirectly...can constitute criminal offenses such as theft and coercion.” (Bert P. Krages II, Your Rights and Remedies When Stopped or Confronted for Photography, 2003. www.krages.com ) Reparations for the seizure of film and other property may also be sought in civil court for those so inclined. A simple verbal request to cease taking photos would have been enough, but Dave crossed the line, exposing himself and his employers to potential civil and criminal liability.
More and more amateur and professional photographers across the country are finding their right to create images questioned and violated and their property stolen by private citizens, and well intentioned law enforcement officials. Had I been more aware my rights, my encounter with Dave might have gone differently. It is vital that individual citizens educate themselves about the protections afforded them by the constitution or we will see them evaporate. The website mentioned above is a good place to start.