Friday, February 15, 2008

A walk across the Ben Franklin Bridge

An impressive suspension bridge connects Philadelphia to New Jersey. A walkway enables pedestrians to cross the span. Not too many people make the attempt in February, but I was determined to see if I could get a good shot of Philadelphia and see what was on the other side.

As I started onto the bridge, I couldn't help but wonder if I'd experience what too many other photographers have reported, harassment by security people by daring to take photos of public property. For some reason, taking pictures of bridges is looked upon as somehow supporting terrorism. I noted the sign on the pedestrian walkway pointing out that both roller skates and in-line skates are forbidden; no mention of photography. As I walked, I looked around for photogenic subjects.

It wasn't until I was two-thirds the way across that I found a worthy scene, the city skyline framed by the bridge superstructure on one side. It was nothing special, but I set up my tripod, took the photo and started down the other side. I kept the tripods legs extended in case something else of interest should appear. It didn't.

Philadelphia from the Ben Franklin bridge.
What did appear, a few minutes later, was a cop on a bicycle. He rode up and asked me if I was taking pictures. I said I was. He said I had to stop. I asked why. He gave me a "because I said so" kind of answer and made the mistake of asking me if that was a good enough reason. I sighed, set my feet and told him it was not satisfactory, that I wanted to know if there was a law that forbade photographing public property. I was about to add "... in the land of the free" but didn't think the irony would be appreciated.

He started with the typical lame excuses of security and terrorism. I diplomatically countered each of these. He recognized the futility of his argument, admitting that photos of the bridge could be found in any number of books or downloaded from the web. I mentioned that there were no signs forbidding photography, but someone made it a point to actually differentiate between roller skates and in-line skates on the posted rules.
He was used to dealing with tourists who buckled under the slightest show of authority, but it was obvious I wasn't going to fall for that. He finally admitted that I was spotted by the bridge security cameras and he was forced to ride all the way over to "check it out." He pointed to the port authority office where I could complain. I grinned and told him that he should be the one to complain if they were making him ride up there.

He was pretty tired of having to make the ride up the bridge for every art student and photographer who came along. I told him I'd gladly change jobs with him (imagine getting paid to work out!). The confrontation became friendly and he told me about some of his encounters on the bridge (including catching illegal aliens). We exchanged introductions, shook hands and went on our way.

It seems to me that too many security people are forced into this sort of situation. A rare few see the futility of this method of security, but all are required to put up with it. Unfortunately, far too many approach this task with the same zeal as they might in catching a criminal red-handed. Sadly, unless a lot more citizens put their foot down, risking a trip to the police station, we're going to see a lot more of this rather than a lot less. Lord knows the politicians won't step in to do something about it.

Here's a couple of shots from an interesting site on the other side of the river, the battleship New Jersey.

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