'Sign of the times' essay Port News clippings Prof. Des Crawley view Support emails

Sign of the times - FEEDBACK

THANK YOU subscribers to my Picture Postcard newsletter, and members of the public, who have sent emails of support since I published 'Sign of the times'. Some of that feedback is posted here in the interests of stimulating public discussion.

Hi Rob,

Over the last 2 years I have been receiving your Picture Postcards, thank you for many reasons. Mainly thank you for helping me see more about sharing and collaboration, but naturally because of the imagery that has evoked many emotions over that time.

As you may recall, I have also been a photographer for many years, but over the last few years I have been very quiet as a photographer, due to mainly to my health (I have MS and have had a series of attacks at inopportune times, including an attack that has sent me reeling off the cliffs at our beloved Port Macquarie Lighthouse area.)

I photograph rarely these days but I am fortunate to be able to continue to edit many of the extra images that I shot over the last 40 years.

I am saddened to hear of the experience that you have had at Lady Nelson wharf.

I read your report and I understand your position and I'm sure you handled it very well.

I agree that your rights as a photographer to practice your art in a public place are enshrined in law.

As much as I also agree that the police have a requirement to follow up on a public complaint, the complaint is equal to someone disagreeing with my right to hang out washing on Thursdays. The correct police procedure would have been to tell the complainant, that there was nothing to complain about. No-one has to be a professional photographer to take photos. No-one has to tell their reason or name to a police officer when they are not being charged with an offence. No-one needs to apologise for carrying on their activities, nor answer to the police. The gradual erosion of our freedoms comes about when well meaning people comply with unreasonable requests for information about our personal activities.

We see this happen as we are asked to have our bags searched by a Target employee as we leave the premises - the answer of course must be NO, and any change in your status as a shopper should result in civil action for discriminatory behaviour. I have never seen a Target employee with a search warrant, because of course the practice is counter to the Privacy Act, and the Police Act. Yet this seems to be accepted and we wonder where our freedoms have gone.

The fact that you feel that people should have ID to be a free person to perform a free activity is unfortunate. Surely our freedoms are inherent in the Australian Lifestyle and should be guarded as freedoms, not rights for only those that are licensed. I could just imagine, going to Harvey Norman to buy a camera, and having a Police Check done before I can walk out the door with it. Because 200 people have broken trust and used a camera illicitly, surely does not mean that 20,000,000 people need to be licensed.

If that was the case, let's start with licensing the users of kitchen knives. Many more people have used them illegally.

I know you are a good man. I admire and respect you as so many others do. But I truly believe that although you were caught on the hop, your power of indignation was correct, and your condonation of police questioning was not.

The International Treaty on Copyright makes it an offence in International, Federal and State Law for a police officer to use his powers to ever ask a person to delete their photograph. If a crime had been committed then surely the photograph was evidence and not to be deleted. If a crime had not been committed, then the police officer had no say in your private affairs.

We could bat around different perspectives all day, and as I said, I know you come from a good place - but I wonder if those of us that have a public profile have a duty to uphold our freedoms even more strongly than those that are never questioned and maintain a low profile.

I'm afraid I would have asked the officer to move on and not disrupt my quiet enjoyment or risk being sued for harassment. I would also not allow any person to see my images unless it was at my instigation. Perhaps that would have required finalising the situation in court, but naively, I would prefer to bring the matter to a political head, than ameliorate any situation that allowed the police to assume more power than they actually had.

Yes, an old wrangler from way back...

Thank you for sharing, thank you for maintaining your cool and not being me, thank you for the wonderful contribution you make to Australia's history in both art and journalistic photography.

Beau Nestor, Professional photographer, Port Macquarie

Hi Rob

I read the account of your encounter with the local police. How awful for you. It really does make you stop and think about what you are doing and how someone else may interpret your actions,unfairly more so in the case of male teachers. Anyone working in schools these days, has to do it all the time and after a while it does affect how you operate. Actions that are totally innocent and done naturally can seem otherwise to a casual observer. I hope your experience doesn't change you. Trust Ruby to come up with the punchline!

Kathy N, Teacher/Librarian, Hobart

Hi Rob

Commiserations. I thought you handled it well and I'm glad you stood your ground. I suppose it was only a matter of time and the rest of us can look forward to similar confrontation at some stage.

Denise M, Photographer, Port Macquarie

Hi Rob,

Congratulations on your response Rob!

This appears to be a very strange world we are living in, and behaviour like that makes me feel like an alien when I am in public.

I was listening to a programme on Radio National yesterday on that very subject which suggested that today all men are paedophiles, until proven innocent.

Media and advertising concentrates so hard on feeding peoples fear, that paranoia is rife, and the thought that most men can sit in public and derive pleasure from the simple act of kids playing without having some
ulterior motive is inconceivable. Suspicion abounds everywhere.

This has been on my mind for some time now, not that it impacts my life too much, as I am relatively reclusive these days. I meant to say that I thought your article should hit the mainstream press.

I am sure that all normal men, who feel a natural, protective and nurturing care towards all kids, would like the world to consider their plight. Goodness knows what damage you can create by alienating such a large percentage of the community, who are innocent of any digression.

Keep up the good fight!

John C, Port Macquarie


Ref your harrowing start to the new year Rob....as you say, sign of the times. At least you have offered a constructive solution to your problem. May the rest of 2010 be better for you!

If you had been targeting one specific person or doing close ups of specific types of people (e.g. young girls or boys) then I could see cause for concern, but the photo you gave of a group of youngsters frolicking in the surf is hardly likely to be used on a kiddie porn site, is it? Officialdom gone mad, you were right to stick to your guns and not delete it.

David A, Bathurst

Oh Rob! I now understand how my "Wanted Man" comment to you earlier this week was a little close to home...

What an awful experience to have had, and your commentary on how society has become a little paranoid about things was right on the mark.

I agree with you about making yourself known - why not? It just means that you are being proactive about living your passion.

Maybe they can issue a card that says - "Rob Smith, Probed and Checked, Allowed to be here JUST LIKE YOU!" (for those people that ever doubt your motives... lol).

It really goes to show the calibre of person you truly are. Even though at first you were outraged that anyone could even think anything negative about your motives, you stopped and looked at the other perspectives, and even though they were false, you understood how your presence could have been perceived. A bit like photography really- sometimes the message or feeling we want to convey in our own snaps are not necessarily the things others will see or feel.

Ok- that's enough of the deep philosophical stuff for now. Suffice to say that everything happens for a reason and if nothing else, you have added another interesting story to your repertoire!

(Maybe it was time for some real discussions in the community to happen on this matter, and you just happened to be the impetus)

I'm glad you didn't get arrested (although maybe you could have taken some autobiographical snaps of "life inside"), and I think your wife is hilarious!

Have a wonderful day!

Stina, Bathurst

Hi Rob

I sympathise with your recent experience and I'm sure that, if subjected to a similar humiliation, I would not have been as polite as you appear to have been.

I'd like to know, however, why you didn't begin clicking away with your camera at the Beachhouse crowd after the Policeman had left you? That would have been the equivalent to giving the 'informant' the finger.

I don't like the idea you propose in your footnote. A 'voluntary' scheme only applies a perception of guilt to those who don't volunteer. (The 'Working with Children' check is not voluntary, but a prerequisite for those who work with children.) I believe that everyone, tourist or local, should be able to go to a public place, particularly one as beautiful as the wharf or a beach, and take a bunch of photos, whether they be of scenery or of people going about their holiday fun.

Your HOME is your haven. That's where you should be able to have privacy and make the rules. Once you venture out into the great beyond you are open to all kinds of risks that you may have no control over ... getting your photo taken by a stranger is just one of those risks but by no means is it the most dangerous. Have people gone soft, paranoid and over-protective - particularly when it comes to children? What about YOUR civil rights?

Anyway ... I won't bore you further with my opinions. I just got so angry while reading your story that I just had to write you to offer my support and to commend you on the dignified way in which you seem to have handled the situation. I'm sure you're not the first, and you won't be the last person that this sort of thing happens to.

Cheers, and Happy New Year, Rob - it can only get better from here :-)

Donna M, Port Macquarie


Please feel free to use any correspondence from me publicly, whether on your website or as reference material for Newspapers, Ken Duncan's campaign, direct to government authorities etc...

If you wish to publish parts only, please include a link to the whole - so that relevance is maintained, we know how our words can be taken out of context and used against us.

Some years ago, I was hurried off the SouthBank area in Melbourne by over zealous security guards. They had two beefs with me; Firstly I was a professional (they could tell by the size of my camera) and would require a permit. Secondly, I could be a terrorist, taking photographs to ascertain where to place the bomb. I argued that a smaller camera could just as easily shoot bomb locations, but that my quiet enjoyment on public land, regardless of where I pointed the camera was still my right. I was frog marched off the property illegally.

After consulting with fellow photographers, we staged a shoot in at SouthBank that included 300 professional photographers. That has altered the attitude and now, professional photographers are no longer questioned in that public space.

I am also concerned as I hope you, Ken Duncan, and many other photographers are, that a permit is also required for Professional Photographers to operate in our National Parks. Obviously this is a revenue raising game, and while I understand the damage that can be caused by huge trucks with generators and the obvious extra staffing requirements when there are movies being made, I cannot believe that the holder of a DSLR camera needs that level of over government intervention.

For many years (34) I took a photograph of every dawn, from whatever vantage point I could find at the time. Although we can argue the eccentricity of such a chronicle, the commitment was real. For 5 of those years I owned a motorhome and travelled Australia, stopping on a new headland, a new hilltop or a sleepy gully, with the intent of seeing dawn from a wider range of vantage points. To my chagrin, I found that National Parks were being closed from before sunset until after sunrise. The most beautiful time in the Australian Bush was being hidden from the public in general, and of course governed by permit if one dared to be a professional photographer.

Understandably, all vandalism is committed during those hours, and those that commit such acts would never be so evil, as to hop a fence.

I note that if I give my images to the National Parks free of charge, that they may allow me greater access as a photographer. Personally, I feel that to be reprehensible, as I am an owner of those parks as a citizen, I am the owner of my images under International Law, and being blackmailed into sharing those images with any other authority other than government would be an illegal act.

Simply, I feel I have the right to be in a National Park, taking photographs any time, any day. The nocturnal animals, the splinter of light through trees, the first lifting of butterflies in the mist, do not follow the timetables set out by government.

I have also had the opportunity of travelling through 45 countries, mainly in Europe, Asia and the Americas. I have seen a lot of different attitudes to photography, including being jailed by the East German military for activities before the wall came tumbling down. Public disobedience led to the Berlin wall falling, and I admire those that gave everything to reclaim their freedoms.

I note that in the US, many people are fearful of leaving their car, walking across a street or being what they see as a target. When in the US, I encourage people to play on the streets, to walk to the store and in general reclaim the streets. Pointing of a camera (If you can see it, you can shoot it), is totally protected by their constitution and is one of the few, real liberties that I can see remaining.

If the good people go about activities unfettered, there is simply no room for the bad ones.

The knee jerk reaction to a photographer taking photographs that may include the public in a public place is an erosion of our civil liberties. It is a statement that we are all guilty unless we can prove otherwise. That needs to be addressed. We know that governments will erode civil liberties to allow them to take greater control in difficult situations. But we are the government, we are the voice, these are our rules, to protect our rights also. Please let us aim the laws appropriately.

Years ago, a bomb was discovered in a garbage bin in Tokyo. The governments response? Ban garbage bins. Yes, there are huge clear plastic bags dotted on the streets of Japan on garbage day. Our government is becoming more like this. I can see that cameras may need to be banned from Australia because the potential harm to our children, our wild life our future... What sort of future is that?

By all means, protect the young, safeguard those that cannot safeguard themselves. But never to the extreme that we are presumed guilty.

I give my full support to any legal method of stopping the march of insanity.

Beau Nestor, Professional Photographer, Port Macquarie

Hi Rob,

I've just read your essay on your website and just wish to say that I agree with everything you say. It's a sad testament to the times we live in when somebody who's OBVIOUSLY just enjoying a bit of serious photography can be mistaken for the type of person who takes his mobile into a public pool to take photos under the doors of the changing rooms. That somebody has not been able to differentiate between the two says more about that person's small minded attitude and the overall atmosphere of suspicion that seems to be pervading every aspect of our society (I'm sure that if you'd looked the slightest bit Arabic you would have been accused of planning to blow the place up).

That's funny, David. My beautiful little wife is of the Arabic race (Lebanese heritage). Wait until I tell her she can't accompany me in public when I'm toting my 'gun'! (Rob)

Some time ago I let you know that my parents were coming to live in Australia. My father has been an avid photographer since before I was born and my brother and I grew up being constantly photographed. As yourself he carried his camera around wherever he goes in order to be able to grab those "moments" that occur from time to time when the conditions are just right. What happened to you could very easily happen to him at any time and I dread to think how it would make him feel if it did.

I honestly think your letter needs to be read by more people ... maybe submit it to a newspaper for publication?

David M, Port Macquarie

Hey Rob.

Rather odd story that - I mean what the heck did the complainer think you were doing? They were looking at the same stuff you were - it was in a public area. If the officer had any reason to think that was an off-putting type of photo, you would think he also had a duty to make the revelers stop what they were doing - it would make sense to me.

I hate to say this, but really - people can be really stupid sometimes. You would think that being out in the open with a lot of camera gear would allay any fears - most voyeur activity is done clandestinely from behind blinds and hides of various sorts.

Oh well - heck of a story. Glad everything worked out properly. Sounds like the officer was a true professional and did his job accordingly. Good for him.

Capt. Tom F, South Woodstock, Connecticut USA


Re 'Sign of the times', my only regret is that before the policeman bid you farewell, you didn't ask if he would permit you to include a picture of him in your exhibition, standing on the Lady Nelson wharf with the Beachhouse in the background. (Perhaps it's not too late !!)

(Try and ) have a great 2010 and thanks for the Picture Postcard (perhaps you could include Port Macquarie police station on the distribution list????)

Tim P, Port Macquarie


A beautifully written essay on a very serious matter in regards to photography in a public space. I agree with your footnote on a voluntary scheme – perhaps this is something that could be taken up with Peter Besseling and/or Rob Oakeshotte and a Police liaison officer.

Jenny C, Photographer, Port Macquarie

Hi Rob

I served 35 years in the NSW Police and I think I know how the herd mind works. At the present time we are free to photograph as of right. Introduction of a permit system would invariably lead to a list of regulations, additional prohibitions and the inevitable sanctions. Combined they would make a photographer's work in a public place almost impossible. Officious little blue bottles would have a field day. Of course the State would impose a fee for issue. Council Rangers would be entitled to poke their noses in. Then there is the problem of a refusal to issue. That would mean that the refused party would have to lodge an appeal to the Commissioner of Police or the issuing authority if it were not the COP. If the refusal was not lifted, then it would be off to the Court.

What a mess, and an expensive one to boot. If a photographer missed out on gaining a permit, then invariably, every time that photographer ventured into a public place to exercise his hobby/profession his right to use photographic equipment would be gone.

New South Wales is already a " Nanny State". Let's not give the legislators another opportunity to restrict our freedom.

It's always good to remember Lord Acton's wonderful quote, "All power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely".

You handled your run in with authority with aplomb. You were fortunate that the Constable concerned acted reasonably and exercised good judgement.

Perc C, Retired Policeman & photographer, Goulburn


G'Day Rob,

Firstly congratulations on the manner in which you handled the situation you were placed in by a person who couldn't even accompany the Police Officer to hear the answer to their complaint.

I have just returned from our annual camping trip to the beautiful coastal town of South West Rocks. I had heard of your brush with the law just before we left. Two days later, guess what? I had a similar experience, but this time with a Lifesaver at Main Beach, South West Rocks. To his credit he was polite in his manner and indicated that he could see no problem and was following up a 'complaint / query' from a member of the public.

Though calm on the outside I was enraged internally to have my values, morals, standards and motives etc. questioned by a faceless and anonymous person.

Interesting points from this experience :

  • Shooting with a Canon 100 - 400mm lens does seem to draw attention. Size is obviously an issue. Yet because of the zoom capabilities (and my common sense and abilty) all of 200 shots captured only my subjects - my own children, my adult friends and their children catching waves and having a fantastic time.
  • If Rob thinks himself a scary character try being me ! I am very tanned, being of African/Indian decent, am 170cm tall, weigh 100kg, clipper my hair to bald, have a greying goatee and teach high school Physical Education and Religion. To really illustrate my point, my wife's intial impression of me when we first met 22 years ago was that I had either just got out of doing hard time or was a Rambo type character. And in those days I was 10kg lighter, had an afro and no beard ! Thank God she noticed my interior is totally opposite to my exterior.
  • The next day a blue eyed blond lady friend camping with us took photos just as I did. Guess what ? No questions, nothing.
  • The day I was challenged, nothing was said to the lady squatting and filming low angle footage on a video camera, or to the two men with digital cameras with smaller lenses.
  • My subjects who viewed my work on the computer that night were thrilled and grateful that the experience of fun in the sun and surf was available to them as a memento. They don't realise it, but my thrill was probably even bigger because my hobby has brought great joy to them.
  • The kids are going to print of copies for their school exercise books, post pictures on their web pages and some may even become large prints to be hung on walls.
  • Our camping friends suggested wearing a shirt with "Taking photos of family and friends only," printed in large clear font on the back for all to see. One guy also suggested a footnote that said, "You and your children are to ugly for me to waste time photographing."

Thanks to you Rob, I was able to handle this situation in a similar manner to which you did, simply because I had your experience to role model from.

For Picture Postcard subscribers, I should indicate at this point that I was privileged enough to accompany Rob and his son Dylan on Outback Photographic Adventure 2008 and learnt so much from a man who is a true gentleman, natural teacher and someone blessed with outstanding creative talents. Thanks to Rob my long time passion for photography was accelerated and matured immensely in a relatively short space of time, after shooting on automatic for 20 odd years and bumbling with manual settings etc.

Since then I have regularly touched base with Rob and received nothing but encouragement, sage like advice and all things good. I missed Outback Photographic Adventure 2009 unfortunately and look forward to my next opportunity to learn from Rob in such a great learning environment. I find Rob's Picture Postcards to be extremely motivating and educational for a photographer striving to hone his skills and make them virtually as an instinct as Rob seems to do.

My passion is mainly sports photography and I am in my fledgling stages of doing some market research of my own and hopefully sometime this year registering my trade name and logo to help raise some much needed funds to buy another camera. Guess who I'll be asking for advice ? Yep, Rob Smith.

Keep your chin up champ and "Don't let the bastards get you down."

Col - Developing Photographer - Port Macquarie


'Sign of the times' essay Port News clippings Prof. Des Crawley view Support emails