Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 2004/06/06

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Subject: [Leica] Do not photograph fire hydrants
From: jshul at (Jim Shulman)
Date: Sun Jun 6 05:33:30 2004


Bravo to California!  I wish the same right was extended throughout the
nation.  This question did come up several times in Pennsylvania, but (in
the absence of any state constitutional protections) was decided in favor of
the mall owners.

As photographers, we'll be facing versions of this issue in many areas.
There's an unfortunate trend for public life to become usurped by private
entities--shopping becomes the province of a mall owner, rather than the
town's main street; towns themselves become a collection of private
homeowner-controlled corporations, and the area transforms into an
accumulation of gated enclaves; churches become mega-churches, offering a
huge variety of activities beyond the pulpit, from food courts to exercise
classes to sports to residential areas.  In the last example, we've gone
back to the middle ages, with church as center of a walled city!  

There are two forces behind the trend. The first is economics: it's
advantageous (at least in the immediate term) for private developers to take
over responsibilities that used to fall on the shoulders of local
government: road maintenance, police protection, maintenance of public space
within a community, etc.  With the exception of mega-churches, which can
take property off the tax rolls (and can also wind up competing with local
for-profit merchants!) it's a big hit with cash-strapped municipal
governments. In fact, many developments won't be approved UNLESS they are
intended to be run as self-contained entities.  

The second trend, to quote FDR, is fear itself: nameless, unreasoning,
unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into
advance.  Rather than fix urban and suburban problems, terrified consumers
prefer to retreat to a series of self-contained Edens: a perfect shopping
center, a perfect suburban community, a perfect church environment.  If you
ever saw the movie, "Fort Apache: The Bronx" think of the folks who used to
sit in front of the police station for protection.  This is the upper
middle-class equivalent.  Pay your money and isolate yourself in a protected
environment. Don't like fur protesters in front of your stores?  Go to the
mall, where they'll never appear or cause you concern.  Hate door-to-door
solicitors?  They're banned from your private, gated community.  Afraid of
the evil influences in the community?  Go to the mega-church and be
safe--and there's even a McDonalds in the food court, too!

Jim Shulman
Bryn Mawr, PA

-----Original Message-----
[] On Behalf Of Bryan
Sent: Saturday, June 05, 2004 11:57 PM
To: Leica Users Group
Subject: Re: [Leica] Do not photograph fire hydrants


In California, the state constitution guarantees a free speech right of 
access to privately owned shopping malls. This state right was upheld 
by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1980 (Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins) 
and found not to violate the mall owner's First Amendment right to free 
speech or his/her federal right to not have property taken without just 
compensation. A few years ago this was limited to shopping malls only, 
not individual stores (I can't remember the case off the top of my 

In the absence of such a state-created right, no one has the right to 
express themselves (which would include taking a picture) in a shopping 
mall over the objections of the owner.

On Jun 5, 2004, at 2:47 PM, Jim Shulman wrote:

> Phong,
> In the case of Mall Management there's another issue: the mall is 
> considered
> private property.  The courts have consistently found that, as a 
> privately
> owned public accommodation, malls largely have the right to determine 
> how
> their space is used by the public.  This can get a bit tricky.  For 
> example,
> malls cannot violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and ban black, 
> Jewish or
> asian shoppers, but if they wished they could insist on a dress code or
> require shoppers under a certain age to have an adult chaperone.
> People who go to malls choose to shop in a carefully controlled 
> environment,
> devoid of those nuisances of traditional urban public accommodations, 
> such
> as mendicants, druggies, political protesters, striking workers, 
> inclement
> weather, and (naturally) any sense of surprise.
> The major concern about photography comes not from terrorists, but from
> competitors.  Mall managers are very much concerned that competitors 
> will
> document things such as signage, traffic flow, consumer reactions, etc.
> The irony, of course, is that with the advent of camera-cum-telephones 
> there
> is no simple way for malls to monitor photography.  They wouldn't dare
> interfere with cellular phone use--especially when so many of their 
> best
> tenants thrive on cell phone sales.  Is it a call, or a photograph?  
> Hard to
> tell when the photographer isn't using a Leica!
> Jim Shulman
> Bryn Mawr, PA
> -----Original Message-----
> From:
> [] On Behalf Of 
> Phong
> Sent: Saturday, June 05, 2004 5:29 PM
> To: Leica Users Group
> Subject: RE: [Leica] Do not photograph fire hydrants
> wrote:
>>>>>    When I  was about to shoot, a security guard showed up and told 
>>>>> me
> it
>>>>>   was not  allowed to photograph fire hydrants in the premises.
>>   I really think some of you Americans have lost the plot!
> Indeed, very strange things happen at the mall.  :-)
> Actually, I think this is the Revenge of the Mall Management.
> For several years now, I have been prevented by various mall
> security types from taking photos at the mall.  I think Mall
> Management realizes that sooner or later some post-modern
> street photographers will publish photos criticizing or poking fun
> at the mall culture.   Aren't there already a whole bunch of 
> photographic
> works about modern consumerism ?  Now, mall management
> is  just using the "security" excuse to justify their inane
>  "no photography"  policy.
> I also think that there is a concern among merchants that people
> (say Asian) copying their merchandise and store display design.
> Perhaps hydrant design too ?  :-)
> And last but not least,  I believe there is a prevalent fear of law 
> suits;
> merchants and mall management (and the police, and the military)
> just don't like to have photos inadvertently showing them doing
> something wrong.  It's about security all right.  Theirs, not ours !
> - Phong
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In reply to: Message from bcaldwell51 at (Bryan Caldwell) ([Leica] Do not photograph fire hydrants)