Steve Richardson had just arrived in New York City when he spotted a “Welcome to New York” sign hanging from the ceiling inside the Jamaica (Long Island Rail Road) Station. He also saw a piece of artwork hanging from the ceiling.
Being the troublemaker that he is, he whipped out his camera and snapped a photo.
He was rushed by a security guard, as he explains in a blog post.
In a harassing manner he tells me it is illegal to take pictures due to security reasons. I attempt to challenge him based on my First Amendment rights – he becomes more hostile and even makes a threat that I could be arrested.
Wow, what a great Welcome to New York.
Most people would have sauntered off with their cameras tucked between their legs, accepting the lie that photography is illegal inside train stations.
But we’ve already determined that Richardson is a troublemaker. He decides to find out what law makes it illegal to take pictures inside the train stations.
He starts hounding people with phone calls, tapping into a bureaucratic entanglement that doesn’t know its head from its ass.
A Hilda Perez, who apparently is someone in charge, tells him it is not illegal to take pictures inside the station. She even apologizes for the guard’s behavior.
But then she tells him he must provide prior notice before taking pictures, which is not only contradictory but kills the spontaneity of travel photography.
So he decides to play along and sends her an email as well as leaves her a voice message stating that he will be taking pictures inside the train station on July 29th. Clearly, this man has more patience than me.
Later that day, he gets a call from a Robyn Stewart who tells him the following:
“This is still the United States and we can’t stop you from taking photographs .. BUT .. we train our staff to stop and confront individuals taking photos … we don’t know who these people are … we want to know who they are”
And it gets more ridiculous.
Ms. Stewart asks why I want to take the photos (hello, I’m on vacation .. I’m a tourist in NYC .. hobby, personal use of documenting my travels). She also asks for my address, I provide it reluctantly. In return, she grants me permission for a few photographs.
Then he makes it back to Jamaica Station and still has to obtain further permission from the security guards. And even after that, he was still harassed for taking photos.
I spend a couple minutes taking photos and using different camera settings. Prior to taking my last couple photos, a red-coat Port Authority (PANYNJ) politely stops me and says no photographs, sir. Wow – would have been nice if the first security guard spoke to me like this, in a polite manner; I explain to redcoat I have permission and she then realizes I’m the tourist who was given permission.
So even though Richardson is now “the tourist who was given permission” to take photos, he manages to take only six photos before giving up in frustration.
Personally, I would rather be the tourist who doesn’t get permission. The one who fires off 60 shots before sending them all to hell when approached about illegal photography.
Richardson initially posted his story on another travel forum. Check out the comments for added confusion on this subject.