Photographer access to restricted areas
February 19, 2009 3:20 PM   Subscribe

I'm about to widen my photographic and film interests and turn my hobby into something more professional. I've always wondered how photographers/artists are able to get into places such as prisons, military sites, 'secret' industrial buildings and other seemingly restricted areas etc to take authorized pictures. How do they do it? What's the trick?
posted by TokyoLight to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I'd assume they have some credentials or are connected to a reputable outfit, like a newspaper or something of the sort. If you want this to be your trade, you could contact a smaller-scale facility and ask them questions (say, a juvenile detention center, though there might be more issues because they are minors). Any way you do it, I'm sure there'll be a LOT of background checking. Good luck!
posted by filthy light thief at 3:41 PM on February 19, 2009

Each of the venues you mention will have some kind of PR representation and/or a public-affairs officer. Your first step, whether you are affiliated with a media outlet or not, will be to contact those people and request access.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:05 PM on February 19, 2009

Press credentials. AP, Reuters, Wire/Getty Images, etc. photog's all have them. So, you would have to be hired by one of these entities.
posted by Zambrano at 5:00 PM on February 19, 2009

First, read this. Bear in mind that it comes from somebody who has been in the trenches for a long time and probably has more access and is credentialed for more access than the vast majority of photographers who currently work in the business as journalistic or documentary shooters.

In other words, don't quit your day job just yet.
posted by imjustsaying at 5:16 PM on February 19, 2009

I get access to these sort of locations by way of assignments from legitimate publications. Any event, location, business etc has to see some value in allowing you access. There's really very little reason that most places would allow a random (even if entirely well intentioned) photographer into their event or location. What's in it for them?
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:17 PM on February 19, 2009

Did a documentary on corrections officers (aka prison guards) a few years back. I had a friend who was a CO at a prison, and he got me the warden's direct number. It was a combination of luck and the warden's personality-- he was a decent guy who seemed genuinely pleased that we were interested in his staff.

But yeah, we had full access to all the parts of the prison (General Population, Segregation, Protective Custody, Psych Ward, Merit Pod, Discipline Hearings, Rec Yard, etc.), with the assistant warden personally escorting us. We ended up getting about 30 hours of footage inside the prison, talking to COs and inmates alike, over about 4 visits. YMMV.
posted by Rykey at 8:00 PM on February 19, 2009

Oh, I should mention that this project was for my junior film in film skool. Helping College Kids Learn probably played a role in our gaining access.
posted by Rykey at 8:02 PM on February 19, 2009

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