"Why are you taking pictures..?"
December 24, 2010 3:35 PM   Subscribe

Husband and I were at a Farmer's Market for breakfast today, and thought we noticed an older man taking photos of children as they passed by. In the hustle and bustle of December 24th no one else seems to have caught it, and we felt kind of sick about the situation - there's no way of knowing the full details of why someone is taking pictures. But we notified a security guard, who said he'd keep an eye on it. The question is, in these kinds of scenarios is it always better to tell someone and risk making some innocent person's life miserable? We're a bit shaken up about it.

Sometimes the way he raised his camera to follow the kids who passed by made it really obvious that that's what he's doing. Except someone doing that wouldn't be so obvious about it, maybe. Rawr.

It's a really uncomfortable set of thoughts.
posted by Tequila Mockingbird to Society & Culture (77 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The question is, in these kinds of scenarios is it always better to tell someone and risk making some innocent person's life miserable?

Yes. If they're innocent, it's probably going to be a big deal. If they're not innocent, then you've potentially prevented something bad from happening at that particular time or place. That's a good thing.
posted by nomadicink at 3:37 PM on December 24, 2010

It's not likely that reporting that sort of behavior is going to make anyone's life miserable. The worst that would probably happen to the person is that a security guard might ask him to leave. There's nothing illegal about taking pictures of people in public (although it can sometimes be tasteless and maybe even unethical). Security guards don't have the authority to confiscate something unless the person turns something willingly. If the police got involved, they might examine the contents of the camera, but if there wasn't anything pornographic, then there wouldn't be any fuss.

It's possible the guy was a creep, or it's possible it was a photographer doing something legitimate. I have a few photographer friends who've gone shooting for people of a particular age, gender, race, etc. in public before. It's a lot cheaper than hiring models. Also possible it was a photography student working on some sort of project.
posted by GnomeChompsky at 3:51 PM on December 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

I have a friend who got kicked off a beach just for *having* a camera when someone's toddler was running around half naked. He was taking pictures out toward the ocean, hadn't seen the toddler, and was unaware of the situation until a couple of lifeguards tried to (illegally) confiscate his (extremely expensive) photo equipment, because somebody complained. Somebody was sure he was taking pictures of the toddler he hadn't even seen.

He contacted the head of the lifeguard group and complained, and verified that they didn't even have the right to kick him off the beach, much less to try to steal his equipment. Even if he had been taking pictures of the kid, who after all had been permitted to run around in public half-naked by his/her own parents. You can take pictures of things that are going on in public.

I don't know what to tell you about the situation you saw today. I just know that sometimes people get harassed because someone mistook a situation, and that people acting on complaints don't often seem to know what they have the right to do. If my friend had been any less than 100% adamant, he might have lost his camera and never gotten it back, just for BEING on the same beach as someone who was letting their kid run around half-dressed.
posted by galadriel at 3:53 PM on December 24, 2010 [26 favorites]

He could have been a reporter or someone hired by the farmers market for all you know. I don't think taking pictures of kids at fairs, farmers markets and the like is all that unusual. My local newspaper usually runs mostly pictures of kids from any big public event.
posted by fshgrl at 3:58 PM on December 24, 2010 [16 favorites]

It is not illegal to take pictures of people in public. Couldn't you or your husband go up to him and ask what he was particularly photographing children? Maybe he works for the local paper and his assignment was to get festive kid pictures from the Farmer's Market and he was just taking a bunch to later pick the right one to print?

Sometimes the way he raised his camera to follow the kids who passed by made it really obvious that that's what he's doing.

So? Maybe that is exactly what he was doing and had nothing to hide?
posted by special-k at 4:01 PM on December 24, 2010 [17 favorites]

ask why...
posted by special-k at 4:01 PM on December 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

Taking photos of fully clothed kids in a public space does not strike me as an especially creepy or suspicious thing to do. I am having trouble coming up with an awful plot that would be totally foiled if you prevented this.

If he were cornering kids or trying to separate them from their parents, that would be something else.
posted by Andrhia at 4:01 PM on December 24, 2010 [41 favorites]

As a single woman, I always feel like an alien at the farmers market among all the families, like they're wondering why a single person would DARE walk among them. Thank you for confirming all my fears. It's terribly sad that your first response was that you "felt kind of sick" to see a man taking photos. Maybe he was there from the local paper? You don't know. You notified a security guard, now let it go. Single people alone, even those with cameras, even those who dare take a picture of a child, may not have devious intentions. In fact, I'd suggest that very very few do.
posted by FlyByDay at 4:15 PM on December 24, 2010 [141 favorites]

Photography is not [yet] a crime, despite what some people would have you believe.
posted by imjustsaying at 4:22 PM on December 24, 2010 [39 favorites]

I've re-written this comment a couple of times, trying not to come off as outraged, bewildered, or scoldy. It's hard.

Alright. A man was doing nothing wrong or illegal in taking pictures of fully clothed children in full view of the public and of their parents. So you report him to the nearest badge? That's... crazy.

Why didn't you ask him if you were so concerned? Why didn't any of the kids' parents care? Why didn't he just whack off the the Sears winter catalog?

The world is not such a terrifying place.
posted by cmoj at 4:32 PM on December 24, 2010 [114 favorites]

"Mention concerns to the security guard" seems like a very appropriate intervention. Security guards are paid to evaluate whether people's behavior is appropriate in a context or not.

The likelihood that he was taking photos of kids because kids happened to be in the photos, or that if he was focusing on kids it was because the farmer's market wanted photos including kids for their publicity materials and had assigned him to get those photos, is about a bazillion times more likely than that he was a random creeper/predator.

But talking with a security guard rather than confronting him directly was by far the best thing you could have done if you found his behavior suspicious. If it was an example of observation bias on your part, the security guard has much broader context than you for determining whether his behavior seems odd or not.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:33 PM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

It is a sad comment on our society today that people assume that any interest shown in children by a man stems from some perverted sexual desire. Did you even think that the old guy might just like children for being kids? People photograph a lot of things and photographing children does not make one a sicko. Who is the sicko here, the man or the scaredy cat who is shaken up by it?
posted by caddis at 4:36 PM on December 24, 2010 [49 favorites]

Once at the local mall's play area, an older man started taking photos of my kid. Now I know, it was out in public, no expectation of privacy, who does it really hurt, etc. But it really creeped me out, so I went up to him and asked him he was doing - "oh, just taking photos, I'm an amateur photographer."

I asked him to please stop taking photos of my kid and to delete the photos that he had already taken. My kid didn't agree to them being taken, I didn't agree to them being taken.

There was no mistaking what he was doing. He wasn't accidentally taking photos of kids, he was right where the kids were, taking photos of them. And he certainly wasn't asking permission, or even overtly telling anyone what he might have been doing.
posted by pinky at 4:39 PM on December 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

Unless the guy was rubbing himself as he took the photos lay off.
posted by sbutler at 4:44 PM on December 24, 2010

Flybyday: That's funny. I always feel like my family and I are in the way of all the single people. I promise one of the best things about the market is the different types of people.
posted by monkeymadness at 4:48 PM on December 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

This sort of thing happened in my local neighborhood parenting list serv during Halloween.

An elderly couple were taking pictures of the kids in costume.

A parent told him off and wrote to the list serv. She also then asked the list serv if anyone knew his name so that she could search for him on the sex offender registry.

Thankfully some sane nearby neighbors defended him.

But the whole thing created a big hullabaloo.

Here's the thing -- if parents care about strangers taking photos of their kids, they'll tell the stranger to not do so. And yes, certainly it is less-than-okay nowadays to take photos of strangers especially minors.

But chances are that this guy was TOTALLY innocent.
posted by k8t at 4:51 PM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

And he certainly wasn't asking permission, or even overtly telling anyone what he might have been doing.

and he didn't have to.

Anything, or anyone that can be seen in a public place can be photographed. Including children. There are no laws restricting the right of a photographer to take photos of anything in public view. There is no assumption of privacy in public. Anyone can be photographed without giving permission, unless they are in a place where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as restrooms and medical facilities. 1, 2

Despite misconceptions to the contrary, the following subjects can almost always be photographed law- fully from public places:
accident and fire scenes
bridges and other infrastructure
residential and commercial buildings
industrial facilities and public utilities transportation facilities (e.g., airports) Superfund sites
criminal activities law enforcement officers

The Photographer's Right.
posted by special-k at 4:52 PM on December 24, 2010 [43 favorites]

I think if you are concerned, then telling a security guard was the right thing to do, and you don't need to do anything else.

Personally, as a parent of a 2yo girl, I wouldn't care if I saw anyone take a photo of her. There are myriad non-creepy reasons why they might, plus it's totally legal.
posted by gaspode at 5:02 PM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

cmoj: " The world is not such a terrifying place."

Yes, you don't need to see a demon hiding behind every hedge, around every corner. You should have asked him. When I visited the Mississippi river in Minnesota this year, there were a few photographers and I asked what they were taking pics of, and they were happy to tell me.
posted by IndigoRain at 5:15 PM on December 24, 2010

Photographer John Trotter was beaten nearly to death for taking pictures of kids while on assignment for a newspaper.
posted by sageleaf at 5:15 PM on December 24, 2010 [19 favorites]

The question is, in these kinds of scenarios is it always better to tell someone and risk making some innocent person's life miserable?

Look at this from a purely ethical standpoint for a second, because there's a faulty assumption here: "Reporting someone" doesn't (and shouldn't) automatically equal "making someone's life miserable."

Let's presume that this man was photographing kids and literally not doing anything else -- not, for example, making inappropriate gestures, contact, touching himself, other lewd behaviors, etc. However, his behavior leads you to believe that something like this may imminently occur. But you don't know. OK, you're in an ethical pickle, and reporting him to a security guard is an option.

Now, the issue is not reporting the man for what you perceive to be a potential danger.

The issue is what happens afterward.

If indeed nothing is happening, and the security guard really did "just keep an eye on it," and monitored from afar, nothing has happened (except perhaps for distracting the guard).

On the other hand, if the security guard took it upon himself to inappropriately harass the photographer ... well, that's the security guard's decision, not yours. This is why security guards get paid -- to make decisions like this, including the decision to "do nothing." Your ethical concern should be about the training of security guards and police.

So, go ahead and report if something just don't look right.

But maybe you want to talk to the security guard about what he's actually going to do about it, and what he's trained to do about it ... or whether he's been trained at all ...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:16 PM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I really can't think of a place less conducive to a creep's needs - an outdoor farmer's market is a place where kids are always with family members and at this time of year they're presumably in thick winter clothing. I'm pretty sure reporting a person for taking candid Christmas Eve photos in a situation like this is a little bit of a strange reaction on your part.

I can't help but feel very sorry for people who see the world as such a terrible place.
posted by Willie0248 at 5:22 PM on December 24, 2010 [14 favorites]

Anyone who likes taking pictures has been accosted at some point by people who think they know what's in the photographer's brain. Unfortunately, it goes with the territory. Personally, I don't take offense to this as long as it's handled semi-gracefully, and as long as the accusation is warranted (I don't take pictures of kids, and if you accuse me of doing so you better be ready for the raft of shit coming your way -- especially since all the evidence I need to prove you're a liar is right there on my camera). There's nothing wrong with asking someone what they're doing, or taking it to security or whoever, as long as you're not stepping on anyone else's rights (or are being an asshole).

The only time I've ever had a situation go badly was at work, where I had been assigned to take photographs of students in a public building and the security guy -- who apparently wasn't aware enough to recognize that he was talking to someone he'd worked alongside every day for 5 years! -- decided to give me the toughguy asshole routine. A short call to our boss straightened it out, and he was forced to apologize both to me and to the students who'd been kind enough to agree beforehand to have their pictures taken.
posted by coolguymichael at 5:30 PM on December 24, 2010

I'm a single woman who frequently feels like I'm going to be kicked out of stores because I'm missing the requisite baby in the front my shopping cart, so I totally agree with FlyByDay. And to make it worse, I also sometimes take pics for a local paper. Luckily so far most of them have been of buildings, but I can easily imagine being assigned to some large family event with kids running around. Now when that happens I'm going to be wondering what horrible things people are thinking of me.

That said, I think you did the right thing by notifying the guard. Hopefully he's properly trained and will protect the kids without harassing some probably innocent man. In the future, as others have said, you could also ask the man what he's doing. If he's taking pics for the media or advertising or it's just his hobby, I'm sure he'll be glad to tell you. And if he has other intentions, hopefully knowing he's been spotted will scare him off.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 5:38 PM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

"It's not likely that reporting that sort of behavior is going to make anyone's life miserable"

This story would suggest otherwise.
posted by mikeand1 at 5:42 PM on December 24, 2010 [8 favorites]

Discussions like this one, and some of the unpleasant experiences I've had (such as people telling me in Minehaha Park in Minneapolis that I couldn't take pictures of the waterfall "because there are children down there") are amongst the reasons I generally don't include people in most of my photos (that, and the world of commericially selling your prints is easier if you don't have to deal with releases, etc).

There are numerous legitimate, legal, and ethical reasons that guy might be taking pictures...
posted by kaszeta at 6:01 PM on December 24, 2010

I'm a mom. Please, there was really no need for your paranoia, the guy was just *taking pictures*. Of kids. In public. Fully dressed. Having fun. Is there a physical or emotional reason you cannot go up to an elderly person and ask them what they are doing if you think it is bothersome, and make the decision on your next move from there? That is being a responsible grown-up. Tattling on the guy and possibly making his life a miserable hell is not what you should be doing in this situation. Witch hunts and being accused of something you haven't done are miserable, horrible experiences. Don't play into that. Please.
posted by kpht at 6:02 PM on December 24, 2010 [22 favorites]

When I lived in Mexico, I saw two little girls in the main square running around breaking bubbles. On a different day, I saw 4 different little kids sitting in the same square laughing and sharing some wonderful story that I could not understand with my rudimentary spanish. I still have about 50 pictures that I took of those adorable kids. No one gave me trouble for taking those pictures (perhaps because I am a woman) and I am so glad that I have them today.

Children are lovely little creatures who delight in the simplicity of life. I find very little as beautiful a subject of my amateur photography as children being children (although pictures of my own son now take the prize). But when I look at the pictures of those kids from Mexico now years later, I am reminded of their joy and feel good inside.

Just saying...
posted by murrey at 6:07 PM on December 24, 2010 [16 favorites]

Reporting this individual to the security guard is just.plain.wrong.

He has every right to do what he's doing....
posted by HuronBob at 6:07 PM on December 24, 2010 [5 favorites]

Just chiming in to say I agree that he was just a guy taking photographs. It's not any of your business what he was taking photos of, or what he plans to do with them afterward. Fact is he was in a public place, taking photos of people/things in a public space.

If anyone crossed any lines, it was you for getting involved in someone else's business.

I don't disagree that taking photos of kids in a public space could potentially be viewed as being unethical, or creepy. Regardless, he's got every right to do what he's doing whether its unethical or not.
posted by teriyaki_tornado at 6:10 PM on December 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

Additionally, on a second read, I just realized that your kids weren't even on the business end of his camera lens. This leads me to believe that you've got some "busybody" issues that might need sorting. I'm not trying to be rude, just wanting to point out something that you may be missing.

Also, you describe him as specifically an "older" man. Would it have made a difference if he were younger, or perhaps if it were a woman?
posted by teriyaki_tornado at 6:14 PM on December 24, 2010 [14 favorites]

>>The question is, in these kinds of scenarios is it always better to tell someone and risk making some innocent person's life miserable?

"Always" is a big word. In some situations it might be the right thing to do... but for me, you need some more facts (or a more "off" situation) that what you've described here.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:18 PM on December 24, 2010

I just finished watching a slide show of my parents' trip abroad. Several photos were of young children in public being children and at public markets and celebrations. My dad took them. He talked about the kids' demeanors and interactions with each other and the affection their parents were showing them and their parents playing with them, and how much he enjoyed seeing families together, and that it reminded him that people are people, no matter where in the world they are, and how similar we humans are at the very core, no matter how different two cultures may be.

What sickening thoughts to think at Christmas indeed.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 6:22 PM on December 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

I work in the child welfare field and it's my specific job to investigate child abuse, neglect, and maltreatment. I'm fairly familiar with the spectrum of behaviors that are potentially related to exploiting/abusing kids. This kind of thing, even on a slow day at the office, wouldn't begin to ruffle my feathers. Fully-clothed kids in public who are not being coerced or otherwise mistreated by the photographer are likely in no harm at all-- especially if there isn't a specific child targeted. This guy would have to put some serious effort into making his photos pornographic and, it strikes me that there would be much easier ways for a pedophile to get material. Not worth losing sleep over. Instead, maybe we could worry about how to help the kids who are wandering around the farmer's market with parents who humiliate, belittle, hit/kick/punch/burn, (etc.) them who might be truly damaged.
posted by Poeia8Kate at 6:27 PM on December 24, 2010 [43 favorites]

The question is, in these kinds of scenarios is it always better to tell someone and risk making some innocent person's life miserable?

No, it's not. You should not have told a security guard. Yes, it is quite likely this will have negative effects on the photographer. No, he's probably not going to get arrested or go to jail for doing nothing, but poorly-trained security will often kick someone out for less. A complaint can be all the excuse security needs to harass this man.

The photographer did nothing wrong, but you did. Sorry.
posted by grouse at 6:32 PM on December 24, 2010 [22 favorites]

I used to be in a profession where there was some danger of people kidnapping my family and holding them hostage (no longer am, but I had to vary my route to work each day, not keep pictures of my family on my person or in my office, etc). In any case, if someone started taking pictures of my kid without my permission, I would be extremely irritated and I would say something. It's not illegal for someone to take pictures of people in public, but it's also not illegal to ask what in the hell they are doing - and it's not illegal to ask them to stop and to delete the pictures. We are not in the safe world of the 70s where pictures took 48 hours and you couldn't share them with planet earth or send them to the other side of the globe in 2.5 seconds.
posted by brownrd at 6:35 PM on December 24, 2010

Mod note: few comments removed - hey folks, dial it back, answer the question and think long and hard about whether you want to open a MeTa on Xmas eve.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:39 PM on December 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

I took lots of photos of kids for my photography classes - mostly at the zoo, because when there were no kids at least there were monkeys (really: I fulfilled my "frozen in motion" assignment almost entirely with children and monkeys.) A few months ago I helped a guy out here on Metafilter with a photo I got of a girl in a perfect running pose.

I would really caution you to chill out, mostly because this isn't a matter of life and death, it's a matter of conjecture, and on balance, I think there's way too much paranoia out there already. On the "see something, tell someone" scale, this ranks way, way below "abandoned backpack on the subway," for example. Other human beings who are in the public square are as legitimate a photography subject as anything else you can see from the street. Being photographed is one of the many, many risks you take in leaving your private residence.

(Having said that, you are within your rights to tell a security guard... I keep a copy of the photographer's rights pamphlet and my employer and student IDs on me at all times while photographing things, and have my lawyer's phone number memorized, for precisely this contingency.)
posted by SMPA at 8:17 PM on December 24, 2010

That's... crazy.

Agreed. Maybe those who find the idea of the Scary Loner taking pictures could articulate what terrible thing said loner could do with photos of random children?

Count me among the defensive here, as I've also been in his position -- a cop had words with me once, for taking this photo and when challenged, realized he had to let me go, there was no crime. ("Why are you taking pictures of a kid?" "Because he's a good picture!" "Oh.")
posted by Rash at 8:29 PM on December 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

Don't get me wrong, I think pedophilia is sick and wrong.. but how do you know that he was lusting after the kids he was photographing or was taking inappropriate photos? Did he exhibit any sort of behavior that seemed overly sexual? Was he leering at them or rubbing himself or..? I mean, a lot of people LIKE kids in a non-sexual way and like taking candid pictures of people, and the holidays are a time when the magic of the season makes you want to capture the excitement of angelic, happy faces. Is there a chance that he was just a photographer taking innocent photos of kids? Not saying that we as a society don't have a load of serious sexual problems (of many sorts BEYOND pedophilia.. would have been okay if he were just taking photos of women walking by?), but the average person who might not harbor those problems themselves seem prone to jump to conclusions about others' sexual preferences (and we usually like assume the most perverse scenarios).
posted by Mael Oui at 8:57 PM on December 24, 2010

Step 1: Assume positive intent.

Step 2: Approach individual in question, and engage said individual in a non-invasive, non-accusatory conversation about the weather, things in the vicinity, and, as the case might be, something in their possession that interests you, like their digital camera.

Step 3: Compliment the individual on the camera and ask if they'd be willing to show you some of the photos they've been taking with it recently as you're interested in getting a camera yourself.

Step 4a: If they say yes, and proceed to show you their pictures, continue to assume positive intent and consider the photos that have been taken. Are they actually of children, as you originally assumed, or are they of the general vicinity? If there are pictures of children, was the person clearly attempting to get pictures of their bodies, their faces, or just gaggles of children in general? Chances are they're just an amateur or professional photographer, and no harm has been done.

Step 4b: If they say no (as is their right), but are huffy/awkward/offended about it, or if after you've seen photos that make you more concerned, smile, thank them for their time anyway, and casually make your way to a security guard if one is available. Take the guard off to the side, and make sure you're out of viewing range so that you can privately make said guard aware of your concerns.

Step 5: Move on, and rest assured that you've done what you can. Continue to assume positive intent unless a scenario dictates otherwise.
posted by patronuscharms at 9:15 PM on December 24, 2010 [5 favorites]

I think it would be okay to report it to security. When someone noticed a man taking photos at an elementary school in my city, the police actually made a statement about it in the paper, saying that they wanted to talk to the individual. From what I understood, nothing untoward had been seen, but the police thought it was a bit weird.

Listen to your gut instincts. If you're wrong, it's not a big deal. But you have instincts and they matter. So it's okay to just tell a security guard and get it off your chest without making it a big deal for anyone.
posted by acoutu at 9:53 PM on December 24, 2010

I'm at our local farmers' market almost every weekend. I'm single, no kids. I'm a photographer, and I take pictures of kids all the time, because they make great subjects. Oh, I'm also a 34 year old woman with a relaxed nature and an open, friendly face. Would you have assumed the worst of me?

This entire post makes me sad - I cannot imagine how being reported for doing something that I love in a totally innocent, legal and harmless capacity would make me feel, especially since I react to dogs at the market in exactly the same way as I do children (the guy you reported probably does, too). I really hope that nothing was said to him by the security guard. This is not a "better safe than sorry" situation. This is a situation where your over-zealousness could have a terribly negative impact on someone's life.

On preview: I wouldn't want to show a stranger the photos on my camera, and if someone specifically asked me to dial back through my CF card, I'd immediately know that something hinky was up. People approach me frequently, and absolutely no one has ever asked to creep my shots. Further, I would probably react a bit awkwardly because I'm a little bashful about letting anyone see my photos before I have a chance to see them in Lightroom first.

When people do express interest in the camera that I use and want to know how the photos are, I give them a Moo card with a link to my music blog and my Flickr on it, where they can see the good stuff that's been edited and not the sea of other photos that I've taken to get one good one.
posted by mewithoutyou at 9:53 PM on December 24, 2010 [14 favorites]

Old men taking pictures of children for no legitimate reason are fucking creeps
No, old men taking pictures of children for stroke material are "fucking creeps." Old men taking pictures of children for no legitimate reason are probably just extremely bored. The guy in question probably fit into neither category.
posted by piedmont at 9:59 PM on December 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mod note: few more comments removed - seriously - if you are not answering the OPs question and/or if you can't answer the question without calling people names do not answer. MetaTalk is your option.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:24 PM on December 24, 2010

Female here. I was once in the parking lot of my apartment building. Some kid got out of the back seat of a car, walked over to my car, and started talking to me. I said hello and was in the process of telling him that he should probably go back the car he came from when his father comes around the corner and started screaming at me accusing me of trying to do things to his child. He grabbed his kid up in his arms and yelled at me until I was able to get in my car and drive away. Totally innocent but, I tell you, I felt like the guilty. It ruined, not only my day, but every interaction I have had with a stranger's child in public since.
posted by Foam Pants at 10:25 PM on December 24, 2010 [11 favorites]

Take a look at which posts are being favorited. It's overwhelmingly the "you were wrong" crowd.

Normally, I think people should trust their feelings and things will work out well enough. But your trouble-o-metets are seriously broken if a man taking legal photographs without exhibiting any troubling behavior is worth reporting. Take a deep breath next time and think not just of the worst case, but also of the likelihood of that scenario and whether you have any real reason to suspect that scenario. "There's no way to disprove it" is not a convincing argument.
posted by Tehhund at 10:30 PM on December 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

My comment was removed, but I feel I wasn't calling anyone a name, or making an actual accusation. I was facetiously proposing an alternate scenario.

I think there are thousands of reasons any one person might do any one thing - including taking pictures of children, including reporting someone for taking pictures. I don't think that paranoia is a very good default response to most situations.

Just because you have a right to report something, doesn't make it the right thing to do.

I think that if you feel shaken up by either your actions or by what you witnessed, it calls for some serious self-introspection about what part of it upset you. No one can examine that for you, but it seems to me that you feel unsettled about your action, I think that points to, if not your own answer to your own question, at least a thread of a more deeply-rooted issue that you should tug at.
posted by zalary at 10:40 PM on December 24, 2010

> I completely understand where you're coming from re: looking at photos. Obviously it's awkward, and obviously you're perfectly in the right to say, "Oh, uh, no thanks" and say exactly what you said: that you're bashful about showing anyone your work before you've had the chance to check it out yourself. I'm the same way. My comment was geared more towards encouraging the OP to assume positive intent than it was to provide them with the tools they need to be private investigators whenever presented with the opportunity to confront someone they feel may be a creeper.
posted by patronuscharms at 10:51 PM on December 24, 2010

I'll admit I haven't read every response here. But what I don't understand is if it concerned you, why not just ask the man "So, what are you taking pictures of?" If he's legit, he'd likely tell you (and probably with enthusiasm! most photographers I know *love* to talk about their work!). If he was up to something pervy, he'd likely leave if he got the idea you were on to him.

I'm one of those alien single women who goes to the farmers' market, and I've often got my DSLR with me. I like to take pictures of fruit and flowers, but sometimes random children and dogs catch my eye. Nearly every time I go, at least one person asks what I'm shooting. It's definitely crossed my mind on occasion that the message was "You'd better not be taking my kid's picture" rather than genuine curiosity.
posted by chez shoes at 11:11 PM on December 24, 2010

k8t writes "And yes, certainly it is less-than-okay nowadays to take photos of strangers especially minors."

This must be a big YMMV because the vast majority of Flickr streams (to name just one well know source) include pictures of strangers taken without their permission.

There shouldn't be any difference between "taking pictures for a class/newspaper" and "taking pictures for the joy of recording the images". Newspaper photographers don't have special rights in public spaces. I've been carrying a camera with me essentially every day for the past 20 years. I take pictures of all sorts of weird and/or mundane things (For example today I took pictures of manhole covers, Emily knobs, a land fill gas extractor, and Xmas light displays) on a regular basis and yep, some times that includes strangers and children. weirdly the majority of times I've been harassed it was for taking pictures of public utilities. I even try and do daily assignments that sometimes directly or indirectly involve people.

To bring it back to the question Tequila Mockingbird posted "in these kinds of scenarios is it always better to tell someone and risk making some innocent person's life miserable"? I'm of the opinion you should mind your own business. Even if the guard just talks to the guy it can be pretty stressful to have an interaction with security when you are doing nothing wrong. And unfortunately many guards will cope with the squeeky wheel by ejecting the person of interest. Little fuss, they get to justify their position and they don't have to later deal with the complaint from their boss when the squeeky wheel escalates. It's perceived as a big ol' win all the way around as the only person who loses out is the guy taking perfectly legal pictures and maybe his small circle of friends and family. A frankly sad state of affairs.

Also I find people's faith in rent-a-cops disturbing. Many are great but even here in BC where one requires certification to be a guard a significant proportion are either power tripping LEO wannabes or just plain incompetent. Like the twit who assaulted me for taking pictures of the mayor's car recently.
posted by Mitheral at 11:12 PM on December 24, 2010 [5 favorites]

People, including kids, are great subjects for photos. Outdoor light is great for good photos. Farmers Markets are cool subjects for photos. Put the three together, and that is almost certainly why anyone would be taking pictures of kids at a Farmers Market.
posted by zippy at 11:16 PM on December 24, 2010 [8 favorites]

Next time you go to the Farmer's Market for breakfast, my suggestion is to mind your own eff-ing business. Your overreaction is ridiculous, complaining to some play police compounds the stupid, and as an avid amateur photographer, it pisses me off to no end that you didn't have the simple civil courtesy to ask the man about his shots, if you really, really couldn't contain your urge to butt into a situation that in no way involved you.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 11:33 PM on December 24, 2010 [17 favorites]

I feel really bad for the old man. Chances are, if he was approached by the security guard, it left him feeling hurt and confused. It may have ruined his day, and perhaps even his dearly loved hobby. Will he always second guess himself and feel self-conscious whenever he wants to take pictures from now on?

I think you need to ask yourself if unfounded fear is a healthy way to approach the world, and how you want your children to approach it themselves. With paranoia and fear, or with openness and curiosity?
posted by Windigo at 11:39 PM on December 24, 2010 [12 favorites]

When I was a teenager, me and a couple of classmates built a bonfire out of scrap wood on the beach not far from the city. After sitting around for a couple of hours, prodding the fire and roasting hot dogs, we noticed a guy with a giant telephoto lens on a bench about 200 yards away -- kinda creepy, since no one else was on the beach and I don't think any of us had seen a camera rig that large before. But we walked up to him, he scribbled down his contact info, we e-mailed back and forth, and got dozens of the most amazing shots of our crew hanging out around the beach against the sunset and ocean. They're some of my favorite pictures of my friends from home: the lighting, composition, and candidness of the shots is just perfect.

It would be a terrible loss if a busybody had stopped that moment from happening.
posted by miyabo at 1:09 AM on December 25, 2010 [23 favorites]

You may wish to walk up and ask questions. No one knows what the guy is doing, and you could also request to take a peak at his shots. I sure don't mind when people come up to me with questions, and I gladly show what I've taken. Assuming, I'm shooting digital on that day. From my viewpoint, as a photographer, you seem worried about the negative aspects of this, but I hope you consider the possibility that he's just yet another amateur like myself.

Also: Check the privacy laws in the country you reside it. The few countries I've visited so far, have no rules against photography of people in public.
posted by TrinsicWS at 5:47 AM on December 25, 2010

There is probably not a lot more to say on this but I am surprised how people think someone with a large DSLR is up to no good when someone with a cell phone can take pictures of kids clandestinely and no one would think twice about it. A lot of porn on the web is taken with cells.
posted by Xurando at 6:51 AM on December 25, 2010 [11 favorites]

To answer your question, what you did is not "always right". There are any number of legitimate reasons that someone may be taking photographs, and people have a right to take photographs without being accused (explicitly or implicitly) of being a paedophile.
posted by skylar at 7:24 AM on December 25, 2010 [6 favorites]

Mod note: few more comments removed - metatalk is available to you. Please direct answers to the OP, be civil and answer the question.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:32 AM on December 25, 2010

No one seems to have considered the possibility that the photographer was a family member -- a grandfather or uncle -- shooting something as mundane as a birthday party or a play date.
posted by quidividi at 8:20 AM on December 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

You: Why are you taking pictures of children?
Me: None of your business.
Security: Why are you taking pictures of children?
Me: None of your business.

And to both: Touch me or my camera and I'll own your house.

posted by LonnieK at 8:23 AM on December 25, 2010 [8 favorites]

This story reminds me of something that happened to me a few years ago when my husband and I were walking down the street coming home from running. A little boy about 5 was standing in front of a brownstone and he was looking at me. I say "hi" and kept walking. I never stopped for a second just "hi" and I'm a fast walker - so I was gone. About a 1/16th of a nanosecond after I said the word the kid blew some kind of incredible whistle the like of which I've never heard before or since. I didn't even see it in his hand.
I have incredibly sensitive hearing (a curse, really) and I almost fainted from the piercing sound of the whistle. I felt like throwing up. For blocks after wards the ringing reverbrated in my poor head.
The only thing we could figure out was that someone had given him that whistle and said if any stranger approached him he was to blow it. That's why he was looking at me as I passed - I thought he was being friendly but he saw me as a potential threat, the idea having been planted in his head by some adult. Ugh!
I will never speak to a strange kid again.
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 9:09 AM on December 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

The question is, in these kinds of scenarios is it always better to tell someone and risk making some innocent person's life miserable?

"These kinds of scenarios"--people legally taking photos in public?

"Someone"--someone who is not the photographer?

Then, no, absolutely not.

You might want to brush up on your skills in approaching and speaking to strangers. We all should, probably! So often--particularly in America--we run to "authority figures" when we could easily resolve situations ourselves. Even, maybe especially, those "situations" that aren't actually situations.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 9:37 AM on December 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

OK, so let's say this guy WAS a pedophile & planning to go home and do sick things with his fotos...Am I in the minority for saying I DON'T CARE? Having been a victim in a far more physical sense, let me just say I DO NOT CARE WHAT THE **** THEY DO WITH THE PICTURES IF THEY KEEP THEIR HANDS OFF THE KIDS.

I don't disagree with what you did. You believed that Bad Things might be taking place & spoke out. I wish someone had done that for me. But I think your definition of what harmful is to kids needs some work. I would have never known or cared that "bad things" were happening to me had someone taken a picture of me while I was playing --even if they'd stopped me and said "Smile for the camera!" Even if Imaginary Person X had taken his pictures and file-shared them to 1,000 other random perverts worldwide.

You need to care about the person rolling around on the living room floor with your kids playing games they might not like, while everyone in the room laughs about how kids always scream when they're having fun. You need to care about the person that is always nice to Jenny but for some reason Jenny never seems to want to hug. (And isn't it nice that you force Jenny to learn how?) You need to care about...nevermind. I could probably go on for hours and make you paranoid as Hell about every person you ever let your kid come in contact with, and accidentally damn a dozen actually wonderful people who just share behaviors and reactions in common with people who I KNOW are dangerous. But you know what? Guy with camera not trying to take an upskirt or spread a kid's legs is not going to make the list. Because even if he is whacking off to random pictures of kids, he's not hurting them. He's not making their lives miserable. He's not affecting them in one tiny little way.

It's good to be alert and aware and I'll definitely give you props for taking action when you saw something that concerned you. But at the same time, who cares what he's doing with the pictures? Let it go. Unless he was that one in a million stalker person picking out a victim, he wasn't hurting anyone. And if, God forbid, he was, he will be remembered because you took action. Now it's time to stop fussing yourself about what probably wasn't an issue in the first place.
posted by Ys at 9:46 AM on December 25, 2010 [6 favorites]

I really hate the idea that in any given situation, someone feels called upon to report innocent actions to a security guard. Seeking out an authority figure you feel better, but all you've done is abdicate any responsibility. If you were genuinely freaked out by the old guy with the camera, then go up to him. (Not that his photos are any of your business, really.) But getting the rent-a-cop to "keep an eye" on the guy is just self-congratulatory wanking. You get to feel good that you "did something" and that your special ESP was working just fine.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:48 AM on December 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

Seeking out an authority figure makes you feel better
posted by Ideefixe at 9:49 AM on December 25, 2010

Will he always second guess himself and feel self-conscious whenever he wants to take pictures from now on?

If he is anything like me (a 40-something parent who used to carry a camera a lot more), he will. I don't even like taking pictures of my own son because of the suspicious looks. When I do bother to take a camera along now, I've pretty much written off my longer lenses because they seem to make people even more restive. Not just kid pictures, either. Nothing beats the sensation of shooting the chess players down at Pioneer Courthouse Square and finding you've become the common enemy of both the stroller people and the crusty dude bellowing "narc on the square! Narc on the square!" & pointing at you.
posted by mph at 10:28 AM on December 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

As a photographer and someone who cares about photographers' rights, I agree that this guy did nothing wrong. However, as someone who has taken a camera out in public, it quickly becomes apparent that people don't really like strangers taking pictures of them, or their children especially, in public. I think if a photographer wants to take a picture of a stranger in public, the burden is on them to make their subjects feel comfortable. There is a way to disarm strangers and make them feel comfortable with you, even non-verbally.

In line with that, I'd say talking to a security guard is going too far. If you're uncomfortable in a situation like this, talk to the photographer. Just ask him, politely but assertively, why he's taking pictures. If you continue to feel uncomfortable, simply tell him you don't want him taking pictures of you or your family.

Cowering behind a security guard, however, is really never the best alternative in this situation. Don't be afraid of a little human interaction; photographers are usually interesting people.
posted by malapropist at 1:09 PM on December 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

OK, so let's say this guy WAS a pedophile & planning to go home and do sick things with his fotos...Am I in the minority for saying I DON'T CARE?

Yep, you and I are in the minority on that. I don't get it. I accept that as a non-parent perhaps that's part of why I don't get it - if I could somehow know that it was a picture of my kid someone was looking at at home while he thought nasty thoughts then perhaps I WOULD be bothered, even if I don't think so now.

From a logical point I can't imagine what the difference it is. It's unfortunate that pedophilia exists, but pictures of kids doesn't make it happen. Pictures of kids aren't in short supply, so if they're not stroking to one of my child they're not going to have a hard time finding alternate pictures of them.

Sometimes I hear someone tell a scary story along the lines of "what if they're taking pictures of kids they're stalking, in anticipation of following them home and doing something awful to them?" My response to that is "what if they're just watching and stalking and not taking pictures? Are they more likely to be taking pictures than not?"

But let's stipulate that as a possibility. What are the odds?

The Wikipedia stats cite sources behind a paywall so I cannot verify them, but they claim pedophilia impacts anywhere between 3 and 9% of the US population with 5% being the commonly accepted number. They also state that male offenders outnumber females by a factor of 10. So the women above who wondered whether that's why they weren't catching negative attention when they shoot can reassure themselves that in this aspect, at least, the lack of concern about them is based on facts.

The US population is aprox 301,461,530 folks, 148,535,646 of whom are men. With approximately 75% of the population being over the age of 18 we get a population of 111,401,734.5. Assuming the 5% number that means 5,570,086.725 people who might want to diddle young children. A sizable number of people who you might need to be worried are taking pictures of kids at the farmer's market.

Till you look at the one huge fact: most pedophiles are molesting kids they know or even are related to. More significant is that the converse holds as well: almost all the kids BEING molested are being molested by people they know, meaning that the risk to those kids at the farmer's market is almost 0.

An organization called the Counter Pedeophilia Investigation Unit claims to quote the Department of Justice, saying, “96% of female rape victims in 1991, younger than 12 years old, knew their attackers. 20% were victimized by their fathers or step-fathers.” They also state "A 1994 National Institute of Health survey of 453 pedophiles, conducted by Dr. Gene Abel, showed these criminals were collectively responsible for the molestation of over 67,000 children. That’s an average of 148 children per individual pedophile."

So since we have an A->B and B->A situation we can take that 5,570,086 and multiply it by 0.04 to get the number of pedos molesting unknown children. That's 222,803.44 perverts across the country who, if photo-taking is a precursor to molestation, might be aiming a lens at someone with a veggie stand backdrop.

Compare that number to, say, Flickr users. This link claims over 60% of Flickr's users are in the US. Around the same time a Flickr official said there were 32M accounts. That's 19,200,000 folks who put pictures on Flickr. Assume half of them are male and you have 9,600,000 folks.

So that dude taking pictures at the farmer's market is 43 times more likely to be uploading that picture to Flickr than to touch themselves while looking at it. And that's using a highly selective demographic - Flickr users rather than general photography enthusiasts.

Perhaps someone has a number for how many digital SLRs are out in the world for comparison. I suspect they greatly outnumber pedos.
posted by phearlez at 2:05 PM on December 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

After glancing at your previous question, I find myself wondering: how would your mother have reacted in this situation? Then, ask yourself: "Is my mother overbearing?" Finally, ask yourself: "Am I becoming my mother?" My guess: the same way you did. Is that a good thing?

Thousands upon thousands of generations of kids have grown up in much more difficult and dangerous times than we're living in. The world is actually a beautiful place. I'd bet, if you could find that photographer's flickr stream, you'd see that he was capturing and sharing the beauty of a day at the farmer's market.
posted by 2oh1 at 2:50 PM on December 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

You did the right thing by mentioning your concern to the security guard. Now drop it. There's nothing further you can do and it's not in your control. Let it go. Cool Papa Bell is right that this market environment is a situation in which there is an authority in place, and it's totally up to them to decide what to do in this situation - not you. You don't need to feel bad about mentioning it, and you also don't need to feel like a hero. You have no idea what was going on, but you had a feeling of concern and acted on it appropriately. Your part of the story is over.

I have spent my life working in educational settings and in tourist/cultural attractions where many different kinds of people go. I have had to ask people to stop taking pictures on two occasions, acting as an authority representing the private concern where the picture taking was happening. In both cases there was some abiguity - was this really harmful, or totally innocent? In one case, my gut is that it was totally innocent but that we did the right thing because families were getting creeped out, and the photog was totally understanding and a bit flustered and embarrassed and apologetic. In the second case, my gut was that it was not on the up-and-up; the guy was a bit hostile and did not make eye contact with us. There's no way to know what was really going on in these situations, but it was our responsibility to act in a way that was responsive to the concerns of our customers and we did. In niether case were there follow-up repercussions of the kind I would expect if either photographer felt they had been treated with injustice.
posted by Miko at 10:03 PM on December 25, 2010

I'm in agreement with Malapropist - there's no harm - and some potential good - in approaching the photographer directly. It's entirely likely that he would have been happy to share some of these images with you.

It must be easier to be a female photographer than a male one where the subject is children, come to think of it.
posted by ferkit at 5:09 PM on December 26, 2010

True story:

My mom works for a psychologist who specializes in treating all variety of sex-offenders, pedophiles, child pornographers, etc. A very similar situation happened to him once when he was at the zoo with his young daughter. Some guy was hanging around, by himself, taking pictures of all the little girls. His creep alarms ringing loud and clear, the psychologist approached the guy, asked him what he was doing, and why, did he know these kids... When the guy had no good answer and got tongue-tied trying to think of one, it became apparent the guy was exactly the kind of creep you worry about, and exactly the kind of guy that comes through his office every day. I believe the psychologist then told the guy to get the hell out of there before he calls the police, and the guy did just that.

I'm generally very trusting of people, and try to never jump to these kinds of conclusions, but if there's one thing I've learned from my mom's stories, is these kind of creeps are NOT one in a million. Unless the Dayton metro area is really out of the ordinary, these guys are frickin everywhere. You did the right thing to notify security. Really.
posted by gueneverey at 11:50 AM on December 27, 2010

True story:

#1, your mom's employer is a psychologist who specializes in these cases. What you'd call an expert.

#2, the guy he chased off still wasn't doing anything wrong, or illegal. If I got off to pictures of fully clothed old men, or dogs, or giraffes, that still doesn't mean I can't take pictures of them in a public place.

My purposes for doing something perfectly legal does not change the legality or morality of what I'm doing. That would be thoughtcrime, and we don't have it yet, so let's not hurry it along.
posted by cmoj at 12:14 PM on December 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Wait, actually there are things in the US that are illegal or more/less illegal depending on the intent. We do have thoughtcrime. Let's not make it a matter of course?
posted by cmoj at 12:16 PM on December 27, 2010

You should have gone up to the dude and asked him if he was from the local paper, not immediately assume he was a pedophile.

Look, I used to work for a local paper as a photographer covering things like parades and farmer's markets and fluff pieces like that. As a freelancer, I didn't even get an ID (maybe that's unusual) and I didn't have a press pass because in my county you need to cover hard news to get one. And my editor would often tell me to go to an event and take picture of children, because people like seeing picture of children being cute in the paper.

No one ever questioned why I was taking photos, but I suspect being female and in my 20s had a lot to do with it.
posted by inertia at 8:08 PM on December 27, 2010

"Mention concerns to the security guard" seems like a very appropriate intervention. Security guards are paid to evaluate whether people's behavior is appropriate in a context or not.

Having worked as a security guard, I can say that 99.9 percent of my authority and expertise derived from wearing a blue polyester uniform that looked vaguely cop-like.
posted by mecran01 at 7:48 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

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