Thomas Hawk and SF MOMA or Why I Love my a530

On Equipment

I have a Rebel XT that can take great pictures, It have a couple of Lenses (the kit, a prime 2.8, a 20-70 and 30-300 tele/macro) and I love taking it out on tours of photogenic locations and capturing the world in it’s glassy eye.  I can take pensive, crafted and beautiful pictures with it.  However, it is not the only camera in the world and it is light-years beyond what I may actually need.  Not Long ago someone pointed out to me that Ansel Adams took photos with little more than glass, a box and some film, and it was what he did afterwards that turned a great photo into art.

I love taking photos,  I think Thomas Hawk does too; so it pained me to see that he was being harassed for doing what he loves.  This has led to some discussion online.  I will carefully highlight that it pained me in the past tense, because I am not going to defend either party over here at Local Blogger; it’s not for me to do.  I’m not party to either side of the discussion, save as a photographer, but I’m no professional and cannot fully understand all of the motives and methods that Thomas employs.  Nor am I SF MOMA, large as I can appear, I am no Modern Art Museum, nor am I the curator or an officer of any establishment save the “Kevin Wardrop Museum of Comics and Toys” which has fallen apart as of late, due to my lax administration.  No, I am Kevin Wardrop, Geek.  So I will try to draw a balance in my commentary on all of this.

First some assumptions:

If where you work is covered by CCTV, then being photographed should not be a problem. As I understand things; the reason Thomas was approached was because an employee of the Museum was uncomfortable with the lens of the Camera being on her, possibly pointed down her blouse.  I can’t see why it matters, honestly.  If you are under the lens of a CCTV for 90% of your day, you have had your privacy exploited by a security person at least once or twice this week.  They might not post your picture on the web or sell it to a magazine; but chances are they might.  Why stress over a photographer, at least you can approach them and ask for a card or ask where they might be using the picture.

Buildings built with public money and funded by donation have no right to restrict photography; that being said the SF MOMA is a private not-for-profit entity.  Which means that they can restrict behavior within their walls.  Period.  If they want the negative publicity from ejecting photographers, that’s within their rigths, up until a limit.  Obviously, they can’t be overtly discriminatory against any paying customer.

People assume (wrongly) that a SLR or dSLR means that you are a professional (or a pervert);  I don’t get hassled to often when I go out with my Camera, even when I have the 300mm zoom lens on.  I do get the occasional dirty look though; even “remote hassles” but no in your face confrontations.  If I am close enough, I ask for permission to take photos, but often I like to take candid photos where people don’t know and are unaware of me.  It’s life that I’m photographing, not poses.  To defend myself from the pervert discussion I usually have my family with me when I take photos; people see my daughter and assume that I’m a tourist (which suits me fine).  I assume the same when I see some dude with a kit lens on his far too expensive dSLR too.   To assuage fears I also carry Moo Cards with my name and contact info on them so that people can feel assured that I am not some pervert looking to exploit their image; which then leads to “are you going to sell these?”  I’m not a professional, I would like to make money while taking pictures; but I don’t.  Thomas does; which changes the equation slightly.  If I was a professional and known for my work, I imagine that some people might be aware that I make money off of these photos and should be careful to make sure that I am sensitive to these beliefs when approached by members of the public or worse an authority figure.

As I stated earlier, I wasn’t on hand for Thomas’s encounter and have to go on Thomas’ word and those of other “witnesses” (who may be sock puppets for SF MoMa for all I know); it looks like there was a misunderstanding and miscommunication that led to misanthropy on the both parts.  As a public figure, Thomas should have shown a bit more humility and less self-assurance and simply backed down; Simon, for his part appears to have been overzealous in his defense of his employee/co-worker.  I believe we should chalk this up to misunderstanding and walk away from it.  Mr. Blint may have acted like an asshole; but Thomas should be aware that on Private property, the authority lies with the Janitors before it lies with the visitors.

(I use janitors here as an example of the lowest paid employee or at least least authoritative, not as some statement of their position in society, Janitors are FAR more important than CEOs in the scope of things)

Had Thomas been carrying a point and shoot; would he have faced as much hassle?  All of the signs here point to no; and a short perusal of the discussions of this matter seem to confirm the phenomenon.  People with “good” cameras are hassled where people with “crappy pos” cameras are given free reign.  Why?

Let’s look at my assumptions again; people with dSLR cameras are looked at as either Professionals or Perverts.  In this case, it was Pervert.  Almost always wrong, almost always incorrect, but there it is.  People who are willing to pout money into something like photography are faced with suspicion, where people who just pay a couple hundred bucks for their little pocket camera are treated like “benign dummies”  you can see that in the way people who are hassled talk about the phenomena.  “I had my big Camera… but people with cell phone cameras and little point and shoots were getting a pass”

Clearly there is a kind of class division of photographers that Thomas (and others) have fallen afoul of.  It’s a shame that the proliferation of dSLRs hasn’t removed the stigma of the “big” camera over the the “fun” little camera.  That, however leads me back to my initial point.

As I understand things, Ansel Adams, who is often held up as a standard in photography didn’t have any of the technology that we have on hand today, and that all of his work was technique and style over equipment and luck.  I am forced to admit that I don’t take (for the most part) any better photos with my 800 dollar kit than I take with my a530.  If I take my time and plan it out, my a530 can produce some amazing results, un retouched and uncropped, and it doesn’t set off any warning bells in the minds of most people.  It fits in my pocket and is ready in a few seconds.  Nothing could be easier, simpler and more prone for abuse.  I can easily use my “little” camera to snap candid photos with no one being the wiser, I can control exposure and flash with one hand and don’t even need to put it to my eye to compose a shot.  I love my a530 simply because it is unobtrusive and easy to use.  If anything, people should fear a compact camera more than a big camera because a silent and easy to hide Camera is much more easily used to take surreptitious and exploitive photos than a large camera is.

In the end, it’s not the equipment that defines how a photographer should be judged, its what they do with it, and from what I can tell, Thomas did no wrong with the Camera, but his mouth might have become over exposed.