Down a Dark Alley

There’s something about photographers and crime, really there is. I’m not just talking about the field of forensic and crime photography here either.

A photographer friend of mine was shooting in a park in San Diego a few weeks ago. She had her camera with her and her purse, with her camera wrapped around her wrist. Some guy came up and strong armed her camera away from her-luckily she was not hurt in the process, but now she’s minus a camera body, lens, and some work on flash memory from the park, not to mention how horrifying that must feel.

When I met up with Alan Pogue last November, just as his book Witness for Justice was being released, he had just been mugged and was suffering from the aftereffects of a slight concussion, not to mention being sans gear as well. He had to attend his first book signings with his ears still ringing from the attack.

Then there’s the Philadelphia story, the one from Flickr a while back, where somebody had his car broken into-somebody smashed a window on a photographer’s SUV, broke into the back and stole a camera bag filled with gear and several laptops. The photographer was down about $10,000 in gear and, perhaps even more importantly, out of business completely. Without a camera, without a computer, it’s kind of hard for us to do our jobs, right? Luckily, Flickr staged a print auction to help raise funds for him to buy a new camera and get back on his feet again.

Unfortunately for us, photographers make easy targets. Cameras are small and expensive and photographers are often engrossed in what they are doing-so much so that they neglect to pay attention and remain keenly aware of their surroundings. Even just the slightest of seconds is all that it takes to fall victim to an eagerly awaiting predator.

Let’s face it, current economic conditions don’t help matters either. In these days of double digit unemployment, even if somebody did face a harsh sentence for strong arm robbery or breaking and entering, a jail cell offers up a warm bed and the guarantee of a next meal.

So, what’s a photographer to do? We can’t stop shooting, it’s what we do. We can’t try to just “be more aware” it’s impossible to have eyes in the back of your head and, sorry to say, some people are just bigger, stronger, and can grab things more easily. The answer would seem to be in the harsher sentences-we need to crack down on criminal activity and start to hold people accountable for their actions. How many times have you heard about something committing a crime, even say a murder or rape, and getting off with a slap on the wrist?

It’s a shame that our society has come to this, really it is. There used to be a time when you could leave your doors unlocked and not have to worry. Sadly, those days are past us and, if we want to grow as a society, if we really want to thrive and flourish, we have to return to the days of personal accountability. There’s just no other way. The police need to be able to do their jobs without having to worry about legal ramifications or getting sued. The criminals have to be made aware that, once arrested and convicted, they will be punished. No more cable TV, gym memberships, and coddling them-put them to work and make them pay society back for their crimes, even if it’s just a small contribution. Make them earn their keep.

Photographers too have to band together-we need to build our sense of shared community. When something happens, we need to help each other out as best we can and we need to help each other remain alert, aware, and responsive to our surroundings.

There’s record heat again today in River City so I shall now get down off my soapbox and let you enjoy the rest of your day.

Until next time…


  1. mythopolis
    July 11, 2009 / 9:10 pm

    I love your photos and your blogs…but this one I am not sure I get. You either have your shit together, or you don't in photojournalism. If your cameas are getting swiped, you are in over your head.

  2. Janice / Dancing with Sunflowers
    July 11, 2009 / 9:14 pm

    Hi Carol, I agree – photographers are easy targets because you can't be concentrating on your work and on all that's going on around you at the same time. I guess we can do our best by choosing our locations carefully, and not putting ourselves in isolated, dark, obvious areas for attack. Not that we should have to, but we do. I'm always very security conscious but once we were robbed in the car while waiting for security gates to open at our holiday apartment. My bag was stolen – I had the strap wrapped around my arm but the thief had the benefit of surprise on his side. The long-term damage was not the loss of the bag and the money inside but the shock and loss of trust in people.

  3. Peruby
    July 12, 2009 / 11:35 am

    My nephew has very expensive gear and is always out by himself. I warned him of this a couple of years ago when I read an article that this type of crime was on the rise.

    Not certain I understand what mythopolis means in their comment?

    If the equipment is in the car or house I can see insurance covering it. Can you get insurance on the cameras/lens for when you are out in the field working?

  4. Carol
    July 12, 2009 / 5:26 pm

    Hi Mythos-I get what you mean-we should be more aware. But, I'm also sick of seeing convicted felons let out again and again (after like 8 or 9 murders and rapes.) I mean, how many violent crimes does somebody have to commit before the State does something? And, by "do something" I mean something other than leave them homeless to live in public parks and the like.

    Hi Postcards-I know exactly what you mean and, yes, we are very easy targets.

    Hi Peruby-I think Mythos is referencing the fact that many photojournalists seem to like to put themselves in harms way (they do) and he's right about that. I mean, if you're on the front lines in Bosnia, or even shooting in an area in the US where you want to get "gritty" shots, you should expect a higher crime rate. That's part of the territory, and we can't really complain after we fall victims in those situations (it's sort of like the cost of doing business, right?)

    As far as insurance goes, yes, homeowner's policy does cover some of it but insurance claims only go so far. Even if you are out in the field, your insurance will give you a percentage of "fair market value" which is usually a lot less than what you paid for (or will pay to replace) your gear.

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