Yesterday I drove to Manchester to meet my daughter for coffee and as I always do I slung my camera around my shoulder (Pentax K50) with the hope of getting some interesting photographs of the city.
I parked up near Strangeways Prison and made my way into the city centre via what can only be described as Manchester’s “low profile” cathedral. A quick scan of the skyline across the River Irwell and I saw the tremendous amount of building / development taking place which, would seem to indicate that the economic upturn has started in Manchester.
I continued my ramble around the city centre and saw the chaos being created by the development of the new “tram track.” Cross Street and the bottom end of Market Street look a bit of a shambles, and lets face it, Manchester has never been one of the prettiest cities.
I then wandered along Deansgate making my way to the Spinningfields area which is a business, retail and residential development in the west of the City, between South Deansgate and the River Irwell. Its aim is to enhance Manchester’s position in the global market and the development even won the Regeneration prize at the 2005 Property Awards.
Basically the area is a “mountain of glass” with numerous high-rise offices, cafes / bistros and upmarket retail outlets. At the moment several enormous cranes dominate the area, as further development takes place and these are very impressive machines.
So, as I wandered around I was taking photographs of the developing skyline when I was approached by a young man in a “high viz” yellow jacket who stopped me and asked why I was taking photographs. The conversation went something like this:-
Security Guard: Why are you taking photographs?
Me: why do you want to know?
SG: its about security
Me: what do you mean security?
SG: are you taking photographs for commercial purposes or for your own personal use?
Me: that is for me to know and has nothing to do with you
SG: you need permission from the owners to photograph around here
Me: since when did I need permission to take photographs in the middle of a city, which is open to the public?
By now I was getting a little bit pissed off with the line of questioning and he seemed to pick up on this and backed away muttering “we have to ask for security purposes.” As I walked away a gentleman tapped me on the shoulder and said “as one photographer to another, just a heads up, I get stopped when I try to take photographs around here, particularly if I set up my tripod to get professional shots. These so called security guards are a nuisance.” I thanked him for his advice and continued on my way.
Now in these worrying days of islamic terrorism I appreciate the need for vigilance and security in city centres but there are ways and means of doing this rather than dressing it up as questions about “photography for commercial purposes” and warnings that “permission is needed to take photographs”.
Moreover, if the security forces are using any kind of “profiling techniques” to identify possible security risks I hardly think that I, as a white, 67 year old, middle class man fall into any of the high risk categories!
I think a little customer service training would not go amiss on the young man who questioned me, and it occurred to me “what kind of image does this approach give the city?” particularly, foreign tourists visiting for the first time.
Don’t get me wrong, I am very fond of Manchester as it was the first major city I visited as a young teenager, travelled to the city to buy my precious jazz LPs back in the 60s and had the dubious distinction of having to walk home on new years eve after an evening of drinking at various dubious “dives” in the city……..and believe me a 13 mile walk at 2.00am on new years day after a lengthy drinking session is not one I would recommend.
So, my message to Manchester, stop being so officious and make people who come to the city welcome rather than treating them as “security risks” simply because they want to photograph the city.