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Von Pinnon: Decision to ban photographer should concern all of us

When I was a tot growing up in Moorhead in the 1970s, a Forum photographer snapped a photo of me and my friends pushing toy dump-trucks up a mound of dirt alongside our driveway.

The photo ran in the newspaper the next day but a clipping of that picture stayed on our home's refrigerator for months, maybe years.

It was a more innocent time, to be sure. I don't remember our parents ever even knowing where we were most of the time, but they probably did. They certainly weren't hovering.

The Forum photographer took that photo from the sidewalk in front of our house. We didn't notice him. If we had, the picture would not have been as natural or as good.

Given the uproar last week concerning a man surreptitiously taking photos of people—maybe kids—at Fargo's Island Park Pool, I think of how much our culture has changed in 40 years.

As the father of two little girls, I take and post photos of them on Facebook for everyone to see. On the other hand, if somebody else was taking photos of my girls in a public space, I'd probably be suspicious of their motives. I might even confront them with questions.

It's all a little ridiculous.

People taking photos in a public space have every right to do so. If you can see it from a public space, you can photograph it. Likewise, people in public spaces cannot presume privacy. We all make that choice when we leave our homes or our private businesses.

For the police to recommend, and the park district to acquiesce, to ban the photographer from public pools for 90 days should concern everyone who believes in freedom. Perhaps those two outfits know more than we do but, knowing what we know, there are no grounds for such action. That ban should be rescinded.

Furthermore, the photography community—whether professionals or hobbyists—should stand up and be counted. This is a very bad precedent for anyone who enjoys the freedom to photograph people in public, the same freedom, mind you, the police have in surreptitiously videotaping people along the streets and roadways of our community.

Last winter, award-winning Forum photojournalist David Samson was snapping photos of kids flying down an area sledding hill when two of West Fargo's Finest came up from behind, tapped him on the shoulder and began grilling him with questions about his photos and his motives.

A concerned mother had called the police, worried what he might do with those photos.

Samson told the officers he was snapping photos for The Forum. An officer called our office to confirm whether that was true. Once satisfied, the officers let him be.

That call was unnecessary. Our photographers have no more or less rights than any other citizen.

Rather than call us, the officers should have consulted the law, perhaps observed Samson for a bit to make sure nothing unlawful was happening, and then told the concerned mother that while it was OK for her to call the police with her concerns, the photographer was within his rights to photograph kids in a public setting.

But that winter episode now makes us wonder: If our photographer hadn't been working for the state's largest news operation, would he have been allowed to continue? Would he have been banned from the parks?

Matthew Von Pinnon

Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum.

(701) 241-5579
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