Glass Ceiling, Invisible Line

Rotunda of the Oakland Federal Building. Oakland CA, February 2011.

Rotunda of the Oakland Federal Building. Oakland CA, February 2011.

The post-9/11 security obsession had built to the point where photographers are routinely harassed and intimidated, and have their property stolen or smashed. A few months ago, TSA even published posters depicting photographers as terrorists. But just a couple weeks ago came some sanity when a man was found not guilty in a case stemming from his refusal to show ID and turn off his video camera in the airport. Reading that story, I learned some very surprising things that came out of the case. Perhaps they are surprising to me because I am too much of a rule follower. But the case placed on record that, for example: TSA checkpoint staff are not law enforcement officers and have no police powers; you have the right, recognized by the TSA, to fly without showing ID, and signs and announcements in airports saying that all passengers must present ID are false; you have the right, recognized by the TSA, to photograph or film anywhere in publicly accessible areas of airports including TSA checkpoints. Who knew?! Really, check out those links above or do your own web search. Let me know what you think.

The reason I am thinking about this is that as I left work today, the big doors around the rotunda of the Federal Building were open, making it feel truly public. Whether it is, I don’t know. It is outside the checkpoints to the entrances of the building. But I have long wanted to photograph the glass ceiling from directly underneath, and this seemed like a perfect time to do it. So, I walked to the middle of the floor and looked straight up. I took out my camera and shot the rotunda. I got one click before the nice guards with whom I had just exchanged “good night” pleasantries called to me stop immediately, that photography was not allowed. I sheepishly started to put my camera away. Just then another couple of guards who were standing outside in park area approached me and insisted I take the pictures I wanted to take. “It’s ok, take the picture, just don’t photograph the checkpoint equipment area.” He seemed to be in charge in some way and was quite adamant, and then went over to talk to the guards that had stopped me. So maybe sometimes people mean well but there is confusion and miscommunication. And, of course, other times people are power drunk,… and there’s confusion and miscommunication.

I looked at my camera display and saw that I had an ok shot, and anyway, the moment was kinda ruined now. So, I thanked the second guy and turned to head for the train station to go home. Perhaps I’ll try again another day, and the light will be even better.