Harassed for taking photos in Los Angeles 

June 1, 2008

On the way to the National Photographers Rights Day meetup in Hollywood I heard about the fire at Universal City which had apparently been burning for 5 hours already and was still going. So I swung by there which ended up taking a few hours which meant I didn't get to the meetup until 2pm at Union Station.

Finding the group was pretty easy, large groups with camera gear stand out in a crowd :) The group was great and I'd love to get together again in the future. Security didn't hassle us at any time, though they did often "keep an eye" on us. Several other paid photo shoots were going on as well, but since they tended to be transitory (they didn't stay in one place for more than a few minutes) they didn't seem to be hassled either.

After the group broke up around 3 I decided to walk from Union Station to Pico Station to take the Red Line back to my car. On the way I got a few interesting shots. There was a mexican singer and a native american group performing (not together).

Then I got to Upper Grand & 3rd St. and I came upon the California Plaza. A pair of buildings at 52 and 42 stories tall.

  • Google StreetView Map
  • Skyscraperpage.com: One California Plaza
  • Skyscraperpage.com: Two California Plaza
  • The architect proudly displays the building on his site at arthurerickson.com
  • The office space manager, Maguire Properties has pages on One and Two including two great brochures with helicopter photos and google earth maps.

    The reflection off the glass facades were just excellent so I stopped to try to capture it.

    I wasn't done with my first four photos when I heard security approaching. I was looking straight up the building playing with the geometric patterns of the building when I heard "sir, sir. sir, you can't take photos here." After taking my last shot I lowered the camera and said "oh, sorry, I'll get off your property" and I moved about 10 feet back over the brass property line. From there we continued our conversation, me on the sidewalk and the building security on their side. They never left their property, and I never went off the sidewalk.

    When the security supervisor came out I told him I was going to take some video:

    me: "You're saying it's not allowed for me to take pictures here?"
    security: "what I am telling you is we have a strict policy, and you can be courteous enough with us. I'm not trying to be mean to you or anything like that. I'm just trying to inform you so you can follow through with us."
    me: "I understand that your company wants that, but I think my civil rights are important too."
    security: "You got your civil rights, that absolutely correct."
    me: "I'm going to stand up for my civil rights."
    security: "and you have the right to, but um, as being private property too they also have a right..."
    I pan down and point at the brass line that denotes the property line, I'm on the public sidewalk, he's on his property.
    me: "wait wait, this is..."
    security: "you're absolutely right. I'm not taking that away from you. I'm not trying to be rude with you. Can you do me a favor? Can you put that away for me?" gesturing towards my camera
    me: "I'd rather not. Sorry."
    security: "okay"
    me: "So I'm not doing anything wrong? I'll stay on this side of the property. So we're good?"
    security: "okay."
    me: "okay"
    security: "I mean I can't say that we're good or not, we're going to also follow up and also call angelwide.";
    me: "do you want to call the police? 'cause I'll wait for them."
    security: "We're going to call angelwide and just follow up."
    me: "wait, call who?"
    security: "angelwar"
    me: "oh, private security?"
    security: "no no no, we're just going to follow up with them. Just to let..."
    me: "I don't understand who they are."
    security: "The anti-terrorist group. We're going to let them know what you got going on out here. Just file a follow up report with them. Okay. I just got to let you know."
    me: "Okay, go ahead and call, I'm going to wait for them."
    security: "That's fine."


    4:21pm, first contact
    , 0:45

    4:26pm, security supervisor
    , 1:05

    Then they walked away, and I continued taking pictures. A few minutes later I had made it about a half a block which put me right near their lobby. The supervisor came out again, this time he attempted to get me to leave using kindness. He wanted me to "do him a favor" and leave. I said that my civil rights were very important to me, and that I wouldn't censor myself to appease him or his building's owner. He used the statement "since 9/11." as if that explained everything.

    I asked why they don't harass people with cell phone cameras and he said that only "pro" cameras (ie, detachable lenses) were against their rules. I tried to ask why detachable lenses were more "terroristic" but he dodged the question. I also asked what about my behavior made me a terrorist to him, but he just reiterated that it was "against the rules". I kindly reminded him that I was on public property and not breaking any laws. That's when he asked me to do him a favor and stop. I said no.

    He finally leaves, and as he's leaving I see him meet up with a plainclothes, I took a photo of them because I think he's their "undercover" private security for the building.

    A few minutes after that I was crossing the street and a purple shirted fellow on a bicycle said hello to me. They're the "Purple Patrol" which is private security group that covers the entire downtown area. Their job is to keep an eye out and report any problems, they're not armed and the guy I talked to was very friendly. Just as we were exchanging names I heard a call go out over his radio describing me and we both had a laugh at it. We chatted for a few minutes, then he said he'd go talk to the security supervisor who was across the street watching us from their property line. I said that "I know I'm being a jerk, but I know that for every 20 people the building harasses, 19 of them will back down, and I think that's wrong."

    I had taken all the photos I wanted, so I continued walking all the way around the building. At the other end there's a reflecting pool, which had the building in it as well as another building being reflected off the reflection. As I stopped to take that photo the original lady who had stopped me happened to round the corner on her normal patrol. Her surprised reaction was "Haven't you learned your lesson yet?" My witty comeback was "My lesson? You're the ones trying to censor people." We chatted for a second and I told her I knew she was just doing her job, she looked like she was on my side but didn't want to get fired.

    I think it's wrong for the building's owners to try to censor photos of their building. Their building isn't secret, there's already millions of photos of it on the internet. Preventing photos from nice cameras won't increase their security. Harassing photographers is unethical and bad PR. If they want to try to make their case, please tell me 1) How does telling someone to stop taking photos of the building stop terrorism, 2) Why "detachable lens" cameras are more terroristic than other cameras, and 3) Why do they think it's okay to try to enforce their rules on someone not on their property?

    I sent the following email to Human Relations (hr@maguireproperties.com) on June 3rd at noon:

    Hello, I feel that I was harassed by your security personnel at California Plaza in downtown Los Angeles. On June 1st at around 4:30pm I was walking around the city taking photos of all the wonderful architecture this fine city has to offer. As I'm sure you know, One and Two California Plaza are tall skyscrapers with all-glass facades. That day there were beautiful reflections of the surrounding buildings on your glass. I hadn't stopped for 30 seconds before your security personnel came up and told me I wasn't allowed to take photos.

    As I'm sure you know, there's nothing illegal about taking photos of public places or buildings.

    The security supervisor was polite, but I feel that he was trying to censor me and to enforce the "building's policies" on the public sidewalk. He spent over half an hour trying to get me to leave the sidewalk. Singling out photographers and inferring that they are terrorists has really angered me so I've put up a web page that details my confrontation. I'm going to put up links to your site, and a copy of this email. If you would like your response posted there as well, please reply and I will include it.

    Again, your employee was courteous, but he was enforcing a rule that goes against what makes this country great - freedom.

    Thank you.

    Travis Puderbaugh