Demonising photography has tragic consequences

posted by Bridget on 29 October 2013

When photographers are treated with suspicion by the establishment, the shameful murder of Bijan Ebrahimi is the dreadful result.

We do not often comment here on events, but the killing of Bijan Ebrahimi by the misguided and ignorant residents of a council estate in Bristol is the dreadful consequence of calling all men who use a camera in the street a paedophile.

We do not seek to explain the brutal actions of Lee James and Stephen Norley as they set about burning Mr Ebrahimi to death, but the question in this case that must be clearly understood is why the act of taking photographs of children in the street appears to have lead to an automatic assumption that such photographs could only have been taken for sexual purposes.

Much has been written about how photographers are regularly hounded by police and security guards for taking photographs. The authority's justification for such harassment is security and prevention of terrorism. But running side by side this vilification of photographers and street photography is the silent accusation that taking any photograph of a child must mean the photographer has paedophilic tendencies.

This is of course not true. But when the establishment, in which I include the government, police and media, fails to support the 99% of photographers taking images of children for a variety of non-sexual motives, it leads to a wider social condemnation and suspicion of such photographers.

Mr Ebrahimi as we understand it, was taking photographs of children [defined as under 16] vandalising his garden and flowers. He had tried to get the police to act on his behalf against this anti-social behaviour. But the police, it is alleged, seemed to believe the residents who claimed because he was taking photographs of children [defined as under 16] he must be a paedophile.

The very act of taking photographs was evidence enough of guilt to lead to the arrest of Mr Ebrahimi.

What finally tipped the two killers over the edge to take someone else's life in such a brutal fashion is not known by us. We do not know what their mental state was, nor how much the arrest of Mr Ebrahimi contributed to them taking matters into their own hands.

But what we do know is that any man, with a camera, photographing people in a street in which there are children, is viewed with deep suspicion by British society and that we must radically review this position and stop seeking paedophilia everywhere.

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