Friday, March 16, 2007

Desperately Seeking Clarification

On March 9th, I sent an email to the head of the customer support department and the legal counsel for the MBTA that specializes in Constitutional law.

No reply.

Wednesday, March 14th, I sent it again but this time adding MBTA press secretary.

This is the exchange that resulted.

   sent: March 13, 2007 6:09PM
   from: Jason
     to: jpesaturo@mbta.com, kmckinney@mbta.com, mlogalbo@mbta.com, chowze@mbta.com
subject: Photography Absent a Permit
Greetings,

My name is Jason Desjardins, I'm a local photographer. Over the last several years, I've been told -- depending on which MBTA employee I talk to -- that photography on the subway is "illegal," "against MBTA rules," "criminal" and just two weeks ago, a "federal offense." One officer insisted the policy was clearly posted in various stations and broadcast over the intercom system, though I can honestly say I've never seen or heard it.

On non-MBTA websites I've found information suggesting that a permit is required but I feel that being forced to re-request a new permit every month and the process of undergoing a (criminal?) background check is unnecessarily burdensome, and so I will not be seeking one.

I've also checked the MBTA website by searching for "photography." Three links result; two for submitting and updating a company profile (presumably for advertising purposes) and one regarding commercial filming. This last link only references photography by saying it must not portray the MBTA in a negative light.

In other words, it appears that the MBTA has no clear, written and publicly available policy on non-commercial, amateur photography.

I am requesting an official communication from the MBTA on what, precisely, the MBTA policy is on photography without a permit.

Sincerely,
Jason Desjardins


   sent: Mar 14, 2007 10:06 AM
   from: Joe Pesaturo <jpesaturo@mbta.com>
     to: Jason
subject: Re: Photography Absent a Permit
It appears that you want to take a lot of pictures of the public transportation infrastructure in Greater Boston. May I ask why?

Two of the twelve photos on my photography website are from the subway. Two is a lot? And what gives him the idea my focus is the "infrastructure?"

A strange reply to say the least.

It's also interesting to note that he didn't "reply to all." I included everyone in my reply.

   sent: Mar 14, 2007 10:41 AM
   from: Jason
     to: jpesaturo@mbta.com, kmckinney@mbta.com, mlogalbo@mbta.com, chowze@mbta.com
subject: Photography Absent a Permit
Hi Joe, thanks for the reply.

I don't understand the purpose of the query. Surely MBTA policy on photography is independent of the reasons I, personally, create my art.

Please provide a copy of your policy regarding photography on the MBTA without a permit.

Thanks,
Jason Desjardins


   sent: Mar 14, 2007 10:44 AM
   from: Joe Pesaturo <jpesaturo@mbta.com>
     to: Jason
subject: Re: Photography Absent a Permit
Actually, the question is key to this matter. No one should be spending long periods of time photographing elements of the public transportation infrastrcutre. Of course, that's going to raise some eyebrows. MBTA personnel and police use their discretion in each instance.

Raise some eyebrows? ... Really??

A short quiz for Don Quixote...

Imagine you are an al Queda cell member casing the MBTA for good spots to plant explosives.

Q. Your photograping technique should be:

(a) Discretely photograph subway exits, entrances and support structures using a small, inexpensive 2 megapixel camera roughly half the volume of a deck of playing cards when few if any people are present or paying attention.

(b) Openly photograph pretty much anything using a dSLR bigger than a large Dunkin Donuts iced coffee and a mechanical shutter audible for at least fifteen feet. Seek out clusters of people. Crowds are better.

Q. Your "visibility" should be:

(a) Blend in. Appear friendly but do not engage in unnecessary conversation. Do not draw attention to yourself.

(b) Repeatedly call and email the MBTA legal department for information about their photography policy. Provide your real name.

Q. If your photography is discovered and you are confronted:

(a) Appear embarrassed, act like a tourist. Put the camera away and apologize.

(b) Loudly proclaim your right, by law, to photograph in public areas. Attract as many cops as you can.

If Joe thinks that my behavior looks anything like what suspicious behavior looks like, I'm grateful he's behind a desk.

But still, he is a senior spokesperson for the MBTA and that last line sure is interesting! It's going to baffle whoever stops me next.

   sent: Mar 14, 2007 12:02 PM
   from: Jason
     to: jpesaturo@mbta.com
     cc: kmckinney@mbta.com, mlogalbo@mbta.com, chowze@mbta.com
subject: Photography Absent a Permit
"Actually, the question is key to this matter. No one should be spending long periods of time photographing elements of the public transportation infrastrcutre. Of course, that's going to raise some eyebrows. MBTA personnel and police use their discretion in each instance."

If the official stance on photography is that each circumstance is discretionary, and to be evaluated by the individual employee, your staff and police seem to not be aware of it.

On February 27th, I was stopped at the Harvard station and told that photography was "against MBTA rules" (CSA #5248 and Officer #545) and a "federal crime" (CSA #6995). In fact, I've been stopped many times while on the T and two things have been true for 100% of these encounters; first, the stated policy is "no photography, ever" and second, my motives have never been queried.

Just this morning, one of my coworkers told me that last night, while exiting the Downtown Crossing train around 5:30PM, the intercom system broadcast, "Please passengers, be advised that the use of photo cameras are extremely prohibited in the MBTA facilities."

So if I understand you properly, two things are true.

• There is no written MBTA policy on amateur photography without a permit and;

• Amateur photography is not banned outright. Each circumstance is discretionary.

If both of these are correct, I'd appreciate a fax or letter on MBTA letterhead with this information to help avoid problems in the future.

Joe, I appreciate your efforts as head of MBTA counsel to help clarify the policy. I would like to suggest that distributing this information to your employees might be prudent.

Thanks,
Jason Desjardins

[fax # redacted]

[home address redacted]


In all my note-taking, I apparently confused Joe with William Mitchell. Mr. Mitchell is the head of the legal department. Mr. Pesaturo is the MBTA Press Secretary.

   sent: Mar 14, 2007 12:12 PM
   from: Joe Pesaturo <jpesaturo@mbta.com>
     to: Jason
subject: Re: Photography Absent a Permit
Actually, I'm just the press secretary, not a lawyer.

   sent: Mar 14, 2007 12:20 PM
   from: Jason
     to: jpesaturo@mbta.com
     cc: kmckinney@mbta.com, mlogalbo@mbta.com, chowze@mbta.com
subject: Photography Absent a Permit
My apologies, I got you mixed up with William Mitchell. As press secretary, I imagine you're still authoritative on MBTA policy.

Should I expect that communication by fax or by USPS mail?

Thanks,
Jason


...and then the replies stopped. Huh.

So I sent a followup.

   sent: Mar 14, 2007 12:20 PM
   from: Jason
     to: jpesaturo@mbta.com
     cc: kmckinney@mbta.com, mlogalbo@mbta.com, chowze@mbta.com, ctimberlake@mbta.com, wmitchell@mbta.com
subject: Photography Absent a Permit
Hi Joe,

Yesterday, in our email exchange (Mar 14, 2007 10:44 AM), you indicated that photography without a permit is not forbidden on the subway system but instead a matter of individual MBTA personnel discretion. As I mentioned, in every encounter I've had with MBTA staff, photography has been strictly forbidden. This is why I requested a copy of your policy on MBTA letterhead.

I haven't heard anything back from you on this request.

As I'm sure you can imagine, I'm anxious to avoid the same problem I encountered on Feb. 27th. I was stopped, detained for roughly 30-40 minutes, and told in no uncertain terms that photography was strictly verboten. One CSA insisted photography on the subway was a "federal crime." Both MBTA officers were adamant that photography was never allowed without a permit, this policy appeared on signage and was also broadcast through the subway system intercom.

In any case, "why" or "what" I was photographing never came up. Obviously a copy of your policy would have been very useful.

Again, a copy of your policy regarding photography without a permit on MBTA letterhead, by fax (617-868-1120) or by USPS mail (see address below), would be very much appreciated.

Please reply to this email to let me know the status of this request.

Sincerely,
Jason Desjardins

[address redacted]

2 comments:

warren said...

Seriously dude, what are your motives for 'casing' the transit
system?

Are you a subsidiary of BadTransit.com?

Jason Nobody said...

Dude, seriously, I'm a photographer. I photograph the subway because it's there.