Progressive politics, ideas & culture


Warm fuzzy memories of communism, like faded photos…

This Magazine Staff

Here’s an interesting story from the NYTimes today, documenting a small, yet culturally important freedom that will be soon lost in North America, all for the sake of “fighting terrorism.”

NYC’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is looking at approving a new statute banning photography on or around the New York subway system. Chances are, I suppose, this ban will then extend to most other “infrastructure” areas such as bridges and tunnels, etc. Imagine travelling to New York, the greatest city on earth, and not coming home with a snapshot of the Brooklyn Bridge, or the entrance to the subway closest to your hotel.

Justification for the ban seems, on the face of it, inarguable:

“Nobody is looking to violate anybody’s civil rights or deny anybody’s constitutional rights,” [NYC MTA spokesman, Tom] Kelly said. “But when you check with law enforcement agencies, they have uncovered photographs of subway and rail systems from various terrorist organizations. And I don’t believe they were going into somebody’s scrapbook.”

In my personal experience, the only times I have ever been denied the opportunity to take a photo were:

In 1987, while travelling through communist Yugoslavia on a train. I was warned several times, by several heavily armed soldiers, to put my camera away and not to point it, even from waist height out the window or at anything having to do with the railway system. Consequently, I now have no photographic record of pre-bombing Kosovo and Serbia, two of the most beautiful places I’ve sped through on a train.

In 1994, while crossing from post-cold war (but still communist) Romania into Hungary. Again, machine gun-toting Romanian soldiers took a dim view of my 35 mm accessory and made no bones about fondling their guns while warning me not to take pictures. That time I snuck pictures anyway, and now have one beautiful shot in my home of a young soldier inspecting the lines at the border. It is from another time and now, really, another world, and I view it as an important document of personal history.

Yes, terrorists will tend to photograph their intended targets. Will a total photo ban stop them from carrying out their business? I doubt it. I doubt it will even make their job one tiny bit more difficult. These days you can take a snapshot while dialing a phone number.

More freedom lost in the fight for freedom.

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