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August 11, 2008 5:23 PM   Subscribe

Photographer Thomas Hawk may or may not have run afoul of SFMOMA's photo policy and was forcibly ejected from the museum by its Director of Visitor Services. Hawk blogged the incident extensively, encouraging readers to publicize his grievance through social networking. Now two conversations are going on: how photographers' rights are restricted in an age of paranoid security, and whether what some call online character assassination by someone influential is okay.
posted by liketitanic (51 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Oh god, fuck that guy... He's got his own cottage industry in getting picked on and then writing histrionically about it.
posted by SweetJesus at 5:28 PM on August 11, 2008 [6 favorites]


Anybody notice that there's a war going on? And big things afoot politically? Not to mention a huge global sporting event?

Yeah. So why are we giving more attention to this publicity-seeking concern troll? It's getting to the point where, any time I see a headline about a photographer getting his toes stepped on, I don't even need to look at the body of the article. It'll be Thomas Hawk tooting on his owie-trumpet. I care passionately about civil liberties. This guy? Not so much.
posted by felix betachat at 5:31 PM on August 11, 2008 [4 favorites]


Yeah, this must be the bagillionth time Thomas Hawk has been "wronged" and is complaining about it on his blog. I hate that he operates this way (Bill O'Reilly is famous for inciting lynchmobs in the same cowardly way) and called him on it when he went apeshit over Tim O'Reilly many years ago, and Hawk ended up apologizing for it, but he didn't appear to learn any lessons.
posted by mathowie at 5:31 PM on August 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


The interesting thing is that there's little concern for treating people with respect unless they're "influential".

Most folks these days will go out of their way to curry favor with anyone, even someone they loathe, if there's something to gain, but couldn't care less if there's not. But if there's something to lose, then it's important again. Hawk has a responsibility to use his power wisely, but so did Blint. Is tit-for-tat a valid response? Maybe not, but it's been a hell of a lesson for SFMOMA.
posted by SaintCynr at 5:36 PM on August 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was mostly interested in the friendfeed "mob" that developed and perpetuated it. I wasn't concerned that his toes were stepped on, but that so many people seem to be concerned, despite his public record.
posted by liketitanic at 5:36 PM on August 11, 2008


The interesting thing is that there's little concern for treating people with respect unless they're "influential".

Particularly influential bloggers or influential baristas.
posted by fixedgear at 5:38 PM on August 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm amused that for someone so opinionated Hawk's photographs have no point of view - he's an overwrought hack hobbyist.
posted by jettloe at 5:42 PM on August 11, 2008 [3 favorites]


I think guardian.co.uk commenter swedishrockstar's response was nearly correct:
a prissy gobshite with a momentary persecution complex and an over-inflated sense of his influence and power.
I would just change it to "perpetual".
posted by Picklegnome at 5:44 PM on August 11, 2008


I hadn't been aware that Hawk serially abuses his influence in this way, and that's pretty repugnant.

On the other hand, things might be more civil everywhere if we treated others as if they had the power to help or hurt us. Reality being what it is, it'll never happen.
posted by SaintCynr at 5:46 PM on August 11, 2008


Drama? In the blogosphere?

No! *gasps*
posted by GuyZero at 5:46 PM on August 11, 2008 [3 favorites]


Who are these people? And, who cares?
posted by ericb at 5:48 PM on August 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, somehow I get the feeling Mr. Hawk isn't giving us an exact accounts of the events leading to his ejection from the museum. If he's as annoying in person as he is in his blog, I'm surprised he wasn't also roughed up by security.
posted by mullingitover at 5:52 PM on August 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


This happened to a friend of mine at the Apple Leopard launch in Des Moines, Iowa. He was told by mall security that unless everyone in line had agreed to be in his photo that he couldn't take anymore pictures.

He should be famous too!

And most of the above links made me yawn.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:53 PM on August 11, 2008


Thomas Hawk: The point is, this sort of treatment should not happen to anybody. Not a reporter for the New York Times, not me, and not even some random person without any power at all to fight back.

italics mine
posted by pseudonick at 5:55 PM on August 11, 2008


That bad man with the camera violated a corporate policy and it doesn't matter whether it was really a policy or not, he's a terrorist for questioning authority and a drama queen for complaining about it.

If we all don't fall in line and do whatever we're told to do, no matter how arbitrary or ridiculous or silly or demeanning, whenever we're told to, then we're not supporting our troops and the terrorists will steal our freedoms.

Oh, and we'd better mock anyone who stands up for himself, and call them prissy gobshites, or else we might have to face the fact that we've turned into a nation of play-it-safe, follow-the-rules or get a truncheon to the head cowards.

Jesus, it's like listening to cattle derisively lowing that the one bull in the herd doesn't want to get in line to visit the slaughterhouse.

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a your own boot stamping on a your own human face — forever. And you all smiling and announcing how wonderful it feels.
posted by orthogonality at 6:09 PM on August 11, 2008


A commenter on the "ejected" link to SFist in the FPP claims to have been a witness to the incident. She claims Hawk was on a balcony pointing his camera "directly into the shirt/cleavage of one of the female employees working at the museum." Hence the reason for Blint's anger and ejection order.

Disclosure: I'm a minor contributor to SFist's sister site Gothamist but have no connection to the former.
posted by plastic_animals at 6:10 PM on August 11, 2008


If we all don't fall in line and do whatever we're told to do, no matter how arbitrary or ridiculous or silly or demeanning, whenever we're told to, then we're not supporting our troops and the terrorists will steal our freedoms.

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a your own boot stamping on a your own human face


Speaking of histrionics...
posted by SweetJesus at 6:23 PM on August 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


Anybody notice that there's a war going on? And big things afoot politically? Not to mention a huge global sporting event?

Oh, sorry, I thought this was Metafilter.
posted by liketitanic at 6:27 PM on August 11, 2008


If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot kicking Thomas Hawk out the door--forever.
posted by optovox at 6:38 PM on August 11, 2008 [4 favorites]


I'd be interested in knowing Thomas Hawk's prior history of "OMGoppression!" I skimmed/read the links, but didn't see anything about his repetitious complaining. SweetJesus or Felix, what do you know about this guy?

Every couple of weeks or so here, there's an interesting post about a possible abuse of authority, and then I wade through 20 comments of alternating "he deserved that tasing!" and "wake up, sheeple!" Which is nice, because it exactly mirrors how I imagine the initial confrontation might have spiraled out of control.

Bay Area: Where the overly-sensitive meet the overly-aggressive, often in the same ego!
posted by ferdydurke at 6:43 PM on August 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


orthogonality: If you want a picture of the future, imagine a your own boot stamping on a your own human face — forever. And you all smiling and announcing how wonderful it feels.

I don't know what's more pathetic...that you are like the millionth person to quote Orwell in such a laughably hysterical fashion or that you equate a private entity enforcing their own rules with actual fascism and totalitarianism. All bluster aside, your inability to accept that others may have different guidelines and standards is a few dozen steps closer toward fascism than those whom you claim to oppose.
posted by dhammond at 6:43 PM on August 11, 2008 [7 favorites]


ferdydurke: this should get you started. For a while he was pushing his flickr alternative, Zooomr, and saw the yahoo takeover as a means to that end. That was when I first noticed him.
posted by felix betachat at 6:49 PM on August 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think the museum's reaction is typical considering Mr. Hawk wasn't making images of the art, but rather images of the other patrons within the museum context.

We're not all here to be extras in front of this photographer's lens, though I suspect we're now all pawns in his desire to be the center of attention.
posted by joe vrrr at 6:57 PM on August 11, 2008


This is supposed to be a photo of the incident as it was happening....no low cut blouse, but definitely some scolding going on.
posted by availablelight at 6:57 PM on August 11, 2008


I'd be interested in knowing Thomas Hawk's prior history of "OMGoppression!" I skimmed/read the links, but didn't see anything about his repetitious complaining. SweetJesus or Felix, what do you know about this guy?

I don't follow his writing or his photography, but every once in a while a story will pop up with an aggrieved photographer railing against a perceived injustice. 95% of the time in my experience, it's something related to Hawk.

The famous one is the one where he called for a well known photographer to be arrested for "child abuse" because he felt her pictures were abusive.

From what I remember, he's been the self-appointed leader of a number of internet lynch mobs centered on "photographers rights". The whole "PHOTOGRAPHY IS NOT A CRIME" meme is his, I believe. What's more odious to me is the fact that he blogs under a pen name because he wants to keep his "blogging persona" separate from his career as some banker, yet has no problem maligning other people from behind his guise of anonymity. I'm not going to mention his real name, but it's found pretty easily - took me all of 45 seconds.
posted by SweetJesus at 7:10 PM on August 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


dhammond writes "you equate a private entity enforcing their own rules with actual fascism and totalitarianism."

What I'm trying to point out is the disturbing tendency for people to support authority figures and rules, just because someone's an authority figure or just because somebody made a rule, and to reflexively deride anyone who questions the authority figure's rule.

No, what SFMOMA did isn't fascism, but the reaction to it, as shown here, leads me to worry that Americans have become to willing to accept any command by anyone claiming authority.

Perhaps you recall the young McDonald's employee who was coerced into five hours of degrading strip searches and performing oral sex, all because a guy on the phone claiming to be a cop told her to do it and told others to make her do it. Or the several similar incidents allegedly perpetrated by the same guy pretending to be a cop.

Or the many real cops who get suspects to waive their rights. Or the stores that insist on bag checks, in one case killing s suspected shoplifter who didn't submit. Or the way we all allow ourselves to be treated like prisoners just to get on a plane.

Maybe this photographer was in the right, maybe he wasn't. I don't know. What I object to is the tendency of most people to assume anyone who questions authority is in the wrong, is a trouble-maker or a grandstander, because I think it opens the door to abuses of authority and yes, fascism.
posted by orthogonality at 7:12 PM on August 11, 2008


For a while he was pushing his flickr alternative, Zooomr, and saw the yahoo takeover as a means to that end. That was when I first noticed him.

Oh yeah, I forgot about that one.
posted by SweetJesus at 7:20 PM on August 11, 2008


What I'm trying to point out is the disturbing tendency for people to support authority figures and rules

I don't think that applies in this case. If anything, many are supporting Hawk's challenge to the museum and it doesn't seem like the reaction to this incident is anything approaching what you're talking about. I would imagine that there are many, myself included, who are skeptical of his claims based on his prior actions and some corroborating reports made by others who are skeptical of his claims. So what we have here is just a standard controversy: some people take one side, some people take another. There is absolutely nothing about this story that smacks of people marching lockstep with authority figures in a manner that deprives us of our inherent freedoms.

As distasteful as you may find those "rules" to be, a museum with a policy restricting certain types of photography is not a free speech battleground, and you minimize the struggles of those actually fighting against things like fascism to couch the debate with such hyperbole. Lowering the bar for what counts as "totalitarianism" and "fascism" only serves the business of scaremongering.
posted by dhammond at 8:02 PM on August 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


I am a photographer and have had to deal with my fair share of employees at various establishments telling me that their policies forbid photography on their premises. And you know what, unless I am currently standing in a public space I stop taking pictures. Doing anything else gives the establishment grounds for getting shitty and possibly claiming I was trespassing and then pressing charges. It is their property, their rules.

I have had much greater luck approaching a store (or museum or garage or whatever) manager or security guard and asking permission.

I imagine it also goes well to not try to persuade them to let you stay by threatening to defame them for exerting their legal rights, but I've never really tried it so that is a guess.
posted by ztdavis at 8:37 PM on August 11, 2008


To some random guy on the Internet (me), this sounds like a situation where two stubborn blowhards crossed paths. Nobody wins.
posted by maxpower at 9:03 PM on August 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


If only Cory Doctorow had told me what to think about this important issue.

The Guardian piece lost me at "A-list geek blogger Robert Scoble".
posted by lukemeister at 9:09 PM on August 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


What I'm trying to point out is the disturbing tendency for people to support authority figures and rules

Rules!?!?! God forbid someone might support rules! Where do I grab my pitchfork!

All kidding aside, one doesn't have to be an authoritarian power-tripper to think Thomas Hawk is a professional photography troll. Like some of the above commenters, I have only ever heard of this guy through his tempest-in-a-teapot internet shitstorms that he stirs up when someone pisses him off.

When someone stirs up a shitstorm everywhere they go, sympathy naturally drifts away from that person, and toward the people who have to put up with his ego and taste for drama.

It would be one thing if it were an ordinary, sincere person who got caught in authoritarian clutches, but it's hard to be sympathetic for someone who seems to go around trying to stir shit up.
posted by jayder at 9:10 PM on August 11, 2008


posted by jayder It would be one thing if it were an ordinary, sincere person who got caught in authoritarian clutches, but it's hard to be sympathetic for someone who seems to go around trying to stir shit up.

Especially when that person is doing a disservice to the movement he proclaims to support. Speaking as someone who has been harassed and detained for taking pictures in public, I wish Andrew Peterson/Thomas Hawk would just shut up.
posted by optovox at 9:31 PM on August 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


As a photographer who has run afoul of all sorts of bullshit involving trying to take photos anywhere other than my house, I find this topic particularly relevant to me and feel pretty strongly about it. That said, I hate that Thomas Hawk is among the more visible people trying to do something about it; enough people have a problem with the whole complicated subject of photography in public already without someone coming across as shrill and himself unreasonable.

No, photography is not (generally) a crime. Yes some people are unreasonable about it and make the lives of photographers more difficult. Yes, the rules put in place by some private institutions and business seem unfair or overly cautious. Honestly though, these rules won't get changed and public perception won't be swayed by us acting like dicks. Do I get pissed when a security guard acts like a total dick to me when a simple "can you please not take photos here" would have sufficed? You bet I do. I even complain loudly to my friends about it. If I think the dude was particularly offensive or over the top with me then I might even file a complaint with his employer. I don't act like a dick right back to him and make a huge scene, and I don't go out of my way to publicly shame someone who was just (poorly) doing his job. Who is that helping? Not me really (especially if I end up getting arrested for trespassing or such), and not other photographers.

We need more people making others aware of how difficult and problematic things have gotten for us in some places. We need to try and do something to overcome the general attitude of fear and distrust that seems to pervade everything lately anyway, not even just in regards to photography but overall. We're not going to convince anyone to do or see things differently if we go out of our way to first convince them that we're obnoxious assholes.

Even if it does feels totally satisfying and justified.
posted by Stunt at 9:31 PM on August 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, and liketitanic: good post on the whole fiasco.
posted by Stunt at 9:34 PM on August 11, 2008


We're not going to convince anyone to do or see things differently if we go out of our way to first convince them that we're obnoxious assholes. Even if it does feels totally satisfying and justified.

Hmm. Thomas Hawk, the Critical Mass of photography?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:24 PM on August 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Say what you will about his photography, he was always one hell of a skater.
posted by stevil at 10:55 PM on August 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


This is great. It's like watching a CalTrain filled with arrogant blowhards crash into a Hummer filled with even more arrogant blowhards.
posted by freebird at 11:02 PM on August 11, 2008


She claims Hawk was on a balcony pointing his camera "directly into the shirt/cleavage of one of the female employees working at the museum."

How does one directly point a camera into a woman's cleavage from a second-story balcony? Either that's one really long lens, or those are some enormous breasts.

Or somebody's lying.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:20 PM on August 11, 2008


Photographers are not terrorists, and terrorists are not photographers.
posted by bwg at 12:49 AM on August 12, 2008


Yeah, I'm another person who's entirely supportive of the "photographer's rights" movement - I think it's a worrying trend that amateur and professional photographers are being harrassed, even when taking photographs legally in a public place, and it's good that people are fighting to raise awareness of the issue and to let photographers know where they stand legally. But good lord, is Thomas Hawk ever a bad figurehead for that movement.

From everything I've seen of his online persona - regularly going off half-cocked, blowing up over the smallest thing, and that's in a medium that gives him an opportunity to calm down and take a deep breath before hitting "post" - whenever he portrays himself as having been calm and polite and well-mannered throughout a confrontation, I simply don't believe him.

Yes, he wasn't doing anything wrong. Yes, the museum employee was wrong to demand he stop taking pictures (even according to the museum's own policy). That sucks, and deserves to be publicised. But the idea that the museum staff were the only ones acting beligerently, and that Hawk subsequently did nothing to escalate the situation to the point where he was thrown out... it just doesn't ring true. Who knows, maybe it is - but I'd want a bit more independent eye-witness confirmation before believing it.
posted by flashboy at 1:49 AM on August 12, 2008


I would love to hear a first-hand description of the altercation from a disinterested bystander.

If Blint suspected he was doing a down-blouse shot, or had a report/complaint from someone suggesting this and Hawk was screaming and ranting, one could easily understand the impulse to refuse to engage with him, and just try to get him out of there and quell the disruption to other visitors.

On the other hand, if Hawk was calmly and politely inviting him to look at the photos to see for himself that such a thing was not happening, and Blint refused to listen, then it is just as easy to understand the anger one might have about first being assumed to be a photo-pervert, and second, being forcibly ejected when you were doing absolutely nothing wrong.

I do wonder what the other people who were in the atrium that day would say.
posted by taz at 3:29 AM on August 12, 2008


I'm glad you wrote about this. I wondered how to approach this subject for days but stayed away since it's hawk.
posted by krautland at 3:53 AM on August 12, 2008


What Andrew Peterson is doing makes me want to throw up. And it shouldn't be allowed. I'm torn about even posting this post because he is obviously using his art as an excuse to do something horrible and is looking for publicity and response and that's exactly what I'm giving him here. But I'm hoping that through others being made aware of what he is doing that somehow pressure might be borne to stop it from happening. Oh, wait
posted by bonaldi at 5:46 AM on August 12, 2008


Is there anyone who loves to play the victim more than Thomas Hawk? If shit like this keeps happening to you, the problem probably lies with you, not with anyone else.
posted by chunking express at 7:08 AM on August 12, 2008


Now I remember where I first read about this guy - he's the one who brought some major net-publicity to the Brooklyn camera store scammers:

PriceRitePhoto: Abusive Bait and Switch Camera Store
posted by de void at 7:27 AM on August 12, 2008


ugh Thomas Hawk
posted by statolith at 7:39 AM on August 12, 2008


Now I remember where I first read about this guy - he's the one who brought some major net-publicity to the Brooklyn camera store scammers:

Well, that's a public service, isn't it?

Frankly 1) I need more information but 2) I'm sort of on this guy's side. Without professional gadflies, these stupid rules would never get changed...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:43 AM on August 12, 2008


I don't know much about Thomas Hawk's history, but I am a photojournalist that regularly takes pictures on private and public property.

Here's the thing: SFMOMA permits photography; it says so on its web site. It prohibits flash, and it prohibits tripods (but not monopods), and it prohibits photography in designated areas. It also prohibits commercial photography.

If i were a member SFMOMA and had already checked to make sure photography was allowed, and then a security guard told me it was not allowed, I would provide him with the name of the person who told me it was allowed. I would also reference the rules about photography. If the security guard persisted in being unreasonable, I might react the way Thomas Hawk did.

joe vrr writes:
I think the museum's reaction is typical considering Mr. Hawk wasn't making images of the art, but rather images of the other patrons within the museum context.

We're not all here to be extras in front of this photographer's lens, though I suspect we're now all pawns in his desire to be the center of attention.


It doesn't matter whether you want to be photographed. Any time you go to a place where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy, (that is, outdoors, or to any place where photography is permitted), you should expect to be photographed. At least, that is how it works in America.

(You still have a right to your likeness and its use commercially. But taking the photograph isn't using your likeness yet.)
posted by bugmuncher at 8:08 AM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think some people are forgetting how mysterious cameras are to some people. As strange as it may sound to someone who knows cameras, there are people who assume any sort of a funky lens is a telephoto. I used to shoot with a little point and shoot that had the highest telephoto available at the time, but it was the filter adapter that people would notice. Suddenly my camera was some sort of magic pro-level device to them, despite the fact that the part that was impressing them the most, had nothing to do with zoom-ability. I can totally see a non-photographer seeing Thomas's Canon EOS 5D as being capable of zooming in on the breasts of a woman a mere 20 feet away. The picture of Mr Blint is deceptive on the distance between photog and subject because it is a wide-angle shot.
posted by nomisxid at 8:43 AM on August 12, 2008


For the first time I find myself reading some of the comments in this thread and wishing Metafilter had a "this comment sucks" button as well as the favourite button. Normally we have a few jerks coming in to piss on the parade but the sheer proportion of people using ad hominem attacks to dismiss the issue in this thread is somewhat insulting.

Yeah photographers can be egotistical jerks but it's usually because some jackass is on a power trip and stopping them from doing what they love for no valid reason other than "because I say so".

In this case Hawk did the right thing in preparation. He made sure it wasn't a mistake and he was in an area where photography is allowed. The museum director was just being a jerk if he didn't want to listen to how he was using an ultra wide lens thereby incapable of the booby shenanigans Hawk was accused of.

Yeah it's like watching school children call each other names in the courtyard but the fight of photographers to be able to photograph has been going on for a long time and I'm not surprised that the whole affair is quite adversarial because of it. It's no reason to dismiss the validity of the issue at hand.
posted by Talez at 5:56 PM on August 12, 2008


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