Investigating the KCS Gulfport Sub, And Being Investigated

by Jim on 2012/06/17

[Jimbaux is not the only one.]

Today’s song has multiple meanings, though they will not be apparent until you read through this story of photography including a police encounter along the Kansas City Southern Railway’s stretch of railroad between Hattiesburg and Gulfport in southern Mississippi.

First, though, I want to say a few things as we catch our breath from the firestorm of the fiery previous post.

Criticisms And Misconceptions And Motivations

I need to make a few statements that I did not yet make about the criticisms of my actions with Reed St. Pierre.  I’ve already addressed the unwarranted assumptions made by commenters, which show that they’ve essentially done the same thing that St. Pierre did, but I’ll remind you now as I wrote in the comments section there that of all of the encounters that I’ve had that were this intense, this is the only one in which I was the first to walk away (because, as I explained repeatedly, my visitor needed to get to the airport for his flight.)  Had I not had to leave, I’d have stuck around and, as some have suggested, probably told St. Pierre why I was there and what our general motivations were.  For those criticizing me for not doing that, though, remember that he really didn’t give me an opportunity to do that in a conversation that he dominated in the brief time that we were there.  My only statements to him were responses to things that he said in a very forceful manner to me (I mean, the guy who looked twice my age hand just ran down and up a weed-choked ditch to confront me after I didn’t respond to his yelling at me from the field); there was not time for me to say much else.

The “Why” And The “What To Do With Them” Are Different

Jerry commented in the last post, “All you had to do is introduce your guest and tell him you are both photographers and you were just showing him how they prepare the fields before planting and saw the beauty of the smoke and burning.”  I already addressed his comment in my reply to him there and throughout other comments below that, and others have offered similar criticisms to me here, but I’ll explain in the next paragraph why that’s not only unfair – to both me and to anyone else – but also myopic and therefore somewhat irrelevant.

The question of “why are you taking those pictures” and the question of “what are you going to do with those pictures” are two very different things, but it seems like the critics whom I mentioned in the previous paragraph don’t understand that.  When you’re taking pictures on public property of something of which there is not a “reasonable expectation of privacy” (the US Supreme Court’s standard for photography), how can you know when you decide to take that picture every possible use you’ll ever have for it?

Yes, as Jerry said, and as I myself said, I was indeed on the scene because I was interested in the subject matter, but it seemed (again, we don’t really know, hence the word “seemed”) that St. Pierre’s concern had less to do with our interest in the subject (even if he was concerned about that) than it did to do what we would do with the pictures.  (Please remember, too, that that statement is only an assumption and is only based on research that I did after we left the scene.)

Out of the two questions of why one is taking pictures and what one will do with the pictures, only one of those two questions is answerable on the spot.  You can’t say with certainty – and, therefore, should not be expected to say with certainty – when you’re taking pictures what you’re going to do with the pictures.  You can’t even say it a month later, because the next day, you might decide to do something else with the pictures.

You might post them on the internet, but that’s not always the end of the story, and you relinquish full control over the images once you post them online, including certainty over what you’ll do with them.  In my case, seven months ago, I took some pictures of people at an event and posted them on the internet a few days after they were taken; six months later, a few weeks ago, some publication asked to purchase some of the pictures after finding the images while searching the internet for a topic on which it was doing a story.  When someone asks you why you are taking pictures or what you’re going to do with the pictures (assuming, again, you’re on public property, and there’s not a “reasonable expectation of privacy”), don’t back yourself into a corner so much that five years from now, when some publication wants to buy the pictures, you’ll have to say, “oh, but I told the farmer that they are only for personal use.”

Why Limit Yourself?

Why would you place limits on what you will do with the pictures?  You don’t know what your desires will be tomorrow!  Tell the person why you are taking pictures (if he or she asks or if you have time), but don’t place any limits on what you might do with the pictures.  Afterall, you can’t do anything with the pictures if you don’t take them in the first place!  Inquisitors of my presence with a camera at locations where my intent is not obvious have often assumed that or asked if I was doing some class project or something for school.  In a few cases a really long time ago, that was actually true for me, and it may be true for you too, but even if you are asked what you will do with the pictures on an occasion in which some class project is what brings you somewhere, don’t respond to a “what are you going to do with the pictures?” question in a way that limits your future use of those images for whatever purposes you desire.

My response to the “what are you going to do with the pictures” question is usually something along the lines of “I don’t know” – which, several of you, unfortunately, will probably see as, to use Jerry’s words, “playing games” – usually followed after a pause by “maybe put them on my website” with accompanying body language expressing uncertainty and an inability to give a more definite answer.

Getting back to Jerry’s statement, the fact that a visitor and I stopped to photograph the inflamed field because we thought it was a really neat and interesting subject matter with the sugarcane process is quite irrelevant when I can post the images on a website or sell them to some established media company anyway, in which case people will have their own reasons and interpretations with them, reasons that will be different than mine when taking them.

“I might want to look at this later” or “I might want to show this to someone” should really be about the only answers to the question of what you’re going to do with the pictures that you should be expected to be able to answer on the spot when taking the pictures.  To be expected to rule out any other future use is foolish, if for no other reason that it requires you to implement some system in your computer about what pictures have limits on them; since I only take pictures where I am allowed to be (almost always public property), I don’t have to remember this.  That doesn’t mean that “what are you going to do with the pictures?” is an unfair question.  It certainly is a fair question, just like “why are you taking those pictures?” is (and like how “who are you with?” is usually not a fair question), but it is unfair for you to be expected to give the inquisitor absolute certainty about what you will do or will not do with the pictures; in other words, the inquisitor can expect that your answer to that question a year from now will not be the same one that you give him, but that’s why I don’t give a definite answer to that question.  You can do that if you so choose somehow, but you should not be expected to do that.

That’s Not All, Folks

But, then, there’s the separate question of what other people will do with the pictures once you relinquish complete control by sending and-or posting a copy somewhere.  Look at all the people who upload useless pictures of useless crap all day to Twitter and Facebook, but that’s not the point at all.

I ‘knew’ when I took the pictures of the burning sugar cane field that I was probably going to put them online, specifically on Jimbaux’s Journal, where probably only a few hundred people would see them, and I did not have (and still do not have) any intention at all of publicizing an investigation into illegal burning practices, but that won’t stop anyone else from doing it once my pictures and story – and “story” in this case would have only been the location and date of the pictures had St. Pierre not confronted us – are on the internet.  I have no control of that and should not be expected to have control over that.  While I do like to be recognized (in various forms, including but not at all limited to monetary compensation) for my work, the pictures, because they contain information and truths, belong to the ages.

Unfortunately, many people including those who work in major media – who profit from making you angry and fearful – do sensationalize things, partly by making the very assumptions I discussed last time and trying to get you to do the same, but they, like you, have to gather information first; therefore, they are in the business of both fact and interpretation.  Gathering information is all that I was doing in the St. Pierre cane burning incident, as it will be in today’s story.  I can’t be blamed for – or limited because of – what might happen after that, or what some random person’s paranoia is.  That’s kind of like blaming some rock musician for your son’s suicide after your son listened to lyrics on the musician’s song.

I think that T. S. Eliot said that his own meanings behind his poems were irrelevant and that it only mattered what the readers got from them.  That’s not quite the same thing as what I am saying, but both are food for thought.  The point, though, is that my reasons for being interested in the subject matter and taking the pictures – which Jerry and others said I should have told the farmer (and, as I said repeatedly, I would have done had I had the time and had he let me do so) – will not necessarily be the same as those of any one of the unknowable number of people who chooses to look at the pictures.

That’s all important, and it’s something for you to ponder in anticipation of the next time you are asked such questions, but that’s enough of that discussion for now.

Get To The Mississippi Pictures, Dammit!

Okay, okay!  I agree, but isn’t it what we go out there to do in the first place?  The above discussion is so that we can just continue to do so without persecution, and today’s story involves another threat to the free access of information so important for a free society.

Anyway, my target on March 14 was the newly-upgraded Gulfport Subdivision of the Kansas City Southern Railway.  The last time that I had laid eyes on this line was when I returned to Louisiana after a six-month experiment in DC last year, and you can see from the last two pictures in that post that the new welded rail had just been dropped by the line at that point.  Also, you might remember that in April 2010, The RailGoat and I paid a visit to the line and got some shots.

March 14 was a Wednesday, meaning, as per the usual pattern of operations, the northbound run of the turn – the beginning, since the crew is based in Gulfport – was expected around midday.  David Carter had updated me on the recent changes on the line.  The first thing to do is to check and see what is happening around the yards in Gulfport.

I guess those are Maintenance Of Way gondolas.  Let’s head south so that we can see the tail of the old wye and the fueling tower.

I could tell you that government money was involved in the upgrading of the line (in the hopes of having container trains leave the port of Gulfport once the Panama Canal upgrades are complete in 2014), and you might believe me, but it might be better to just show you this sign.

Katrina?  What’s that?  I don’t know what that is.  Anyway, here’s a more locomotive shot.

So how did you like my use of “locomotive” as an adjective, eh?  Or did you not catch it?  That’s okay.  Really, it is, as there are more pressing things to do, things that I probably should have done a little bit earlier, things like this:

Now, here’s what I haven’t told you.  While I was wasting my time and money at Whataburger – I was pretty damned hungry and had not eaten at a “W” in more than a year since we don’t have any of them in Woadieville or Bayouland – the train went north.  Actually, I had seen what appeared to be its departure before I went to eat, and that was fine by me since my plan was to let the train get a few miles ahead to scenic areas and away from urban sprawl anyway.

Well, while I was poking around north of Gulfport after I ate, I saw this scene.

In retrospect, on its own, this is a decent shot documenting the work being done on the line, though it does lead to a question.  That’s awfully quick for workers to be back on the track with equipment after a train passes, right?  Or has the train even passed?  WTF?  Well, I could stop and get oodles of great shots of construction work on this line, but I need to find an elusive train!


I finally stopped in Perkinston and decided to just look around for awhile while I scratched my head trying to figure out what to do.  If anything, there’s a good overhead shot here that can be done well in almost any kind of lighting conditions.

What A Snob

While we’re here, let’s take some pictures of this closed store.

As this was mid-March, an aspiring theocrat was still making plenty of news in Mississippi and Louisiana too.

I’ll do my best to not pay any attention to whoever is occupying the White House over the next four years – and probably a long time after that too – but at least it won’t be that guy.

This was really frustrating, and I went up and down the line looking for a train and went as far as Fruitland Park, just north of Wiggins, to conclude that there’s no way it could have gotten that far, meaning that it was somewhere to the south, but where?

Yes, I Included The House And The Trees On Purpose

Not only that, but I also confused this house for another one a few miles away when I confused myself when I would be questioned by police hours later.  Here’s a shot of some tie plates and spikes, but doesn’t this image give a better sense of place than had I just photographed the tie plates and spikes alone?

That’s typical of thousands of my pictures that I have taken over the years.  Anyway, after I left the scene, I had remembered that I had taken a photograph with a house, but I did not remember where.  Keep in mind, we’re in Perkinston here.  The next town north of here is Wiggins, and for whatever reason, I decided to go check the place out.

Does This Look Like Either A Woman Or A House?

Here’s where things got really weird, except that I didn’t realize it until three hours later and one town to the south.  Here I am in Wiggins looking around.  I want to take a picture of a moving train, but there is none here and may not be at all today.  At the very least, then, I can take some pictures of some parked cars that have evidence of the upgrade – in the form of old rail – next to them.  I was driving southbound through town on the old highway, and I pulled over on the side of the road so that I could get a shot of a couple of gondola cars to my left, across the highway, but that’s not the story that was told to police shortly thereafter.  Would you say that the below image is a picture of a house or a picture of a woman?

I had stopped there only long enough to take the above picture, and I hadn’t even noticed who or what was or might be on the other side of the road where I had parked.  I quickly got back into my truck and moved along my way.

I poked around the area to the south of the above picture for a good while, pissing away time and light, and stopping to get this picture of a load.

I like it when the freight that a car is carrying is visible, as in not completely enclosed.  Don’t you?

The Radio Crackles To Life

While I’m driving around Wiggins, I suddenly realize that maybe the proper radio channels for this line might be locked out on my scanner, as it has been so long since I have been here.  Damn you, Jimbaux!  I had indeed had the channels locked out, but what was weird was that right as I was in the process of unlocking them, the dispatcher is issuing a track warrant to a northbound train!  Apparently, the train did indeed get stuck for construction somewhere just north of Gulfport, as his warrant was from milepost 15ish.

What To Do Now?

The good news is that the train is coming, but what do I do about this?  I’m in Wiggins, and the next town south of here is Perkinston where there is a good overhead shot that I just described.  So, that’s where I went.  I did not want to risk going further south of there since the highway is disjointed from the track for several miles, making it easy to let a train slip by you.

So, Perkinston is where Jimbaux will wait for the train, but the problem is that it’s really hard to know how long I’d be waiting here.  In times like these, I really wish I had someone else along for the ride.  So, I just jacked around on my phone for awhile and took occasional pictures like this one.

That’s mildly interesting, isn’t it?  That track had been decades-old jointed rail until recently.

This Is Starting To Seem Hopeless

Here’s the best representation of the shot that I was hoping to get up here.

That’s not too bad, isn’t it?  The problem is that as the hours pass, the shadows creep up quickly to the track.

Please, Someone, Rescue Me From This Foolishness

Why do I do this?  This is really starting to get annoying, and I’m even starting to get bored here.

After being here for more than an hour, as the shadows are creeping onto the track, I decide to leave.

Who Is That Parked Next To Me?

As usual when photographing from bridges, even when there is room on the bridge to park – as was the case here – I still park over on the earthen approach to the bridge since there’s more room there and I can keep my truck safely away from even the shoulder of the highway.

I start walking to my truck, and I notice that there is a little white car parked next to my truck.  Is it someone stopping to check to see if I’m okay?

Oh, He’s Wearing a Uniform And A Badge

Having no other information yet, I could only guess that this police officer toward whom I was walking stopped to either tell me something about being parked there or to check on what I was doing.  Neither turned out to be the case, and the unmarked vehicle and lack of flashing lights should have been clues.

“Hello,” I said as I approached him, as it just so happened that I was walking toward my truck anyway.

Remember What I Said About Assumptions And Misstatement Of Facts?

As this officer talked to me, I ‘learned’ some ‘facts’ about myself and what I had been doing.  I had not realized that . . .

–          I had been photographing the house across the highway from the gondolas photographed above.

–          I had been photographing the woman who lived in that house.

–          The woman who lived in that house came out and talked to me and that I had talked to her.

Well, it was nice to be told all of these seemingly memorable facts that my own excessively good and photographic memory did not include even though it was only three hours before that I had stopped to take those pictures!

Now, I mentioned earlier about photographing that house in Perkinston with the tie plates and crossties in front of it.  When he had mentioned about me photographing her house, that was the only thing that came to mind, and I didn’t remember that I had photographed it in some place other than Wiggins.  So, at first, I may have said that I had indeed photographed her house out of confusion.  It wasn’t until hours later when I got home and downloaded my shots that I realized that the house that I photographed was in Perkinston and therefore could not have been hers.  I guess I may have made a misstatement based on my own assumption.  I suppose the lessons here could include something about confessions being unreliable.

What was most disturbing was that this officer seemed to accept this ‘information’ – this version of a story that didn’t even take place – as bona fide fact.  Notwithstanding the part about photographing the house, I told him that none of it was true, that I had neither photographed the woman nor even noticed her presence, and it later turned out that I hadn’t even photographed the house.  I told him what I was photographing.  I had no memory of any woman approaching me as I was briefly taking pictures of those gondolas or anywhere else that day.

Apparently, as best I can tell, she came outside and, probably while I was across the old highway photographing the gondolas (because I never saw her), she photographed my vehicle (possibly including license plate) and sent it to the police.  Oh, well.  Should I be bothered by that?  I’m not, as it itself is totally legal and harmless on its own, and especially since I take plenty of pictures myself.  Now you might get the deeper meaning behind today’s song, but a more literal meaning tied to that deeper meaning will soon be revealed.

Now, I’ve just said that I was disturbed by the fact that the officer didn’t verify the facts with me and instead just told them to me as they were, but that, fortunately, was the worst thing that he did.  He didn’t ask why I was taking pictures, and he did not say that it was wrong for me to do it.  In fact, at some point in the conversation, he said that I had the right to take pictures anywhere.  “Yes, I know; believe me, I know!”

He also seemed to think that I was a private investigator, because one of the first things that he told me was that he asked the woman if she was receiving workman’s compensation money.  I think that I actually had to tell him that I was taking pictures of trains.

Now, here’s a little piece of somewhat sensitive information that I say with reservation, but it is said in the overall purpose of brining awareness to problems associated with threats to information, which has been a theme of discussion here.  The officer told me that the woman there who called and complained about me has been raped, and that they in the police department are apparently accustomed to getting calls from her for various things.  He just had to investigate.  He indicated to me that he didn’t think that I was doing anything wrong but that he just had to investigate.

Analysis And Interpretation

There are some things that we can learn here, and I’ll offer my own analysis here before showing you two more pictures from this outing, but I want to read what you think too!

We had a sober and understanding police officer here, but that is not always the case, as we have learned, and may not have been in this case.  Whatever the case, it shows that just like last time in the case of Reed St. Pierre, someone else’s problem becomes your problem; someone else’s fears manifest themselves in the unfair way that she treats you.  It is, of course, terribly unfortunate that the woman was raped, and it’s also unfortunate that St. Pierre may have had problems with photographers or with people making note of his burning before, but those instances are not the problems of anyone who might be taking pictures near them.  How are you to know the problems of everyone around you when gathering information?

Also, do you see a pattern of “they’re out to get me” developing here?  A pattern that has absolutely nothing to do with the photographer?

Furthermore, to respond to Jerry’s criticism that I am “always having problems,” a criticism that I addressed in my reply to his comment (and understand that I took plenty of pictures between the January 4 sugar cane burning incident and this March 14 Wiggins incident), how can we know ahead of time that we’ll have problems like these?  In both of these cases, I’m photographing non-residential property that is clearly visible from a public highway.  Why should I – or anyone else – even expect to have problems in these cases?  Remember the comment from ‘No One’ who said that I “intimidated” Farmer St. Pierre?  That’s not fair, as I wrote, because that accuses me of being responsible for the intimidation, and the same is true here.  Someone may have been intimidated, but I’m not the one who did the intimidating.  Whether he (St. Pierre) or she (Wiggins woman) realize it or not, their being intimidated is their choice.

As usual, the officer has to run my name through NCIC to make sure there are no warrants for my arrest.  After that, he prepares to depart the scene.

I Hear Horns!

Well, just as the officer leaves the scene, I hear horns!  Well, since I’m already standing on (or near) this bridge, let me grab my glass and walk back out onto the span to get this shot.  I got there just in time to grab this telephoto shot.

The shadows were already across the track in the area between the train and the bridge, rendering wider shots undoable.

Back To Wiggins

Shot options along this tree-lined right of way are limited when the sun is on the horizon about to set and when the sun is not in front of the train anyway.  Remember that the train is moving north and that we’re not even at the spring equinox yet.

This shot would have looked better about 15 minutes earlier when the foreground was still lit; by the time I took this picture, shadows were creeping up onto the crossing and onto the locomotives.  I did plenty of work with the dodge tool here, and it still doesn’t look that great, but it looks much better than the raw version.

The train stopped to do some switching.  Actually, I think that the above image is of it after it left most of its train behind it.

What Now?

Since the sun set on me in Wiggins, I had essentially no reason to continue northward to Hattiesburg like I would normally do and like I had expected to do today.  Instead of heading west on highway 26 to Poplarville like a friend and I did almost five years ago, I went back south to Gulfport for three reasons: 1.) to eat at Whataburger again, 2.) I wanted to keep an ear on the CSX because of some operational stuff I’m trying to learn about it, and 3.) because I wanted to take Highway 90 along the coast in the cool misty night and visit those places I had not visited in awhile.

More Analysis And Interpretation

The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is Fear Itself

“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering,” the Master Yoda told the young Anakin Skywalker.  That’s what we have here.  Fear is destructive.  You can’t know everyone’s problem when you are out taking pictures.

I’ll tell you another quick story here.  A few weeks ago, I was assigned to photograph opening ceremonies for little league t-ball.  I basically did team pictures, stuff that didn’t require a tremendous amount of imagination but did require proper understanding of lighting.  Anyway, as I’m approaching one team, some coach who was probably also a father approaches me at the same speed and reaches toward me to grab my ID and lanyard to see the press pass.  He said that he wanted to verify for whom I was working because “you might be some guy taking pictures of little girls.”

“I am,” was the only reply that I could give him!  It’s funny, because although I personally had no interest in the subject matter, I’m actually a greater ‘threat’ to him and his daughter than some guy who would come out there for some perverted purposes since my pictures were for mass publication through established channels.  It’s not like the kids were naked or that anyone was touching them, and any pervert sitting at home on his computer could see the pictures that I took that day.

Occasionally, I do photograph kids at parks for my own desires just because it’s a cool subject matter.  I’ve never had any issues with it, but maybe that’s only because I don’t do it enough.  A couple of female photographers have told me that there is indeed a sexist double standard, that they wouldn’t have been asked that question had it been them taking the pictures.

Getting back to both the topic of today’s outing and the song that goes along with it, in case you haven’t figured it out, there’s a “go ahead, see if I care” aspect to this.  That was my internal response when I was told by the officer that my vehicle had been photographed, but, by that point, maybe that should have been her response when she saw me as well.  Fear is destructive.

A More Appropriate “Who Are You With?” Question

I need to end this post, but I’ll tell y’all an interestingly coincidental story of the last week.  Since I published the St. Pierre burning story, in which perhaps the biggest criticism of me is how I responded to the unfair and condescending “who you wit’?” question, I’ve been asked essentially the same question again!  The circumstances this time were very different, though.  I’ve already explained repeatedly why I responded to St. Pierre in about the least condescending way possible (maybe I could have just said “what do you mean?”) and why suggestions to the contrary are actually condescending to St. Pierre, me, and human individuality in general, but I actually did get asked a similar question this week.

“Now, who are you with?” is what she asked me this past week.  There are some factors to consider for this incident.

–          I was wearing a lanyard and a PRESS identification with my picture.

–          I was past police lines in a restricted area on private property (meaning that I had tacit police permission to be there.)

–          I approached her instead of her approaching me. (The previous point is a hint of that too.)

–          She had just been interviewed by a television crew.

–          I was indeed there on behalf of a larger organization.

Because of these factors, her question was indeed legitimate and fair, and I therefore answered it in the way that some of you say I ‘should’ have answered (and interpreted) Reed St. Pierre’s similar question.  Remember that St. Pierre powerwalked his way through a weed-choked ditch off of his property onto the side of the highway where any private citizen can be.

That’s A Wrap

I wanted to write more about connecting this to various things, but I need to finish this.  As I’m completing this, the breaking news I am hearing is that Rodney King is found dead.  This reminds us of King’s story two decades ago, and that we would never have heard of Rodney King – and, yes, he was indeed a criminal – had someone not had a camera at the right time.  Isn’t that enough of a reminder of why private citizens should have no restrictions – and not be expected to be “with” any organization – on photography from public property where there’s no “reasonable expectation of privacy”?

I welcome your thoughts.




1 Nathan Herring June 17, 2012 at 23:14

Great shots Jimbaux

2 Jerry June 17, 2012 at 23:24

I do not have to respond to your comments since you just proved I was correct. As far as “another” incident, again communications. Tell the police you are photographing trains. Lets see I think its call digital photography where you can simply just scroll through the pictures to show the police what you were photographing. End of problem. I have always been told by railroad police to not photograph railroad workers. You have been lucky with your photographs, but I contribute that to probably communicating with them what you are doing before hand.

As they say in the Middle East Callas.

3 EDITOR - Jimbaux June 18, 2012 at 05:15

You think I didn’t tell the police I was photographing trains when asked? Have you not read what I wrote in the past? Again, more assumptions! The officer in this case – this Mississippi case in this post – did NOT ask to see the pictures. Had he done so, I’d have gladly shown them to him.

I think I’ve only been asked to show the pictures (on a digital camera) once (in the April 2008 incident with the NOPD), and I did. No, it was not the end of the problem.

Railroad police are employees of the railroads that they are protecting. They therefore are susceptible to being told by their employers what to tell you regardless of whether or not you are on their property. They have no authority to tell you to not photograph their workers from public property. I’ve never been told that by railroad police.
Having said all of that, I know what is and what is not a flattering picture, and I generally avoid even taking the latter. Also, since, as I’ve written before, I’m not in the business of trying to get ground-level employees in trouble, I generally don’t publish pictures that show rule violations. There are actually some pictures on this site where I’ve ‘edited’ out rule violations by blurring the area where they are taking place.

When you bend to a company’s wishes of your behavior off of its property (like Tom Beckett’s story about how the CSX didn’t want him “near” its property) – especially a company that doesn’t even employ you – then that company owns you, and you’re surely not much of a journalist in that case!

And how exactly did I just prove that you were correct?

4 Thomas Beckett June 20, 2012 at 17:04

The thing is, you can’t control how others will see your photos-the opposite side of the coin to “what are you going to do with those photos??” Apparently, the person who lived in the house and called the cops saw your presence with a camera pointed her way as a threat-understandable given what she’d been through. You had no way of knowing that, but it obviously worried her enough that she noted your vehicle and called you in. While it seems you draw unwanted attention, it’s hard to draw a connection between this event and the St Pierre burning incident. In this case, you never had ANY contact with the woman, hence no conflict. While you may “always be having problems” it’s hard to say you’re looking for trouble from this account.

Have to give the cop some credit. As he said, he just has to investigate. I’m sure they have probably had many calls from this woman, not a few of them unfounded. He was likely just repeating what she had told them. If it were me, I would not get too worked up over it. Another possibility to consider: had the train showed up a lot quicker, you may not have had that interaction at all. You’d have been long gone, the cop would have rolled through, found no one, and filed a report.

It is funny how people get when they think you’re taking photos of them or their property. I had an odd experience taking this shot a few years back.

This was the last through train I’d see on the NY Susquehanna & Western former DLW Utica branch. I had chased it up a county road from Chenango Forks to this spot in the farmland near Greene. To get this shot, I had to stop along the road and shoot across the field, adjacent to a farm house-I’m on the road, not on their property. While I’m standing there, a guy pulls up in a pick up, asks what I’m taking pictures of. I told him, basically “train coming.” With that, he pulls out a camera and takes my picture. So I took his-I have no idea where the slide is. I never figured out if he was the landowner, or just a nut, and I never heard from anyone official or otherwise about the event, but it was odd. It could just as easily have turned into the same kind of thing you dealt with there on the bridge.

5 EDITOR - Jimbaux June 20, 2012 at 17:35

“Apparently, the person who lived in the house and called the cops saw your presence with a camera pointed her way”

WHOAH!!! Did you not read what I wrote?? I did NOT have my camera pointed her way! Heck, as I said, I didn’t even have my eyes pointed her way! I never saw her!

“The thing is, you can’t control how others will see your photos-the opposite side of the coin to “what are you going to do with those photos??” ”

That’s exactly my point, Tom!! That’s part of why the “why are you taking pictures?” question is somewhat irrelevant.

“While it seems you draw unwanted attention, it’s hard to draw a connection between this event and the St Pierre burning incident. In this case, you never had ANY contact with the woman, hence no conflict.”

I didn’t have any contact with St. Pierre either! He only happened to be in a photo I took of the associate lighting the fire from across the highway, but he didn’t see us until we crossed the highway.

“While you may “always be having problems” it’s hard to say you’re looking for trouble from this account. ”

I wasn’t looking for trouble in any previous instances either. I was only looking for pictures.

6 Tom Beckett June 21, 2012 at 16:40

“WHOAH!!! Did you not read what I wrote?? I did NOT have my camera pointed her way! Heck, as I said, I didn’t even have my eyes pointed her way! I never saw her!”

I may have misread or lost track, I get interrupted a lot, and sometimes forget where I am. For whatever it’s worth, she apparently saw you, and thought, incorrectly, you were taking photos of her, and this caused enough concern on her part for her to call the police. However wrong, that was her perception-the fact that you were not seeking her or attempting to take her picture is irrelevant. As I have said, God save us from busybodies(and paranoiacs) with cell phones. Again, not worth getting too worked up over-this time. But it is enough to make you leery of people.

“I didn’t have any contact with St. Pierre either! He only happened to be in a photo I took of the associate lighting the fire from across the highway, but he didn’t see us until we crossed the highway.”

True, you did not have any contact with St Pierre, at least at the start of that incident. But you saw him, he saw you, presumably you were each aware of the other’s existence, which was not the case in the Mississippi event. You didn’t know she existed til the cop showed up. In any event, it’s hard to draw the conclusion you were looking for trouble in either case. I’d be hard pressed to see that you were interested in anything but a photo of a pile of tie plates, or of a sugar cane field. But, as I noted, people get funny when they think you’re taking pictures of them. Case in point: back in the mid 80’s I was taking photos of NJ Transit at Morristown NJ on the ex DLW Morris &Essex line. I was sighting a shot, seeing how it looked through the viewfinder before the train showed. A rough looking guy is walking down the opposite platform, sees me, and starts a tirade of “you better not be taking my picture,” etc, threatening bodily harm and so on. I pretty much waved him off, told him I didn’t want his ugly ass in my photo anyway, and he kept going. But it’s all in the perception.

To address your subsequent comments, yes, it’s a funny story-this time. We both know there is always the possibility that such an encounter could go the way it did with the NOPD. Look at the story the woman in Mississippi told the cops-full of inaccurate information. If she’d had more credibility, or if the cop had “issues”, it could have been a more difficult meeting. I agree, if people have a problem with you taking pictures, it’s, well, their problem. You don’t need others permission to take photos. You don’t have to take photos of subjects they deem appropriate. As long as you’re not infringing on their existence somehow, it’s not their business. The trouble is, if you are taking photos of something someone sees as sensitive-trains seem to fall into that category-people have gone beyond thinking it’s just odd, to thinking it’s somehow subversive, and call the cops. The police themselves seem to have taken this up on their own in some places-note some well publicized incidents with railfans and police in suburban Chicago and Jersey-which only serves to spread the ignorance. It’s bad enough Joe Public is ignorant of photograpy as related to property rights and allowable subjects, and thinks you’re a terrorist; the police, who are supposedly trained to know the law should know better. What was that I said about busybodies with cell phones?? What’s ironic is, the same people who call you in for sitting in your car at the end of town waiting for a train are the same ones who think nothing of a bunch of guys with shotguns in camouflage standing in a field of stubble corn next to an active rail line. What’s to stop someone bent on destruction from getting a deer tag and taking an RPG launcher out to a field next to a main CSX line?? Nobody questions that, because after all, hunting is a normal activity-train photography is, well, odd. Perception……..

I have to agree with James on the “if you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about” thing. A lot of people feel that way about car searches. Yes, I may not be doing anything wrong. But, you also don’t get to search my car just because you want to. Same thing applies to photos. Why should I have to prove I’m innocent of any wrongdoing, just because I’m doing something someone thinks is odd, or misguidedly thinks I’m doing something dangerous?? Let them show how I was doing something unlawful. That said, in the real world, there is probably more to be gained by saying to an inquisitive cop, here, take a look. Sometimes it turns out they are more understanding that you realize, but they have to check out a call-you catch more flies with honey that vinegar. A lot of times, I’m sure they’d rather not be bothered-it’s a waste of their time on something they know is not an issue, but there’s that busybody with a cell phone thing. But then, as you note, the reason he’s there in the first place is because of what you’re taking photos of in the first place, and that can get difficult if the cop doesn’t like your explanation, or is just a jerk or worse. Those who know me say I have a lack of respect for authority, which is often true, and that’s because authority does not always conduct itself in a fashion that commands respect. I choose to minimize my contact, largely by keeping a low profile, but also by not staying around long. My style tends to be find a train and follow it, so I’m not ever in one place more than 10 or 15 minutes, unless there’s a slow order, meet or a problem. By doing this, not only do I get multiple scenes, but also keep intrusions from curious policemen to a minimum. I’m always leery of a bully with a badge who is laboring under the misconception that I’m doing something subversive, or if nothing else, under the misconception of the limits of his power. Either one has the potential to create a bad situation, since the conversation will ultimately not be on my terms until MUCH later.

So what did we learn?? 1 People are ignorant, some of them wilfully so. Unfortunately, they are often the fastest to create problems for others as a result of their ignorance. This is compounded by: 2. Law enforcement is erratic and inconsistent in its knowledge and application of the law. This also creates problems for those who might be doing something out of the ordinary, but not illegal. 3 Perception is everything, right or wrong, and it can be hard to change. Also compounded by #2 above. 4 Photographers are affected by all of the above, and will have to deal with it at some point. It’s hard to overcome, because education of the ignorant is so often difficult, especially when it’s wilful.

7 EDITOR - Jimbaux June 20, 2012 at 21:02

A few more things have I to say here . . . .

“If you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing about which to worry.”

You’ve probably heard that saying before, and, like many of you, I believed that for a long time. When I was a kid in my straight-laced (mostly) family and community, if you even got visited by the police, you must have deserved it, must have therefore done something wrong, and were therefore a person to be generally avoided.

This mindset – and how it infects one with toxic guilt – is what kept me from disclosing my own stories for years, fear of being judged by them, and that’s exactly what we have here. Obviously, I’m over that fear, as, even though I am open to constructive criticism and suggestions, I now see that critical comments such as those left by Jerry and others ultimately say more about those people than they say about me.

Jerry’s idea of “simply just scroll through the pictures to show the police what you were photographing. End of problem” is unfortunately naive not only because it falls under the broader fallacious mindset of “if you’re not doing anything wrong, you need not worry,” but because it usually just won’t solve the problem. If a police officer stops you because you were taking pictures of X subject, do you think he’ll automatically understand that everything is cool once he looks through your pictures and sees X subject? That’s usually why he’s questioning you in the first place! I’ve already been threatened with having my photos deleted, and in other case, as I was looking through my pictures trying to pass the time while police were doing their thing, I was told, “please stop deleting pictures” as if I somehow had something to hide!
Again, I’ve only been asked once to show pictures on the spot, and I gladly complied. It didn’t escalate my problem, but it didn’t “end” the problem either.

Now, I want to address something else in Tom’s comment, even though I already replied to him above.

He seems to point out that this incident with the police in Mississppi in March is not really a cause for alarm, as if I might think that it is. I agree that it is not a huge problem and is more of a funny story than a problem. The point, though, that I hope you realize in connecting this incident with the other incidents is that it’s usually the problem of the complainer. The other point is that this incident could have been bad (not worse, since it wasn’t already bad in the first place, as Tom has correctly pointed out) had the officer been less than professional or had this woman been new to this town and therefore having her past unknown to the police.

About the incident described in this post, Tom writes, “If it were me, I would not get too worked up over it.”

I agree, and I’m not. The point of all that I have written is what we can learn from it in relation to other challenges faced by photographers and indipendent information gatherers. Does that make sense?

8 Jerry June 20, 2012 at 23:18

Oh Jesus you are a hopeless case. You post BS about how the police and everyone is out to get you. You are a legit freelance photographer and then write about all your encounters with the law. People offer suggestions which you take negatively and then try to turnaround what people say from what you post against them. Never again will I read or post on your site. I already have you in my Spam folder and please delete me from your address list.

9 EDITOR - Jimbaux June 30, 2012 at 11:49

Again, you post what are essentially LIES about me on my own site, and you wonder why I respond as I do??? Or even that I respond at all? I guess you, Jerry, are the picture perfect case of how it’s easier for people to just assume things, and all that I’m doing is trying to get people (you included) to STOP assuming so much.

About the only reason that you are (or were, since, yes, you were quickly removed, as per your angry request) on a small list of FRIENDS who are recipients of e-mails I send with new blog posts is because for a much longer time than that, I’ve been on YOUR e-mail list for many years, receiving the ‘forwards’ with racist, xenophobic, jingoistic cartoons and jokes, the Obama-isn’t-born-in-the-USA type, and one that implied that Michelle Obama is a whore because she would “know what the inside of a whorehouse smells like.”

I never challenge the stuff you send, never respond, never call it out, and my guess is that if I do, you’d stop sending me the messages but would still send them to others, just like you have chosen to do here with MY stuff!

Do you want to only send stuff to people who agree with you? Geez! If you’re going to send that stuff out at all, then I should see it, ’cause it lets me know that you’re sending it out at all, and what you think. That’s basically what I do! You don’t have to agree with it, but you know where I stand.

“You post BS about how the police and everyone is out to get you.”

And here you are posting “BS” about me on my own site with that very statement! (and, again, you wonder why I respond?) I’ve never said or even implied that the police and everyone is out to get me. Most of the time, people either notice me and leave me alone, or they ignore me, and I’ve had several friendly police encounters too, as I’ve written here. Didn’t this very post say that the officer generally handled it well and basically said he was just responding to a complaint?

“You are a legit freelance photographer and then write about all your encounters with the law.”

Yes????? Why not? Other people face the same issues, and I didn’t always know how to handle them years ago. Just since you posted this, I’ve had a young photographer write to me about some police harassment that he experienced. This could happen to anyone whether he is a “legit” photographer.

What’s the problem with writing about the encounters with the law? I haven’t done anything wrong, Jerry! Do I detect that dangerous “if you’re not doing anything wrong, you don’t have to worry about the police” mentality – a mentality that I myself held until I was on the receiving end of harassment – from you?

That’s actually funny, since you sent a mass e-mail last year from the Philippines saying that country would charge for taking pictures in national parks, and your outrage at that. Hello???

“People offer suggestions which you take negatively and then try to turnaround what people say from what you post against them.”

I think that you have yet again confused yourself. I do indeed welcome suggestions. Above, you wrote “simply just scroll through the pictures to show the police what you were photographing. End of problem.” I then responded.

Apparently, perhaps from my response to that comment, you think that I had a problem with your suggestion about showing the pictures, or with the fact that you offered it. Neither is the case. Your suggestion is not bad. (Actually, I think that in some cases, it might be good, as Tom Beckett wrote in another comment here, but that’s really not the point.) It wasn’t your suggestion with which I took issue, as you seem to think; it was, rather, the seeming certainty that you express that it would be the “end of problem.” Like with many things, it might be, but you don’t know that, you CAN’T know that, and other evidence supports that it would not be the “end of problem.”

Again, Tom Beckett in his comment above also suggested showing the police the pictures, but I didn’t “take [it] negatively and then try to turnaround what people say” with what he said! By the way, Jerry, that seems to be exactly what YOU are doing to me on here! Beckett’s response had the appropriate amount of thought behind it, even if I don’t “agree with” all that he said.

On that note, on the idea that your statements here are just as much a legitimate subject of criticism as mine, let’s look at some of the stuff you’re written here on this very site over the last year-and-a-half! Who needs to look at those stupid e-mail forwards when you have what we have below, stuff that you yourself posted for the world to see??

Let’s see, in January 2011, I showed on this site pictures of a peaceful demonstration outside the Egyptian embassy in Washington, DC, and all that you could say about it was this:

WTF? How do you gather that a bunch of mostly young people gathering for a couple of hours on a SATURDAY morning (the scheduling of which is probably not a coincidence) are probably mostly unemployed? Is it because they care about a cause enough to get involved? That if they had a job, they wouldn’t care? What is it, Jerry?

Does that also mean that the hundreds of thousands of people who fill up sports stadiums every weekend also probably don’t have jobs too? and have too much time on their hands? (Actually, in some cases, I’d agree with the last one, but, like with participating in a political demonstration, that’s their choice.)

Why don’t you say that about sporting events? Is it because people are “supposed to” go to sporting events because some government or corporations set it up for them to do? Maybe the tailgaters (who don’t pay for a ticket to the game) are unemployed?

Why is the possibility – or probability – that most of them are unemployed the only thing that you can post? And why does that even come to your mind anyway?

Months later, I was doing some freelance work in DC and went to a club to take some pictures by the request of the people organizing the event, and you had this to write about it, with a response that I only recently posted:

Please see Lyn’s reply below that one.

In the very next post, in which I showed pictures of cooking with a friend for her food-preparation blog, you posted this comment:

Again, please see Lyn’s reply below that.

When I took issue with the judgment behind your comments (not to be confused with taking issue with you for speaking your mind), you told me that when you see me “hanging with the gangster crowd” that you’ll say something. First, I’m not even “hanging with” them. Second, again, how do you know that they are the “gangster crowd” anyway? Heck, they might actually be the “gangster crowd” and might actually be “crack hos” or some such, but I don’t know and can’t know that, even though I was actually there, which means you definitely don’t know that.

Yet, just like you judged them based on insufficient data, you’ve done the same to me here!

Back during that time last year, you told me that I open myself up for criticism by putting that stuff out there. That’s totally true! The same applies, however, for your comments! That’s what I’m doing right now, especially since you are putting them on my site, but I really wish that you would understand what I’m trying to say. I guess it’s hopeless, though. So, the opening sentence of your comment may be a “pot calls the kettle black” thing.

In fact, a friend writes, “This Jerry seems hopeless. I don’t think there is anything you can say to make him understand or not write irrational stupidity like this. He obviously wants it that way.”

I think so. You take issue with what I say here, I respond, and you don’t like how I respond. You forward politically-charged stuff, and if I respond like at least one of the recipients did, you don’t like it, and you take the person off of your list.

Either way, it’s your choice, dude. My friend’s statement that you “obviously want it that way” makes plenty of sense.

You send e-mails telling people for whom they should vote in November, and I just don’t respond; I write that people simply shouldn’t assume so much because assumptions get people in trouble, but you get mad at what I say?

You would think that by forwarding those politically-charged e-mails (and I get them from several other people too, and rarely respond for fear of them not being sent to me anymore, since, if that stupidity is being forwarded around the internet, I at least want to see both it and who is sending it) to people whose beliefs you don’t know that you would be open to responses and discussions about them, but I find that those things are usually sent out to make sure that everyone agrees. In other words, they almost want to drive people away.

You criticize what you seem to think is my inflexibility, but the funny irony of that is that, as some other readers might be able to tell, I’m a generally indecisive person by nature, and I am therefore trying to not get people to rush to judgment about someone taking pictures, etc. Yes, it’s just easier to assume.
The other reason why I say that, though, is that when I do post something like this where I take a stand (even if it’s something in which I tell people you can’t take a stand and make a judgment if you don’t know everything) that I’ve already thought out all of this stuff and anticipated all of the arguments (that I could possibly anticipate) that they are throwing at me, like how I discuss it with my brain trust before I post it. Like I said, I’m normally indecisive because I do NOT want to make the judgments, the type that some of you are making, and the kind that this unfortunate Wiggins Woman and Farmer St. Pierre made.

The only thing of which I am really certain is that people should NOT be so damned certain what is happening beyond what they can see.

Jerry, you just have not been there. This sounds weird, but I actually hope that the next time you go out and take pictures, you’ll be harassed, not because I want you to suffer (I don’t want you to suffer), but because I want you to get it, I want you to UNDERSTAND, since that might be the only way. The “blame the victim” mentality that you have is very harmful, and you’re part of the problem, Jerry.
Of course, knowing you, you might wave where you work in their face as if that somehow validates your photographic activity and your interest in it. That stuff is irrelevant. Harrassment could have happened to you, and until it happens to you, you may never understand.

10 Paul June 21, 2012 at 03:34

Very good pictures, James.

Now, as to the taking pictures part, I get the feeling that some of these people who are responding are some of the same ones who look at you strangely or back away slightly when they see you photographing trains; they treat you as if you were some kind of exotic disease. Or if they do ask them and you answer, they either ask “Why?” or look the question at you, as if photographing trains was some kind of strange LSD trip or kids play that should be left to kids.

Yet when they get home, they post to the Internet a photo of some strange-looking flower with a fat bumble bee buzzing around it. Or perhaps it was a poppy, and they “only” wanted the seeds to make poppy-seed cake. Perhaps I should look at their photography in the same light in which they look at my photography. Poppy-seed cake is good, but perhaps they wanted the seeds to make something else, hence the photos. Morphine and codeine both come from poppy seeds, as does opium.

Strange way for me to make my point, which is what am I going to do with my train photos? Use them to paint a model locomotive or car? Post them on the Internet? Send them to a friend? Or perhaps I decided I just didn’t like them and decided to delete them. Who knows? Who cares?

I think the points should be thus: 1, Anything that appears in a photograph besides the subject is incidental at best and was not the photographer’s intended subject (such things can be edited out, if necessary); 2, If I choose to photograph something, I should be free to do so, unless the subject is on private property and in order to take the photograph, I must also be on that same private property, which would require the owner’s permission, and upon which I am NOT free to do whatever I wish with the photograph as it would become the property of the property owner; and 3, The moment the photograph is taken automatically becomes the property of the photographer, who has the right to do with it whatever he wishes (legally, of course, and subject to any stipulations of point #2).

Does that about cover it?

BTW, if they don’t like the photography, they can always go back to recording images by tintype or daguerreotype!

11 Jennifer August 13, 2012 at 22:05

Love the pictures. You have a great talent. I’m sorry it took so long to reply.

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