Bank picture ballet

December 17, 2009

Singapore can be a strange place to make pictures sometimes. As someone who’s lived here for nearly 5 years, on occasion my job as a photographer is affected in unusual ways.

Singapore is a place where¬† rent-a-cops often don’t know the rules, other than “you’re wrong”. They’re really good at overstepping the bounds of their legal authority, and even though you know for a fact they are wrong and should just let you go about your work, no amount of reason or logical argument means anything to them. They are like the daleks in Doctor Who, out to exterminate photographers. Their authority as gatekeepers is final.


Every few months, this results in something I like to call the “Bank Picture Ballet”, where usually 2-3 security guards and myself get involved in a ridiculous dance around each other as I try to make a perfectly legitimate picture to match an economic story.

I’ll be doing something straight and legal. Approaching a bank building while walking on a public pavement – carrying 2 camera bodies and lenses to try and illustrate an earnings story – as soon as I stop to frame a picture, dudes in black with radios in their ears and stern no-nonsense faces will be on the scene within seconds. I’ll insist I’m doing nothing wrong, that I’m on public land – yes, you can go ahead and call the cops, you’re the guys harassing a member of the public for no good reason — but the dance continues as I try to move and they try to block my picture. Sometimes, I end up sending these pictures to the wire — in anger, because they’ve left me with no other choice.


A few months ago, I was photographing another event which turned into a real song and dance. An arts group was performing in the financial district as part of the annual arts fest, dressed in black suits carrying boomboxes disguised as suitcases. The idea was to make fun of corporate culture. They briefly wandered under the canopy of a large office building as I was taking pictures. Predictably a hapless security guard hits the scene within 30 seconds and seeing me as the ringleader of a security threat starts to argue with me about things like filling out forms and seeking permission from building management. I tell him I have nothing to do with this, hello! this is an arts performance!, and can you please go away, but he hangs around abusing me, pushing my camera into my face and calling me all sorts of names until the performers start to think this is pretty funny and dance around us. Five people dressed in black suits, dancing to music around a silly argument, with a lunch time financial district crowd watching – there are times when you stop arguing despite your anger, and start smiling at the absurdity of the whole thing.


Photographer Vivek Prakash tried to photograph “The Agency” performance as part of the Singapore Arts Festival May 21, 2009.¬† REUTERS/Allison Ching


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This is a great story and I agree that your best defense is to post the pictures of the rent-a-cop. Hopefully some embarrassment will make them change attitudes.

I don’t think Singapore is unique, though: a few months ago I was in London and decided to take some pictures of the Thomson Reuters building in Canary Wahrf at night. I had a fair amount of gear with me (tripod, two bodies, etc… I’m not a professional, but I love photography). I set up by the subway exit to take some shots.

Within seconds I had two REAL English bobbies around me asking me what I was doing, why I was taking pictures, who I was, where I come from, etc… and basically telling me to leave.

The best part? I WORK FOR THOMSON REUTERS!!! Guess I can be trusted to go into the building but not to take pictures of it??

Posted by caseoane | Report as abusive

Same here!

I met my trainer/boss in Canary Wharf and got him to take a pic with the hubby at the door. U can see the security guard in my pic trying to wave us away. snc3/hs072.snc3/13968_218914970800_73869 5800_4592449_7010040_n.jpg

Posted by purplek | Report as abusive

Hey Vivek
I think you were too kind to these rent-a-cops ! But on the other hand in the UK, photographers are getting arrested and warned to stay away from “public buildings” so can you imagine…taking a picture of the houses of Parliament gives the cops enough power under the current anti-terrorist laws to stop you, search you and look at your pictures. There was a huge report in the papers there about 3 weeks ago…

I like the pictures anyway – how about starting a photo competition of the best “blocked photo” …the best photo can be sent to the security company :-) !

Take care..

Posted by mcsphotography | Report as abusive