Picture: Having put away his Leica, Steve Smith captured this scene later using his iPhone
Steve Smith, a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, was left fuming after trying to take pictures from a public road at the back of the historic West End theatre, just off Oxford Street at around 10.15am last Friday.
He had been heading to the nearby Photographers’ Gallery on Ramillies Street for a morning coffee when he spotted youngsters queuing outside a box office at the back of the theatre.
Fans were hoping for tickets to see US pop star Demi Lovato who was set to perform at a venue in Notting Hill later that day.
‘I had never heard of her but decided to walk down to the very end of the road where there were two police officers at the back door, I assume to keep order,’ the photographer told Amateur Photographer (AP) yesterday.
Smith said he used his Leica MP film camera, handheld, to take a couple of shots of some girls who, seemingly, had been queuing all night.
‘Interesting story, and not really a picture opportunity, but they wanted me to take their picture,’ he added.
‘I then went up a footpath known as Hills Place and took one [photo] of the police officers and their car, and thought nothing of it.
‘I then wandered back down towards the Photographers’ Gallery when one of the policemen confronted me. I suppose I was around 20 metres from the Palladium’s back door at the time.
‘He asked what I was doing taking photographs. I politely replied I was looking at what was going on and taking some pictures.’
‘Not against the law’
‘Once again I politely pointed out that it’s not against the law to take pictures in public unless any officer suspects me of being involved in terrorism.
‘His reply was “yes it is… if you are causing an obstruction…”‘
Smith denies he was causing an obstruction and says he saw two television crews in the area at the time.
‘The only traffic that comes and goes [from Ramillies Place to Hills Place] are deliveries, and there were none at the time,’ he claims.
‘Secondly, people were everywhere – some on the pavement, some on the road.’
Smith said the officer told him to move on and stop taking photos.
The photographer obliged and said he moved about 40 metres away.
Thinking he was clear of any further trouble, he considered taking more shots when the officer confronted him for a second time.
‘He said, “I told you to move on – why are you taking pictures of all these young girls?”‘
The photographer, who has three daughters, told AP that he found the officer’s tone ‘very offensive’.
‘I explained that I am a social documentary/street photographer and it is important to document all aspects of life…’
‘Once again I politely pointed out that I was not causing an obstruction and was within my rights to take pictures.’
Fearing he would be arrested, Smith left the area and said it appeared the officer was waiting for him to move on.
Royal Photographic Society director general Michael Pritchard told AP: ‘The experience of RPS member Steve Smith suggests that photographers should continue to remain vigilant and be prepared to defend their right to take photographs in public places.
‘The police have listened to photographers’ organisations in recent years and there has been a considerable improvement in the attitude of the police to photographers, although it seems some individual officers are not always aware of this.’
At the time of writing, the Metropolitan Police had yet to find any record of the incident, saying it was not documented in a police notebook.
Speaking in general terms, a Met spokesman said: ‘Clearly, we would expect all our officers to be courteous at all times.’
The spokesman said officers were ‘policing a large crowd’ and that it would have been their duty to ensure public safety.
Born in Chelsea in 1953, Steve Smith’s passion for photography began in 1978.
He gave up photography from 1986 to 2004, blaming personal reasons and time spent running his own business. He likened this period to ‘being locked in a time capsule’.