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Shutterbug Off! 

Letters to the Editor in response to "Photographer 'Banned' for Taking Pictures on Church Street"

click to enlarge Dan Scott - JORDAN SILVERMAN

Shutterbug Off

Should a photographer be restricted from Church Street because his unwitting subjects complain about him? Ken Picard’s article last week about a shutterbug banned by Burlington police generated more letters than we’ve ever received about a single story in Seven Days. How do you balance the often-conflicting rights of privacy and freedom of expression in an era when surveillance cameras are poised on every street corner? Our readers have a lot to say on that subject. What’s here in print is just a sampling of the responses. You can read the story there, too: “A Photographer Is ‘Banned’ for Taking Pictures on Church Street.”

I don’t know Dan Scott. The same goes for thousands of other people I’ve seen on Church Street — including those who looked at me funny. But they can look at me funny all they want, because Church Street is a public place, and I don’t expect privacy there.

Burlington police questioned Scott, an art photographer, because he took lots of pictures of people on Church Street. He did this outside cafés and stores, but not inside, Seven Days reports. Nonetheless, some shop owners, including the fine folks at Uncommon Grounds, sought to have him barred from the street, at least when he has a camera in his hands, so as not to bother their paying customers.

And then police barred Scott from Church Street.

At UVM, where I advise student media, I teach students that they can freely photograph, film or record whatever they want — as long as it’s happening in public. That’s the law.

In the U.S., the law tends to favor free expression and openness over privacy. To be reductive: Private is what happens in your home with the curtains closed; public is what happens in a park or, say, on Church Street — or any other location that can be seen from the street. Most Americans don’t know this law, and that’s fine. But police should know better.

If a visual artist wants to capture Vermont on film, Church Street should be his first stop. And he shouldn’t arrive to find the place cordoned off with police tape.

Chris Evans


I have moved from my hometown because of abuse and threats. I walk on Church Street, and because this idiot decides to take my picture and post it where everyone can see, I am now at risk.

Celebrities, etc., have to put up with some of this, although I do not think they should have their private lives splashed for all to see, but they have taken precautions and have means to protect themselves.

A child’s picture is posted to a public site, someone takes notice that this child is his/her “type.” Now this person can go “check out” Church Street and look for this child.

Shame on you.

Suzanne Pellerin


I might not have expectations about the privacy of my shopping or whatever on Church Street, which is a public street, but I would expect anyone who would copy, photograph or in any way use my image in any form to have the courtesy to ask my permission. What if I were in a protection program, where the privacy of my location is a matter of serious consequence? I think guidelines should be established to protect the public from unwanted intrusion into their lives and the constitutional right of a photographer to take pictures. If his pictures are as innocent as he states, then asking permission from a possible photo subject should not be a problem.

Paula Spadaccini


Why is what photographer D. Scott doing anything different than anyone who travels to some exotic country and photographs people in public places then returns to frame and sell them for hundreds of dollars? How many of us have beautiful photos of seniors, women and kids from all over the world?

Liz Curry


That’s interesting. The federal government has held there’s no expectation of privacy in a public place. Cities including Burlington and Winooski have security cameras everywhere and are putting more up, but since a visible camera in the hands of someone is “plainly” seen, folks object. The objections ultimately can’t be held as valid due to all the other invasions of so-called privacy issues in public places.

Dave Bowers


It seems that the Burlington Police Department should step away from the photographer, take a deep breath and brush up on the First Amendment.

“Creepy” and annoying behavior is part and parcel of any city’s street life. Sure, it can get out of hand and can be a problem for shopkeepers and the public alike, but the police — walking a difficult line — apparently also get out of hand.

Fine to question the subject of the story on the street after a complaint, but did the police have to interrogate him at his workplace? Twice? This is intimidation, not legitimate enforcement.

One wonders who instigated the no-trespass order, the police or the businesses? Either way, it reflects badly, given that the photographer, although awkward and defensive, was within his rights.

Glenn Moody

South Burlington

Moody is a professional photographer.

What is our society coming to? To me the bottom line is our rights. Dan is not doing anything hurtful, perverted or wrong — or, most importantly, illegal. Isn’t this café going a little too far? I would like to know how it is decided that he is also banned from all the other establishments on Church Street. Do these other businesses know that a potential shopper has been banned from their store for a year? Who would agree with that or go along with that? It’s insane. Don’t we as a society have greater things to worry about?

Patty Curry

South Burlington

As a professional photographer I can see both sides of this story. A natural, candid photo is the equivalent of seeing wild animals in their natural habitat versus the artificial environment of a zoo. It is about showing a real moment in time that can be studied and appreciated at length, without distraction.

I also know from experience that some people do not enjoy being in front of a lens. Regardless of how prolifically people seem to express themselves with webcams and other digital media, it is mostly done on their terms and they choose when and where to show it.

Just a few days ago, I too was on Church Street taking candid photos of the wonderfully diverse collection of people on display. I made every effort to make sure that people didn’t notice me. If I felt that I was making someone uncomfortable, I put the camera down to assure them, visually, that I wasn’t trying to push the envelope. Were I to ever be directly confronted by anyone, I would rethink my approach. To this day I haven’t been asked by anyone to stop.

While I think that Mr. Scott may have indeed pushed too many buttons by being exceedingly brazen in his approach, I’m now worried that it may be easier for me to legally carry a handgun into Starbucks than my camera.

Randy Morris


Thanks to Ken Picard for bringing the interesting issue of Church Street photography to the readers’ attention. However, the implication that a civil-rights question is involved is mistaken. Our First Amendment rights protect us from state sanction resulting from speech, not private sanction. Any business may ban any individual for any sort of conduct. The city has not banned Mr. Scott from a public space, and the police have only executed the lawful request of private business, as they are in this case obligated to do.

Furthermore, with [a] right comes responsibility — it is incumbent upon all of us to exercise our rights responsibly, such as not shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, to use the classic example. If women feel threatened or harassed by an individual exercising his right of speech, that individual should expect consequences. In the case of photography, regardless of having no expectation of privacy in public spaces, in the age of instant media, sexual predators and the Internet, Mr. Scott might consider showing more respect for others. Their concerns are most definitely warranted. But because he made another choice, he is experiencing the consequences that result, and the law doesn’t guarantee us the right not to face consequences just because we don’t like them. Others have rights, too, and we all have responsibilities that directly correspond to our rights.

Scudder C. Kelvie


While not taking sides with the merchants, the police or the photographer on the issue, the following question came to my mind: What is the opinion of former prosecutor and avid amateur photographer, Sen. Pat Leahy? This is your assignment Seven Days. Get the answer for us. We need to know.

Dale Tillotson


Senator Leahy’s response, via spokesman David Carle: “As a rule he doesn’t jump into matters that are under the authority of local or state jurisdictions.”

Should taking candid photos of strangers in a public venue be protected free speech? Let me just say, I find it hard to equate speaking freely with taking unsolicited private photographs of complete strangers. That’s more like reaching out and touching someone without asking permission… Actually, I believe taking private photos of public places should be OK to do. But asking permission to take or keep private photos of persons you don’t know and who don’t know you is only polite, signifies intention not to intrude if unwelcome, and respects the possibility that intended subjects may choose to pass on being so immortalized. Most artists have been bothered to do as much.

It is certainly the right of persons Mr. Scott has left feeling “creeped out” or stalked to register concern for their personal safety; and for their complaints to be followed up by police with questions and by Marketplace management with a permissible “fix.” The fact that 67 businesses are on board with the “ban” suggests Mr. Scott’s activity has been markedly intrusive in effect, and this is his own responsibility. Had he expressed a bit more civility in his exercise of personal liberty, he might now be just that neat photographer guy who’s always taking pictures on the Marketplace.

Kris Leavitt

South Burlington

I think this is silly. How can someone be banned from taking photographs of a public place? Ridiculous! I see many people photographing on Church Street, and downtown, the waterfront, at ski resorts, everywhere... Tourists come here and photograph! What’s the difference? Is it that this guy has a nicer camera than others? Why is it that everyone claims this “privacy” issue all the time, people’s reactions to such ridiculous issues causes so much resentment among the public.

If you want to live a private life where no one will see you, then go live your life as a hermit. Does anyone ever look at National Geographic magazine? There are millions of images taken of public places and of random people.

I, for one, love going downtown and taking pictures of the beautiful buildings, reflections in windows, instruments, performers.

I’d say you better put a lot more police on duty if you are going to start swinging at [anyone] taking photographs in public here in Burlington. You better be sure to go after all of them, including the shoppers and general people taking pictures. You can’t just pick on one guy with a great hobby!

Put your energy on the young troublemakers that are hanging out there and leave those who have a healthy hobby and interest alone.

Natasha Dacres


Just who does the person who asked for and got the One Year Universal Trespass Order represent? I can only guess that it came from Ron Redmond’s Citadel perched high above the mere mortals who, by the way, do the shopping and eating on Church Street that keep the stores open so Mr. Redmond can have his little fiefdom. What Dan Scott has been doing may be a bit intrusive, but until there is even the least bit of evidence that he has been taking more than innocent pictures of individuals and buildings, his First Amendment rights should be honored.

First it was the young woman clarinet player who roused the ire of the popcorn dude; now it’s someone taking photographs. Smoking outdoors will in all likelihood be banned. Excuse me, Mr. Redmond and cronies, may I have permission to walk up your “perfect” little street? The Gestapo-like tactics exercised here are deplorable, but unfortunately not surprising in the screwed-up town Burlington has become in the past 30 years. Burlington would not survive without the hordes of drunken students staggering around on Friday and Saturday nights. How about more real policing of them and less harassment of one man taking pictures?

C. Richard Hill


So, by Supreme Court order, corporations are people and can buy the lion’s share of visibility for our elections as evidence of their “free speech,” but people in a public place are to be considered “not publicly visible” without their express permission? Is that how it works?

If someone were taking my picture on the sidewalk and creeping me out, I’d ask him to stop, but I’m a journalist and so I wouldn’t try to force a legal issue where none exists. I respect my own right to tell the public story and would hesitate to infringe on it. (But I have never taken a picture of a family with children and posted or published it without permission, just as a matter of personal courtesy, not law.)

As for adults in public places, think of it this way: The public square is an environment, and people there are the fauna in that environment. They’re as legitimate to photograph as are the squirrels, the birds, or even the dog lifting its leg on the nearest lamppost.

That’s what it means to have “no expectation of privacy” in a public place, even if you’re one of the animals that can read. What a photographer does with your likeness from there on may be another story, but just taking your picture in public is, to me, unambiguously legal.

Pat Goudey O’Brien


I’ve seen that guy around. He is pretty weaselly. I bet if he allowed his entire picture collection to be inspected it would come clear he does mostly photograph women. I think banning him was a good thing.

Keith Colburn


It is his lack of respect for other people that I find troubling. If you take someone’s picture, you are invading their physical space. It is respectful to ask permission. Taking a photo without permission and then being told not to take a photo obligates the photographer to delete that photograph without being asked. That is acting respectfully and professionally. A person should feel free to stand in front of their place of work without being harassed. That right doesn’t get trumped by his right to free speech.

If a person is drawing attention to themselves and being newsworthy such as a public demonstration, then I believe a photographer can take photos without permission. That person in the demonstration has opened their physical space in a public forum and is fair game. Unfortunately, some will define newsworthy as anyone in a public space, either alive or dead. Be respectful, the world doesn’t revolve around you.

Robert Fahey


I am a photographer as well and have taken plenty of pictures of people, places and things. One of the golden rules of photography is that when you take a picture of a person and the person is identifiable in the photo, you are required to get their written consent. This person does not seem to be following that rule. In my opinion, it crosses the line when you take a photo of a person, they ask you to delete it, and you refuse. That is beyond creepy. Hiding behind the veil of our constitutional amendment is really as lame as it gets. As a citizen, family man of three adorable little boys, I too have the right to walk downtown and to feel safe and not be violated like the employees of Uncommon Grounds. This guy’s rights trump mine? I don’t think so.

Evan Einhorn

Essex Junction

I have been a fan of your paper for years because, as the daughter of a reporter, I felt the content of your weekly offerings to be honest, interesting and fearlessly informative. However, these days it seems that you will give a forum to anyone with a sob story.

A few years ago in Montpelier a man was seen taking pictures on and around the Statehouse lawn about the same time a known Vermont pedophile who currently resides in Middlesex exposed himself to some children near the local middle school. Needless to say, the man with the camera was asked to stop photographing people although he committed no crime.

If Dan Scott wants to be a photojournalist (in the context of art and public interest), then he should be prepared to introduce himself, as my father did, and ask permission to take photos. It’s more work, but it’s no less beautiful and much more integral.

Your audience is growing up, Seven Days; we have kids now and we live in a world, sadly, where people with cameras are suspect. If Mr. Scott wants to cry about his civil liberties, he should consider a career change. Journalists are imprisoned for much less.

Kerin Durfee


I have been an amateur photographer for years. I remember reading in one of the many publications I used to get that a photographer needs to get a signed “model’s release” from any private citizen whose picture you have taken or wish to take. Otherwise you cannot use it (i.e., in a photo show, on the Internet, etc.). You could purchase a block of these releases for very little money or make your own.

Photographers can take photos of private citizens when they are at a “public event,” such as a demonstration, street festival or some other happening that is newsworthy and the expectation of privacy is not strong.

So, I feel that Dan Scott is wrong to be taking these photos without getting a signed release, and is very wrong when he is asked to delete photos by someone and refuses to do so.

Laurence Thomson


I think that conclusions have been jumped to, and the narcissistic staff of Uncommon Grounds is completely overreacting! Perhaps they should stop worrying [about] what is happening outside their windows, and pay attention to the people in front of them who would like to order a damn coffee!

Jen Wagner


As I read this article, I was terrified of what is to come. The thought of a photographer being banned from 67 establishments? You have got to be kidding me. Should we start avoiding eye contact, just in case? Possibly keep your voice very low so as not to offend anyone? Watch your language, as you never know who may be around to correct you? Photography is a wonderful art, and there are some times when maybe we should ask if it is OK to take the shot. However, overall, when in a public place, your emotions, dropped forks, food in open mouths and toilet paper stuck to your shoe are up for grabs — whether it be the photographer or the other 100 or so others on Church Street.

Barbara Fortier

South Burlington

The City of Burlington should be embarrassed by the police intervention of this individual’s rights without due process. A city that prides itself on its progressive approach, welcoming immigrants for asylum, aggressively protecting civil rights of minorities, and publicizing capitalistic enterprises through public funding, finds this man unfit to patronize Church Street businesses? If it was me being victimized, I’d spend the rest of my life proving the hypocrisy of the City by suing it for violating my civil rights. This incident is a travesty of justice on many levels, beginning with the Burlington Police Department. Let me be the first to say, “I told you so,” when the City is either prosecuted by federal authorities for this breach, or offers a huge cash out-of-court settlement, from taxpayers’ money, to make retribution for their mistake.

David Siegel


As a photographer, I read with great interest Ken Picard’s article regarding Dan Scott.

What struck me was that while Scott may have been within his First Amendment rights taking photos of people on Church Street, he is guilty of violating a photographer’s unwritten code of conduct regarding taking someone’s photo.

By Scott’s own admission, he only “occasionally” asks people if they can be photographed. While it is understandable that he would want to capture them in a candid moment without asking them for permission to photograph, it is professionally discourteous not to tell them afterward that he has taken their photo, show it to them, explain where it will be displayed, offer them a copy of the image(s) and ask for their permission.

In the instance where a woman asked Scott to delete a photo of her and he refused, he blatantly violated the unwritten code of conduct and only further hurt his public image on Church Street.

In the modern age when upskirt shots on Flickr are numbered at 15,000-plus, it is reasonable that people would be suspicious of someone taking their photo. It is also reasonable that people would want to avoid being the subject of ridicule or perversion on the Internet.

While I don’t think Scott did anything other than take artistic photos of people on Church Street, his lack of professional courtesy, poor public relations and general lack of regard for his subjects made his art, as well as the art of other candid photographers, more difficult and perceivably pervy than it is.

From now on, Mr. Scott, always ask permission and you’ll be helping yourself as well as the rest of your brothers and sisters in photography.

Leif Tillotson

St. Albans

I have been doing street photography on Church Street for over 30 years, and have never, ever had any problems. This concerns me greatly, whatever is happening to our freedoms. I guess street photography as an art form is being discouraged everywhere — even here in Vermont. So, should I keep my camera at home when I am downtown? There is no expectation of privacy in public.

David Russell


I could fill a book with my thoughts about the situation involving photographer Dan Scott and his ban from Church Street, which was and is — unless I’m missing something — enforced by the Burlington Police Department on the whim of a single business manager and her coffeehouse co-conspirators. There was apparently no evidence — or even implication — of legal wrongdoing.

But I’m … more interested in asking Vermonters to tell the BPD what they think about the justification given by Lieutenant Jen Morrison to the public (via Seven Days) for the BPD’s enforcement of this whimsy. According to the article, Morrison states: “If a business owner requests that we issue a notice of trespass, we’re OK with that. We don’t require that an illegality happened.”


For your reference, from the U.S. Constitution: “Amendment 1 — Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression. Ratified 12/15/1791. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

So it seems “we, the people,” are left to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Anyone?

P.J. Davidian


Great job, Burlington Police Department and local businesses! Let’s make sure all those harmless artists and performers don’t bother the vagrants, beggars, shoplifters and drug dealers that hang out for hours and days on end on Church Street. Once again, Burlington gets its priorities straight.

P.S. Watch out 7D, BFP, B-Scene; you could be next.

Jason Robinson

Colchester & Burlington

Mr. Scott persisted in photographing women near Uncommon Grounds even after he had been informed that it made female customers uncomfortable, but then he reports he was perhaps uncomfortable about the police visiting his place of work twice. Does he not see the irony? I do hope, instead of this being a lesson in civil liberties, the article is a lesson for Mr. Scott in empathy.

Christina Colombe

South Burlington

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