Monday, December 18, 2006

Busted by the grocery police

In the Not-Wal-Mart dairy case
Somewhere in Ontario, December 2006

Remember the old saying that folks buy SLR-type cameras and then watch them gather dust at home because they're too large to conveniently cart along? I humbly beg to differ.

Since first bringing the new wonder machine home a couple of months back, I've taken to slinging my beaten-up old Tamrac camera bag over my shoulder whenever I head out of the house. It could be for something as routine as dropping the kids off for a playdate, going to fill the tank with gas or, in this case, getting some milk from the grocery section of the newly-expanded Super Evil Empire Retailer in an unnamed burg somewhere within the Province of Ontario. Wherever I'm headed, the bag is ideal for carrying the camera and the rest of my collection of electronic tools (yes, I'm a only gets worse with time.)

I've ofen fretted about getting caught with said camera in a store. Well, I need fret no more. The eagle-eyed sentries who guard the hundreds of security cameras hanging down from the ceilings of a certain unnamed Evil Empire Retailer are very clearly earning their keep, as they saw fit to dispatch not one, nor two, but three nattily-dressed managers to intercept me in the dairy section.

I could hear them coming from a half-mile away - Head Manager #1 (HM1) was wearing the kind of clip-cloppety heels that bring back bad memories of school marms on power trips. Her two assistants (HM2 and HM3) looked very stern as HM1 initiated her interrogation:

HM1: "Can you please explain what you're doing with your camera?"
Me: [Pause to bite lip before I say something really caustic]. "Why, yes, ma'am. I'm taking pictures of your lovely milk cartons."
HM1: "You're not allowed to do that. Our rules explicitly state that you are not allowed to take pictures inside the store."
Me: "I'm so sorry. I was not aware of your rules. Are they available on your web site?"
HM2 & HM3: [Nod] [Frown]
HM1: "Yes they are. I suggest you read them. No cameras are allowed in the store. There are no exceptions."
Me: "OK. It won't happen again."
HM2 & HM3: [Simultaneously furrow their brows]
Me: [Walk away really slowly, watching out for burly men. They never arrive.]

What I wanted to say instead of the "won't happen again" part was something akin to a smarmy, "And what do you want my wife and I to do with the basket laden with hundreds of dollars of fine slave labor-produced goods that we had intended to purchase from your store?"

But I resisted this, of course, because visions of minimum-wage-paid hands grabbing the memory card out of my camera danced in my head. And I really wanted to get these pictures home so I could share at least one on my blog.

I learned a lesson on this day, and it has nothing to do with power-tripping store employees taking down a sarcastic, camera-wielding journalist in the dairy case. It has everything to do with a little word my mother taught me when I played hide-and-go-seek in the dairy case of a much smaller and friendlier grocery store in my neighborhood: please.

Your turn: Does this mean the end of my storebound photographic adventures? Any advice on what I should have done - or what I should do next time I go shopping - would be most welcome.

In related news: I came across this piece, The Right to Bear SLRs, on Kinda timely, I think.

Quick program note: I'm scheduled to participate in Report on Business Television's look-back at 2006 tonight (Monday) at around 8:37 p.m. The actual show runs from 8 to 9 p.m. Eastern time, and will feature a bunch of experts and related folks speaking about the companies that made headlines this year. I'm part of a three-person panel discussing Research In Motion (RIM, the BlackBerry folks). If you're in Canada and subscribe to cable or satellite service, you can watch it live on TV. Otherwise, I'll post the link to the show once it's posted on their web site. Should be fun!


Anonymous said...

i think it depends on how much time you have. if you're in a rush, someone's waiting for you in the car, etc,. well, smile and walk on. or don't smile: make eye contact with the guy and shrug 'whatever'.

but if you've got a few minutes say something like "I think you're wrong".
or "show me". or "call the police". basically, screw 'em: don't put up with that shit.

I was out for a walk in the park a couple of days ago. there's a skating rink. the day was a stunner, right? bright and warm, but there was ice. and so the light was incredible. I stepped onto the ice, taking shots of the sky annd the ice with this wide angle lense. it was the middle of the day, so there were kids and adults on the ice. people were having a good day. citizens of my neighbourhood. and then this guy approaches and says "hey hey, you can't do that!"

what? what can't I do?

take pictures here!

of course I can!

no, no: it's city property.

that's ridiculous and you know it. you mean, if I was outside of city hall, I couldn't take a picture of the buildings? etc

and then it's all about 'the kids' and 'my boss' and stupid bullshit that changes every time I refute any of his claims. at one point I'm laughing and I say "what's your name?" and he says bob or harry ... and I say: "bob: shut the f*** up! call the police! do whatever you need to do. but leave me alone. I'm in the park. leave me alone."

the level of hysteria that people go to these days... and it's like it's either about terrorism or pedophilia. like, me and my camera are either gonna' blow the place up or steal kids. it's sad, you know... but it's necessary to slice through it. take some time but, also, take no shit. don't suffer fools.

another day I was walking behind some cops. the backs of their heads ended up in a couple of shots, and a concerned citizen noticed. she walked up to the cops and informed that I taken some pictures of them. the cops looked at her, then at me, and said to her, with a smile, "Ya, so?"

all this said: pick your spots, but chose not fall into line with the fear and the hysteria that governs way to much of our conscious and unconscious activity... the life our culture. maybe we make things (like picture and sentences) to know what we're thinking. don't let people who are afraid of thinking stop you.

there's a kind enjoyment referred to as the enjoyment of living... carry on!

Anonymous said...

I've never understood this rule and most places do have it. A group of us at a Toys R Us store were once kicked out for taking photographs of each other playing with various stores. I sort of understood it then, because there are kids around and one might inadvertently end up in a photo. But even the food court at our university has "ABSOLUTELY NO CAMERAS INCLUDING CELL PHONES PERMITTED." I'm guessing they're worried about industrial espionage. Seems silly in a grocery store, though, dontcha think? What kind of trade secrets are you going to potentially give away from shooting pictures of milk cartons? It's not as though they've come up with a new and improved way to stock it.

My boyfriend and I recently went to NYC again and took pictures inside Bleeker Bob's Records because we wanted some interesting music-related shots for his band's website. We asked permission first and they had no problem allowing us to shoot. Maybe that's the key? If you talk to management and explain that this is your hobby, maybe they'll have less of an issue with it. Or maybe not. :)

Anonymous said...

I would have asked to see the "rules" written out and then stated they should be posted where easily seen when entering the store or it would be impossible to follow them. I would tell them it is not MY responsibility to find their rules and read them, but theres to post clearly that I can see when entereing their store.

I'd then ask what they had to hide within the milk that I couldn't photograph.

I get a little upset when rules are thrown at me that I can have no clue what they are. But apparently, you are much nicer than I am.

Anonymous said...

This is unreal, Carmi and I must live in a tunnel, because until recently I wasn't aware that taking photos for our blogs was prohibited in many areas/stores. But you're not the first blogger to recently mention this...Eric who does daily photo shots of Paris was recently admonished for attempting to photograph an unusal lamp in a SHOE store! He was allowed to snap the lamp....but NOT the shoes.
Give me a break....WHERE on earth have OUR rights disappeared to? It seems to be affecting every aspect of our life....and I, for one, am not a happy camper about it.

Anonymous said...

follow up...

Photography Laws

Linda said...

I would have walked out - left a cart full of stuff. NOT worth it...I seriously doubt that there's a specific rule about cameras in the store. Honestly. And on the INTERNET? I'd also have said: I think it should be clearly posted at all entrances, in large letters, in several languages, what the exact rules of this store are. Some moms tote their cameras for the ever present toddler pulling the cereal boxes down etc....they gonna arrest me for wanting to capture life?


Anonymous said...

Did you check out the site and see if the rule was there?

I suppose you could go to the manager and say you have this opportunity for him or her and get his or her approval to promote his store as part of the community and the word would get down to security level?

srp said...

I can see people worrying about pictures of kids and pedophiles but milk cartons? Perhaps I am just more sneaky. I always have a camera in my purse, the small one that goes anywhere. Usually I can get a shot off in ambient light with it balanced on the cart and hidden by my purse. Does this make me a "spy"? Oh, I certainly hope so, I always wanted to be one when I was a child... It's the "Girl from U.N.C.L.E" thing.

kenju said...

Carry a smaller camera next time, Carmi. I wonder what they have to hide? Why would a grocery get mad if you are taking photos of food stuffs?

Anna said...

I cannot stand it when stuff like this happens.

If it is "W**M***"...then ask them if instead of taking the time to bother you...maybe they could open up another cashier line! That place is way overcrowded and the lines are always long....

I usually just play dumb or use extreme that wrong of me?

~A~ said...

I've taken pictures in stores but haven't been told not too. Maybe because I'm using my teeny camera phone.

I wish I could say that I was taking artsy pictures, but it's been more like, "Ohhhhhh, I would like that for Christmas but if I tell My Honey, he'll get me the wrong thing, so if I was to make a picture Christmas list, he can't screw that up."

I was yelled at for taking pictures of my kids inside a theatre. They have no picture rules, but I assumed that was of the stage sets and the actual show. Not of my kids sitting so cutely waiting for the show to start.

Some people just don't understand the moment.

Anonymous said...

I *heart* my SLR.

It uses film, even. Remember film?

Star said...

Carmi- As I work in a grocery store i can attest that picture taking is a no no. It does have somethng to do with industrial esionage which may sound strange, but the grocery business is quite cutthroat.If you ask fisrt you can usually get permission.

Anonymous said...

Well, first of all, I was told some time ago to never ask for permission. I mean if it's plainly posted someplace conspicuous, like at one of the military installations near my childhood home... "No Photography Allowed - Federal Felony Punishable by up to Ten Years in a Federal Penitentiary," (or words to that affect) well, then that's a different story.

It was explained that if I ask, it is too easy for some low-level staffer to say no just to cover his/her ass. It's always better to make them tell me - and soooo, I don't ask. On the one occasion, so far, that I was told to stop netted me at least a few shots.

As far as what to tell the Super Evil Empire Retailer, that would depend entirely upon the mood I'm in and whether I want to be the news, or simply report it.

Looking forward to the link as we don't get such programing here in sunny California!


Anonymous said...

Dude, I thought all your milk came in those #$&@ed up bags?

Anyway, I've been a bit more "composed" since the "JetBlue Incident." I might have just left the groceries in the aisle and just never shopped there again.

Kara said...

THats odd that you can't take pictures...why?? if you wanted to replicate something they sell, you would only have to buy it.... I bet they would never notice a cell phone picture...what a bunch of crazies.

LBA said...

So was it really on their website ?

I hope not. I'd like to see you back there, snapping pics of butter .. or *gasp* ... canned goods !


Anonymous said...

Carmi...loved the milk! While i'd love to drag my Nikon to the stores or museums i find they draw too much attention - for stealth missions i like to bring my smaller coolpix. I found this worked 90% of the time - in Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, etc.

Anonymous said...

Remarkable that there are such rules. I take pictures in unusual places but have a cascade of cameras from Nikon SLR, via a Panasonic which is like a mini SLR down to my Cameraphone.

A big SLR does attract attention, whereas the others are small and very inconspicous. The Panasonic is good for this because it can be 'on' but not at eye height and that doesnt look too obvious.

Then its "proceed until apprehended" as a general approach (except around military etc).

Say cheese.

Anonymous said...

If you're worried about your SLR/memory card... How about using a cellphone camera? Not as good quality or anything, but you could always say you were making a call or sending a message!

I'm sure there's some conspiracy to ban photography... It's getting more and more difficult to take photos these days.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I had some odd experiences as a photography student taking photos of neon signs and the owners running out of the store to see what the heck I was doing. I just told them I was a student at xxx college and flashed my assignment sheet at them which seemed to placate them. Actually I noticed that when I take photos on our university campus no one bothers me. I guess they just figuire I'm a student or work there (actually I do).

Your story about taking photos of the milk carton reminds me of my favourite blog that regularly publishes photos taken in grocery stores of snack food that have names that would only seem funny to a north american. This blog is Elyse Sewell 3rd runner up of ANTM Cycle 1:

her photos are from her travels as a model and has pics of snacks from denmark, paris, japan, hong kong (jellyfish flavoured snacks anyone? or perhaps a corn-flavoured ice cream?). Lots of fun and a very well written blog too.


Booster MPS said...

I have often wondered when I would be asked to stop taking many of my random photos.

utenzi said...

I've never tried to take a picture in a grocery or department story, Carmi. Now you can be quite sure I'll never try it!