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Photography Is Not A Crime


[UPDATE: The criminal charges against him have just been dropped and the judge issued a court order for the release of his camera equipment. Good news for sure, but the points remain: 1) we need documentary shooters shooting the entire gamut, legal and not. 2) we need public defenders who understand this need and are prepared to help us defend it.]

This is nuts. LA photographer Jonas Lara has been arrested and faces up to a year in prison for ‘aiding and abetting’ two graffiti artists while documenting their work in February. Lara pleaded not guilty, wisely citing it’s within his rights as a photographer to be at the scene documenting the work of the artists. But here’s the rub: his public defender, David Gottesmann, has so far refused to consider his rights as a photographer as part of the defense.

PDN reports, “When he was arrested, Lara was working on a long-term project for which he has documented the work and creative processes of 30 visual artists. Lara met the two graffiti artists at an abandoned building in South Central Los Angeles to photograph the pair as they worked on the illegal mural. The photographer says the officers were understanding when he explained his reason for being at the scene. They told him they needed to process him, and that he would be free to go in the morning. After advising Lara that it would be dangerous to leave his car in the neighborhood, one of the officers even drove Lara’s car to the police station so he could avoid a towing fee.

Once he got to the police station, however, Lara’s situation became much more precarious. The police held Lara for eight hours before telling him he was being charged with felony vandalism. He was held for 26 hours in total…before his wife bailed him out.”

Now call me crazy, but this is pure bullsh*t. I’m not advocating crime, I’m advocating Lara’s rights to document it. His public defender won’t cite his rights as a photographer? Huh? If documenting crime is a crime, then why isn’t every photojournalist who documents drug abuse, war, and violence in prison? The guy is headed for the MFA program at Art College in Pasadena. His work is legit. We need pictures like these.

Since his public defender doesn’t see the light (wtf?), Lara needs private council. He’s got a donation page here. Spread the word. And if you’re a photojournalist, please keep shooting.

(via PDN Pulse)

Related posts:

Don’t Listen To Doubters. I’m Guessing Banksy Didn’t.

Lawrence Lessig Interview: Photography and Creative Commons

Should Freelancers Qualify as Journalists?
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