London's Spitalfields market: shoot the architecture, we take away your camera

Yesterday, I met my friend (and editor) Patrick Nielsen Hayden for breakfast at Spitalfields Market, our local Sunday market here in London. Spitalfields has been around for centuries, and it's just undergone a massive, years-long renovation. If you ask me, this has not been entirely successful, removing a lot of the market's charm, but there are some lovely grace notes, like the cartoony architectural flourishes in the joists that support the glass roof.

Just as we were arriving at Spitalfields, I got a call from Patrick: "You won't believe what just happened: I was taking a photo of the market and a security guard came up and tried to take my camera away and delete the picture!" Apparently, this guy had invented a new Spitalfields policy prohibiting photography (some of the stalls have had this policy for a long time, including -- hilariously -- a stall that sells photos of Banksy graffiti) and was planning on enforcing it by taking away people's property -- without a warrant or badge, without any kind of posted signage.

Here in London, you get photographed upwards of 300 times a day, by every junior sneak, pecksniff, and petty CCTV operator who can afford a cheap little camera. The cameras often fail to help catch criminals, and they certainly don't deter desperate muggers and junkies and stupid drunken kids. All the law seems to require by way of consumer protection is a sign saying, "You're being filmed."

You can be photographed again and again, but heaven help you if you take a picture back. Your person isn't deserving of any serious privacy protection, but buildings, t-shirts, shop-windows, and market stalls are all entitled to unlimited protection from having their precious photons stolen.

I've bought plenty of stuff at Spitalfields over the years -- like I say, we go every weekend -- but if this turns out to be the new official policy, consider me out. People have been taking pictures at the market since cameras were invented (the town hall archives are stuffed filled with old box-camera shots of Spitalfields during the Jubilee) and any market that doesn't welcome my camera doesn't deserve my money, either.

Generally speaking, I love being a Londoner, but when my fellow residents decide that the best response to terror isn't keep calm and carry on, but rather "When in trouble or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout." it's downright embarrassing -- like being a Bostonian or something.

Taken at Spitalfields Market, 9:20 AM, Sunday, March 30, 2008. I liked the cartoony cloud-trail decorations seemingly supporting the left side of the ceiling, and the fact that the spire of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s Christ Church Spitalfields was so dramatically framed in the transparent roof.

Right after I took the shot, though, a large security guard walked directly up to me. “We don’t take pictures in here.” “Oh?” I said. “Yes,” he replied, reaching for my camera. “We’ll have to delete that.”

“No you don’t, and I’m leaving the market right now,” I said, walking away briskly. And as I did so, I swear to God, I heard him get out his walkie-talkie and radio for backup. You can’t be too careful with these terrorist photographers.

Out on Brushfield Street, wondering if I was about to be wrestled to the ground by Spitalfield commandos, I phoned the people I’d come to the market to meet for breakfast in the first place. “Hey, Cory,” I said. “You’re not going to believe this, but…”

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