That’s a complicated question. Even before the fires were put out last night there were a number of websites encouraging citizens to send in their photos in the hopes of identifying the vandals and looters. Today it doesn’t matter whether a city or police force puts up CCTV or not: nearly everybody on the street is carrying a high resolution networked imaging device in their pocket. When something happens, there will be photos, and most of those photos will be taken by “amateurs”.
It’s kind of dismissive and wrong-headed to separate photographers into categories like “amateur” and “professional” or to call their shots “tourist photos”. Some of the most enduring images of the last century were captured by casual photographers, and plenty of “professional” photographers have been roughed up, arrested or killed during riots. When the mob mentality takes hold neither the cops or the rioters are going to stop to think about any of this.
I took plenty of photos during the G20. I didn’t set out to find trouble, I got caught behind a police line on the way back from brunch and I shot what was going on in my neighbourhood. I was excited to be capturing compelling photos, and I felt relatively safe while I was doing it. It was only in the days and weeks that followed that we learned that plenty of bystanders got caught up in the mess, and I was taking an enormous risk just by being on the streets that day. More than a thousand people were arrested, including a couple accredited photographers. Would I take those photos again knowing what happened to so many people? Probably not, but in the heat of the moment it would be very hard for me to walk away.
So many of the vandals in Toronto last year and Vancouver last night seemed keenly aware of their “audience”, and I think that even if there weren’t crowds cheering them on from a safe distance they would still be aware that they were also performing for the news crews broadcasting the footage to screens all over the country. The spectacle is half the point of the riot. A correspondent chastising somebody for taking photos of the riot is a bit hypocritical when he or she was narrating the feed from a news crew doing pretty much the same thing.
So what’s the answer? I don’t know. When that kind of mess happens it’s probably safest to be as far away as possible but a camera nerd with an SLR and a tripod is probably lowest on the list of troublemakers. At the end of the day, though, their photos will end up serving as spectacle or evidence, or probably both. This isn’t Egypt or Libya or Syria where people are fighting and dying for their freedoms and where photographers of all stripes have an obligation to document the tyranny and to draw the world’s attention. The G20 riots and the Vancouver riots were the unfortunate byproducts of a handful of opportunists intent on destroying property for the fun of it. Cameras don’t cause the problem, and they might even amplify it, but they will also end up holding the vandals accountable. It’s an uneasy relationship but impossible to change when everybody carries a camera and when everybody else wants to look.
I love my Fuji X100 but it’s a very quirky camera. The menu is a little incoherent and certain aspects of it totally defy logic - like how ISO settings are specific to priority modes: let’s say it’s dark out and you bump it up to 1600 ISO in aperture priority mode and you decide to switch to shutter priority, it will revert to whatever was the most recent ISO you had set in shutter priority.
The focus is a bit sluggish and the rear dial is kind of dinky, but honestly none of that really matters because the images it produces are so good. It’s a rangefinder, so it’s meant to slow you down and make you consider your shot a little more. The shadow detail in low light is unreal and the edge-to-edge sharpness is just wild. Fuji’s done a great job of building in a rich tone curve that rolls into the highlights with film-like grace. It’s a quirky camera, for sure, but it’s worth it.