Thursday, May 15, 2008


Some helpful advice: admiring railway architecture could lead to an arrest under anti-terrorism legislation.

Not too long ago, my flatmate was in Camden Town leading a group of mentally ill people on a photography course. He too was approached by a brace of friendly coppers who suggested that this sort of behaviour was not acceptable in such a high-profile crime area.

I’ve never been stopped in this way, but I do always feel rather awkward when I wander the streets of Camden or Hackney taking photos. The feeling is comparable to the one I get when I leave a shop without making a purchase: even though you haven’t bought anything, you still expect the security alarm to go off. The crime, in other words, is just being there.

It’s what Althusser has in mind when he speaks of interpellation. You become a subject by being guilty. Guilty of what? Of being a subject – of recognising that when the Big Other speaks, he is speaking to you. Taking a photograph literalises this. If you take a picture of a street or a building and passers-by happen to be in your photo, the implication is that the photo is actually of them. When the futile task of the subject is to keep his head down as much as possible and evade the scrutiny of the ever-present Big Other, taking a photograph is a particularly offensive gesture.

It also suggests a conspiracy, for there are places where it is expected that people take photos and there are places where it is not. Tourists taking pictures of Buckingham Palace – lovely. Boy in hoodie taking pictures of derelict buildings on the Hackney Road – bit sus. And, as Lenin points out, Kurdish student taking riverside pictures of the MI5 building – criminal. The Paraguayan dictator Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia punished anybody who dared to look at his Presidential Palace by shooting them on sight. We recognise this as being insane. So how is the story of Salam Abdulrahman any different?


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