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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XX No. 22, March 1-15, 2011
No photographs, please, this is Chennai
(By A Special Correspondent)

India is in the forefront of space technology and many are the residents of Chennai who work on projects that put satellites into space. From there, several photographs of the earth are sent to us. Click on Google maps and you see every inch of Chennai mapped in great detail, right down to the level of individual houses, landmarks and buildings. But when it comes to photography using a normal camera, Chennai suddenly becomes wary. Those armed with cameras are not welcome into many of the premises and are peremptorily turned away. The reason most often cited is security. But what security are we speaking of when the satellites and the internet mapping services have already made public all our coordinates?

Recently, a young photographer was denied access into the public areas within Fort St. George. When he protested, he was told that he looked like a foreigner and hence had been barred. He was asked to show proof of citizenship and, on furnishing this, he was reluctantly allowed in, but even then not permitted to take any photograph. That is just a single instance and several more can be recounted.

Taking a cue from an obscure law enacted during the days of World War II, taking photographs of railway stations, bridges and airports is not permitted in Chennai. It is laughable to imagine that a photo of Barber’s (Hamilton’s) Bridge, for instance, could cause a breach of security. Strange as it may seem, even Senate House is out of bounds for photographers! The gardeners at My Ladye’s Garden will not allow you to use a camera in the precincts.

Technically, there is really no law that prevents taking photographs of public places in the city. But when it comes to practice, all kinds of objections are thought of and several obstacles are placed in the way of photographers. They are asked to get written permission from some not-so-accessible authority. Even if this is done and a letter is furnished at the site of the photo-shoot, the least important functionary, the watchman or the peon, has the right to shoo any aspiring photographer out of the premises. This law is applied equally to all persons and agencies wielding a camera. Recently, a Doordarshan cameraman who is a Government agency employee complete with identity card to prove it was shown the door at a Government building. The reason? The same security threat, of course.

It would appear that the real reason behind such reluctance for allowing photographs being taken is that the poor upkeep of several premises will become public knowledge which in turn could cause embarrassment. Is it not time that the authorities in charge of our public buildings and precincts took pride in them and permitted their being photographed? That way more people could come to appreciate the architectural glory, historical importance and natural beauty of Chennai. When the whole world is moving towards openness, is a similar glasnost policy not expected of our guardians as well?

In this issue

Secrets of Tamil Nadu's Archives
No photographs, please, this is Chennai
Bins of cruelty
New uses for old buildings
A Home for ­Music
Masters of 20th Century Madras science
Why does Tamil Nadu keep failing?
Other stories

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