Security Guards

Photographers and security guards don’t always mix well, and I’ve had many run-ins with security in the past. In part the problems have often simply been that the guards have not been properly trained and in particular that they neither know nor understand the laws relating to photography. I spent quite a lot of time in the 1980s in particular educating those guarding sites in London’s Docklands, then an ‘Enterprise Zone’ with huge handouts to the developer friends of the party then in power to build in the area.

Although I didn’t always avoid a little trespass – though I never made my own holes in fences, many sites were rather derelict and boundaries rather vague – almost all of the confrontations I had were on the public highway, where I was very sure of my rights.  Now its perhaps a little more difficult to always be sure, with large tracts of London now privately owned even when open to the public and looking like public space.

I tried always to be reasonable and polite but to insist on my rights. Having told them my rights I usually suggested they either contact their boss or call the police or both. On one or two occasions the police did arrive, and confirmed that I had the right to take photographs, but usually I’d already finished what I wanted to do and moved on before they came. I’d learnt in any case to work fast, and most times by the time the security guard came to tell me I couldn’t take pictures they were already in my camera.

More recently there have been many well-publicised examples of photographers getting harassed by security, and I’ve supported the protests of I’m a photographer not a terrorist and am pleased at the work done by members of my union, the NUJ, to educate the police and security guards about the situation. After the incidents shown in the video Stand your Ground made in 2011, some photographers have become involved in the training sessions run by the police for security personnel.

With this background, I wasn’t too sure that I wanted to go and photograph a protest on behalf of the security guards employed at the University of London, but soon overcame my prejudices.  These guys are low paid workers, doing long shifts and getting badly treated, working at the University but being employed by a contractor on considerably poorer conditions than staff who are employed directly by the University at the same sites, just like the cleaners. And theirs is, at least in part, a very useful and necessary job.

‘3 Cosas’ – sick pay, holiday pay, pensions

It’s time to get rid of these abuses of low paid workers, with contracting companies being used so that apparently reputable organisations can wash their hands and evade their responsibilities. And as we’ve seen clearly in many areas, contracting out leads to the work being done less well as well as those doing it getting worse conditions and treatment.  So the IWGB (The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain), a grass roots worker-run union gets my support in its fight for proper sick pay, pensions and holidays for the security guards along with the cleaners and other low-paid workers.

Security Guards on duty watched the protest for their rights and conditions
The protest got off to a late start (as one of the organisers said, “perhaps we should have said 1.30pm not 1.”  Always a bit frustrating, as photographers can’t afford to be late for events, but fortunately I wasn’t in a hurry to go elsewhere. More of a problem was that visually it was very similar to other protests by the IWGB that I’ve photographed before – including one in the same location. And that yet again I’d forgotten my earplugs!

A placard specially for the Polish security guard on duty watching the protest.

More pictures at London University Security Guards.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated are by Peter Marshall and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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