I was out taking photos recently around the industrial parks of South Melbourne. I arrived under the West Gate Bridge at about 8pm. The light was brilliant – the sun was going down and the sky was a rich, spotless blue. I felt inspired looking up at this incredible structure, massive and foreboding… there’s nothing like kilotons of concrete and steel somehow suspended above you to make you feel insignificant. And insignificance happens to be the thing I like to capture in my photos…

So here I am, camera-faced, fervently clicking away. It’s-all-lead-to-this-moment kinda thing… Now, I had taken photos of the bridge further down the harbour earlier on–typical touristy stuff like hundreds of thousands of others would have done before. This space, down this weird little weed-infested street, however, is where those others wouldn’t usually go. It was right at the end of South Melbourne’s industrial wasteland.

I usually find myself in these kinds of places, alone…

“Excuse me!” a voice barks out from the distance.

“Yeah, nah, You can’t take pictures here.”

I pull my camera down. A guy in uniform (I’m being careful with my google-indexible words in this post) appears seemingly out of the ether. I’m taken back by his sudden presence.

“Sorry, I didn’t realise… I’ll get going, my mistake!”

“No, you wait there…”

I watch him, still a bit shocked, and I’m thinking, holy shit, what’s he doing? Is he going to confiscate my camera? I’m on the street and my car is just meters away… but before the thought of making my escape even crosses my mind he comes out again and marches towards me.

“I’m going to have to make you delete those photos.” He says, shaking his head.

“Are you kidding me? I’ll just get going. Forget it.”

“We have you on camera. We’ve got your rego. The fellas spotted you out here before I saw you.”

I turn to him “I’m just a photographer… this is my craft… and you’re going to make me destroy my pictures?”

I show them to him. Naively, I thought I’d try to impress him enough to let me keep them (my own property). A crap strategy but none other came to mind.

“I’m sorry, there’s been threats on this bridge before. I can’t let you leave with those – anti-######### law.”

“What do you mean? It’s just the god damned bridge. You can take the same pictures from hundreds of meters away.”

“No photos.”

“But look at this light!” There I go again, pretending other people care about photography enough to empathise and understand the importance of light and weather timing.

“Nah, sorry.”

This dude is really stuck on it. It’s probably the most exciting thing that’s happened to him all day. I mean, what else do you do under that bridge?

My thoughts are scrambled. I have to protect my photos but I can’t work it out. How can I pretend I’m deleting them when I’m actually not? Shit. But he’s standing right over me, like a teacher watching me pick up rubbish at school.

So I’m fumbling around and soon enough I realise that there’s no way for me to fake it. He’s still and steely. So I highlight all the photos, press DELETE, and sink.

“Thanks, you’re right to go now.”

“You’ve ruined my day, mate.”

He just smiles.

Now, usually with these folks I just smile and keep my cameras conspicuous. They look at me with a sort of fear, like a dog ready to bite in defence, but they usually let me be. Clearly that didn’t work this time. So, if you’ve lost work to this kind of obstinate, overzealous guard there’s a happy ending here and some advice for future encounters.

Data recovery.

My colleague suggested this and I’m very grateful he did. If you get busted and are made to screw up your work, don’t take any more photos on that SD card. Go straight home and run a free program like ‘Recuva’ or ‘Pandora’ on the card. I had unfortunately taken a few more shots down the road after so I lost quite a few of my bridge favourites, but the program found all the rest plus some fashion images I shot a nearly year ago, which was odd. But great! Now I only wish I had all the photos from that day but I surely will next time it happens.




  1. Interesting that this spot came under scrutiny – were there any warning signs around?

    I was pulled up a couple of months back shooting some shipping containers down Footscray way – I was standing next to a sign that said “Strictly no photographs” and was on private property so I thought it was fair enough. They didn’t ask to see the shots or get me to delete any shots though.

    I think the whole ‘you can’t take photos here’ is pretty dumb – I bet if you were shooting on your camera phone there wouldn’t have been a response. What’s the difference? Is there a lens size limit like some sporting events?

    Nice work on the data recovery!

    1. Hi Will,

      Not a sign to be seen. I was actually on the street. There was a fenced compound but it looked pretty empty – that’s where he was hiding.

      Totally agree re no photos. I can get as much structural information on this bridge from hundreds of meters away with a longer lens if I wanted to… I was just shooting with a 35 and 14 here. You could definitely do more “damage” with a super zoom point-and-shoot… or Google Earth for that matter.

      At least next time I’ll smile politely and delete away without even flinching.

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