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December 18th, 2014

Police Intimidation Watch: Photographer Wins $1.1 Million for Malicious Prosecution

A New York woman who was arrested and jailed for four days after photographing an Air National Guard base from a public thoroughfare was awarded $1.1 million in compensatory damages by a federal jury last week.

Nancy Genovese sued the town of Southampton, New York, the Suffolk County sheriff’s department and several individual officers in 2010, alleging violations of her constitutional rights, assault, battery, false arrest, use of unreasonable and excessive force, and malicious prosecution.

In a trial that concluded December 11, jurors concluded that Suffolk County sheriff’s deputy Robert Carlock had maliciously prosecuted Genovese. But Genovese failed to prove that Carlock had initiated criminal proceedings because of her political associations. Therefore, the jury found that Carlock was not liable for violating Genovese’s First Amendment right of free speech.

Although jurors reached agreement on the $1.1 million award for compensatory damages, they were unable to reach a unanimous decision on punitive damages, so deliberations are continuing.

According to court papers, Genovese was driving home in July, 2009 past the Gabreski Airport Air National Guard base in Suffolk County (Long Island) when she stopped her car to photograph a helicopter on display in front of the base. Genovese made the photograph from inside her car, intending to post the photo on a “Support Our Troops” website.

As she was preparing to drive away, a Southampton, New York police officer approached her and asked what she was doing. Genovese explained what she was photographing, tried to show the officer the images on her camera’s LCD, and then ended up giving the officer her camera card to protect her camera, which the officer was treating roughly, according to Genovese’s lawsuit.

At that point, the Southampton police officer ordered Genovese to remain where she was, and called the county sheriff’s department to report Genovese’s presence outside the base, “falsely and wrongly informing” the sheriff’s department that Genovese “posed a terrorist threat,” she said in her claim.

Authorities from the FBI, Homeland Security, the ANG base, and the local police and sheriff’s department rushed to the scene. Genovese was questioned on the roadside for “five or six hours.” She alleged that her car was searched without her consent, and because she had just come from a local shooting range, authorities found an AR 15 rifle, as well as a shotgun and ammunition, in her car. Southampton police seized the guns, which were legally registered, according to court papers.

According to the suit, Suffolk sheriff’s deputy Carlock said to Genovese, “You’re a right winger, aren’t you?” He and another unidentified officer proceeded to taunt Genovese, repeatedly referring to her as a “right winger” and “tea bagger” and allegedly threatening to arrest her for terrorism “to make an example of her to other ‘tea baggers.’”

After hours of questioning, federal authorities concluded that Genovese wasn’t a security threat. After they left the scene, however, an unidentified sheriff’s deputy handcuffed Genovese, and transported her to jail, where Carlock allegedly told her that although authorities “had nothing to charge her with,” they would “find something in order to teach all right wingers and tea baggers a lesson.”

She was charged later that night with “terrorism,” and arraigned the next day on criminal trespass charges. Bail was set at $50,000 because of sheriff’s “inflammatory accusations” that she was a terrorist and a flight risk, she alleges in her lawsuit.

Genovese spent four days in the county jail, until she was finally able to raise the money for her bail. While in jail, she alleges, deputies continued to taunt her, subject her to sleep deprivation, deny her medical care for a leg injury that became infected, and instigate alarmist media coverage by releasing to reporters false information about Genovese and the circumstances of her arrest.

The criminal trespass charges against Genovese were dismissed in November, 2009. She filed suit on July 29, 2010.

In her lawsuit, she alleged violation of her First Amendment right of free speech, as well as violations of her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments rights of freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. She also claimed she was subject to fear and terror, humiliation, degradation, physical pain and emotional distress.

In 2013, a federal judge dismissed Genovese’s claims against the town of Southampton and its police officers. The judge ruled that the Southampton police officer who originally stopped Genovese had probable cause to do so; that the officer didn’t use excessive force; and that Southampton police seized a gun in her car “under a lawful exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment” because it was in plain view insider her car. Therefore, the court said, Southampton police did not violate her constitutional rights.

The judge also dismissed false arrest claims against Suffolk County sheriffs, on the grounds that they acted on the “probable cause” determination of Southampton police. But the court declined to dismiss Genovese’s malicious prosecution claims against Carlock and the sheriff’s department, clearing the way for the trial, which began December 8 and lasted for three days.

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December 8th, 2014

How Photographer Stephen Crowley Works Around White House Photo Ops

A little Washington drama: Bill Clinton keeps Barack Obama waiting at a White House photo op. ©Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

A little political drama: Bill Clinton keeps Barack Obama waiting at a White House photo op in September. ©Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

New York Times photographer Stephen Crowley, an astute, keen-eyed observer of Washington politics, explains in an interview appearing in this month’s edition of PDN how he built his career working around obstacles to access. “They have their stage,” he says of politicians and their handlers. “I’m content to walk behind the cavalcade and observe.”

His series of images (above) of a September 19 meeting between President Barack Obama and ever-popular former President Bill Clinton is a case in point. Clinton was invited to the White House to celebrate the anniversary of AmeriCorps, a volunteer program his administration launched in 1994. It was supposed to be a feel-good photo op for Obama, whose ratings are low. But the mutual dislike between Obama and Clinton is no secret, and it wasn’t far from Crowley’s mind. He picks up the story from there:

“[They were] walking back to the oval office, right along a rope line. I was on a high ladder, missing that picture. Obama was working the rope line, then he walked off, and thought Clinton was with him. But Clinton was slowly working the rope line, making the President of the United States wait for him. And Obama was standing off by himself. He puts on his jacket, walks [back toward the rope line], and he’s still waiting for Clinton. That’s a gem of a moment. I made a whole sequence [out of it].”

Crowley notes there’s an element of street photography in his approach. “I had a lot of experience in Florida”–at the Palm Beach Post, where he started his career–”doing street photography. You went out and looked for features. I came up here [to Washington] and translated that, and it’s been an effective way of telling the story, pulling away from the press conferences.”

For more about Crowley, his approach to covering politics, and his alternative take on the controversy over diminished access by photographers to the Oval Office, see our interview in this month’s PDN.

June 23rd, 2014

Photographer Wins $2,501 for Infringement in Anti-Gay Attack Ad Case

 

©Kristina Hill

©Kristina Hill

Photographer Kristina Hill has won a $2,501 judgment for copyright infringement against Public Advocate of the United States, ending a federal case in Colorado over unauthorized political attack ads. The judgment was entered June 4 in the US District Court in Denver.

Hill and her wedding photography clients, Brian Edwards and Thomas Privitere, sued Public Advocate of the United States in 2012 for unauthorized use of an engagement photo of Edwards and Privitere in political mailers produced in 2011 to defeat two Colorado lawmakers who supported same-sex marriage.

The mailers show images of Edwards and Privitere kissing each other. They were created from an engagement photo of the couple that the defendants found online and used without permission.

Kristina-Hill-Attack-AdHill alleged copyright infringement for unauthorized use of her photograph. Edwards and Priviter claimed misappropriation of their likeness for commercial purposes, in violation of their privacy and state right-of-publicity laws.

The court dismissed the couple’s misappropriation claim in March on the grounds that the ads were primarily non-commercial, and because they related to a matter of public concern. Therefore, free speech rights under the First Amendment shielded the defendants from the couple’s claim, the court said.

But the judge rejected Public Advocate’s motion to dismiss Hill’s copyright infringement claims on fair use grounds, because the ads didn’t pass the legal tests for fair use.

According to court papers, Public Advocate finally agreed to accept a declaration from the court that it had infringed Hill’s copyright, “without any finding or admission that such infringement was ‘willful’” under federal copyright statutes.

Public Advocate agreed to pay Hill $2,501 to cover costs related to her claim. The judgment agreement notes that Hill was not entitled to attorneys’ fees because she didn’t register her copyright in the disputed image before the infringement.

For the same reason, she was not entitled to statutory damages, but was limited to actual damages, which tend to be much lower than statutory damages.

Hill was not immediately available for comment.

Related:
In Fight Over Anti-Gay Ad, Misappropriation Claims Are Dismissed
Richard Prince Settles with Photographer Patrick Cariou

 

April 29th, 2014

ICP Celebrates Infinity Award Winners (Recap and Video Links)

Last night the International Center of Photography honored photographers working in photojournalism, fine-art and fashion at the 30th annual Infinity Awards. The awards were inaugurated in 1985 as a way to recognize outstanding achievements by photographers working in various genres within the medium.

It was the first Infinity Awards ceremony for new ICP director Mark Lubell, who promised the crowd that the organization would remain at the “center of the conversation” about the medium. Perhaps as a way to illustrate that point, ICP arranged for a drone to photograph partygoers during the cocktail hour, then put those photographs on-screen at the beginning of the ceremony.

The Cornell Capa Lifetime Achievement Award was given to German-born photographer Jürgen Schadeberg, who as an expatriate in South Africa during Apartheid, made some of the most famous images of Nelson Mandela, and encouraged black South African journalists to pick up cameras and tell their stories.

James Welling was honored for his contribution to fine-art photography; Steven Klein for fashion; Stephanie Sinclair and Jessica Dimmock were honored for photojournalism; Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin were honored for their publication Holy Bible; and Samuel A. James received the Young Photographer award.

Sinclair and Dimmock received a standing ovation from the crowd for their work documenting the practice of child marriage and its effects on adolescent girls, their families and their communities. The project, “Too Young To Wed,” is a decade-long pursuit for Sinclair that has spawned a non-profit that she hopes will help young girls and communities do away with the practice of child marriage.

Samuel A. James, who in his young career has worked extensively in Nigeria documenting the impact of oil extraction on the culture—including photographing the illegal tapping of oil pipelines and makeshift refining operations by impoverished Nigerians—thanked the Nigerians who “gifted me these stories” during a short acceptance speech. James also dedicated the award to a friend who was killed in an explosion while attempting to refine black-market crude oil.

In accepting the Publication award for their book Holy Bible, for which they combined the King James Bible with images from the Archive of Modern Conflict, Broomberg and Chanarin called the book their “attempt to somehow illustrate this text,” and said they hoped it would be an invitation to others to make their own attempts. They also paid tribute to their publisher, Michael Mack for his production of the book, and to the Queen of England, who owns the copyright to the King James Bible.

In a slightly incongruous presentation, pop star Brooke Candy spoke about Steven Klein and introduced a high-octane video that reviewed much of Klein’s work. The fashion photographer briefly thanked the crowd after noting that, “photography pretty much saved my life.”

MediaStorm produced short documentary films about all of the recipients except Klein. Watch those films on the MediaStorm site here.

Related: Tour de Force: James Welling’s Artistic Versatility
Best Photo Books of 2013

April 3rd, 2014

In Fight Over Anti-Gay Ad, Misappropriation Claims Are Dismissed

©Kristina Hill

©Kristina Hill

A federal court in Colorado has ruled that the unauthorized use of a gay couple’s engagement photo in a political attack ad was protected by the First Amendment. But the judge in the case rejected a request by defendants to throw out the photographer’s copyright infringement claims on fair use grounds.

Photographer Kristina Hill and her wedding photography clients, Brian Edwards and Thomas Privitere, sued conservative advocacy group Public Advocate of the United States (PAUS) in 2012 for unauthorized use of an engagement photo of Edwards and Privitere in political attack ads.

The ads, showing an image by Hill of Edwards and Privitere kissing each other, were part of a PAUS campaign to defeat two Colorado lawmakers who supported same-sex marriage.

Hill sued for copyright infringement because PAUS used the photo without her permission. Edwards and Priviter claimed misappropriation of their likeness for commercial purposes, in violation of their privacy and Colorado’s right-of-publicity laws.

gay-attack-adBut the court has thrown out the couple’s misappropriation claims on the grounds that the political ads were “primarily non-commercial,” and that they “reasonably relate to a legitimate matter of public concern”–same-sex marriage. Therefore, free speech rights of the First Amendment barred the couple’s misappropriation claim, federal judge Wiley Y. Daniel wrote in the decision.

However, Judge Daniel rejected a motion by PAUS to dismiss Hill’s copyright infringement on fair use grounds, ruling that the ads didn’t pass the standard four-pronged test for fair use.

The first factor, relating to the character and purpose of the unauthorized use,  went against the defendants for two reasons. Language of the copyright law protecting unauthorized use for educational purposes “suggests that the educational purposes contemplated by the statute’s drafters relates to schooling, not mailers circulated during an election,” the judge wrote.

Furthermore, he explained in his decision, “while the defendants placed the lifted portion [of the image] in a different background and placed a caption on the mailer, such actions cannot be characterized as ‘highly
transformative.’”

Other prongs of the fair use test also went against the defendants. For instance, the image is a creative work, not merely informational, which mitigated against a fair use finding, Judge Daniel said. And he rejected the defendants’ argument that they used only used a small part of Hill’s image, countering that they used the qualitatively most significant part, which shows the subjects kissing.

“I find that the plaintiffs have stated a plausible copyright infringement claim under the Copyright Act,” the judge concluded.

The ruling allows Hill to proceed with her copyright infringement claims, and was not a final decision on those claims.

A trial date has been set for January 26, 2015.

Related:
Anti-Gay Group Sued for Unauthorized Use of Photo in Attack Ads

Anti-Gay Group Pleads Fair Use, Free Speech in Infringement Case

March 25th, 2014

Tomas van Houtryve Drone Essay Longest Ever Published by Harper’s

 

© Tomas van Houtryve/VII

© Tomas van Houtryve/VII. “Baseball practice in Montgomery County, Maryland. According to records obtained from the FAA, which issued 1,428 domestic drone permits between 2007 and early 2013, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the U.S. Navy have applied for drone authorization in Montgomery County.”

Tomas van Houtryve takes on the proliferation of drones as weapons and as tools of surveillance in the April issue of Harper’s Magazine, in a photo essay titled “Blue Sky Days.” At 16 pages, it’s the largest picture story ever published by Harper’s.

To create the work, Van Houtryve’s outfit a drone he purchased on Amazon.com for still photography and video, and then piloted it, in areas throughout the United States, over “the very sorts of gatherings that have become habitual targets for foreign air strikes,” the introductory text explains. These included weddings, funerals, and groups of people exercising or praying. The images also depict domestic borders, prisons and other areas where military or police have flown surveillance drones, or have applied for permits to do so.

“His idea was daring, elegant, and perfectly timed,” Harper’s art director Stacey D. Clarkson told PDN via email. “He explained that the technology for drones is way ahead of legislation concerning them, and though drones are part of our contemporary reality, the specific ways they are used (and can be used) are not in the public consciousness. The urgency of the work, the complexity of the ideas, needed space to be properly conveyed. And the images themselves needed to run large in order for the reader to see what Tomas’s drone could see—embroidery on top of a hat, spokes on a bicycle wheel, and home plate at a neighborhood baseball field.”

Captions for the photos make the connection between, for instance, a group of people exercising in a park, and the fact that a gathering of exercising men might, for the CIA, constitute evidence of a terrorist training camp. The effect is chilling. In an image of a wedding in central Philadelphia, a flower girl is the only member of a wedding party looking up at van Houtrve’s drone as he makes his image. A U.S. drone struck a wedding in Yemen in December 2013, killing 12 people, the caption tells us.

The essay’s title refers to the testimony a 13-year-old Pakistani boy named Zubair Rehman gave on Capitol Hill after his grandmother was killed by a drone strike while she was picking vegetables in her yard. The boy told lawmakers he no longer loves blue skies. “The drones do not fly when the skies are gray,” he said.

Van Houtryve will exhibit and speak about “Blue Sky Days” in New York on Friday, April 4, as part of “Surveillance.01-USA,” a symposium on surveillance-based visual arts projects. He will also appear with Clarkson at the University of Colorado, Boulder on April 7 as part of the university’s ATLAS speaker series.

Related: Client Meeting: Harper’s Magazine (accessible to PDN subscribers)
If We Spend $25K On A Photo Essay, Readers Should Pay to See It, Says Harper’s Publisher

February 24th, 2014

White House Shuts Out Photographers Again. So Now What?

No photographers allowed: White House released this photo of President Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama on February 21.

The White House released this photo of President Obama and the Dalai Lama on Feb. 21, after barring press photographers from the meeting.

Now that it is evident that the White House is deaf to complaints from photographers and their employers about being shut out of some of President Obama’s official meetings, the question is, What can the media do about it?

On Friday, the White House  closed a meeting between the President and the Dalai Lama, and then angered photographers, their employers, and photo trade groups by by releasing an official photo on Twitter by White House photographer Pete Souza.

Reuters and the Associated Press (AP) refused to distribute the official photo, according to a report by the National Press Photographers Association.

The White House News Photographers Association (WHNPA) issued a statement urging other news organizations not to publish the photo, describing it as “a visual press release of a news worthy event.”

WHNPA also said in their statement, “We are disappointed the White House has reverted to their old strategy of announcing a closed press event and then later releasing their own photo.”

Last November, more than three dozen news organizations signed a joint letter protesting limits on photographers’ access to some of Obama’s official meetings.

A few weeks later, The New York Times published an op-ed piece by AP director of photography Santiago Lyon, who called the White House handout photos “propaganda.”

Around the same time, journalists confronted White House press secretary Jay Carney at a White House press briefing about the issue. Carney told the journalists in so many words that The White House no longer needs photographers like it once did, because it can distribute its own pictures directly to the public on the internet.

“You don’t have to buy that newspaper or subscribe to that wire service to see that photograph,” Carney said at the time.

Nevertheless, he pledged “to work with the press and with the photographers to try to address some of their concerns.” About a week later, on December 17, he met with representatives of the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), the WHNPA, and other media organizations.

Afterwards, NPPA general counsel Mickey Osterreicher said in a report published by NPPA, “We remain cautiously optimistic that the White House will follow through on its earlier commitment to transparency.”

That was then. On Friday, after photographers were shut out of Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, White House News Photographers Association president Ron Sachs said in another NPPA report, “I think the White House grand strategy is to talk us to death and do nothing.”

Osterreicher tells PDN, “We (media groups) should be having a meeting soon” to discuss what to do next.

Undoubtedly they’ll be looking for new angles of diplomacy or attack (or both) to regain the access that White House press corps photographers once enjoyed. In the meantime, we ask PDN readers: What would you advise media organizations and photographers covering the White House to do now?

Related:

Media Protests White House Limits on Photographers
White House Press Secretary to Photographers: We Respect You, But We Don’t Need You
AP Photo Chief Appeals to Public About White House Access. Will It Help?

December 13th, 2013

White House Press Secretary to Photographers: We Respect You, But We Don’t Need You

In an exchange yesterday with reporters over why press pool photographers were kept away from President Barack Obama on his trip to Nelson Mandela’s funeral last week, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney ducked, dodged–and said times have changed.

“This is part of a bigger transformation that’s happening out there that’s driven by the ability of everyone to post anything on the Internet free of charge so that you don’t have to buy that newspaper or subscribe to that wire service to see that photograph.”

In other words, the White House doesn’t need press photographers anymore, and neither does the public, now that the White House can distribute its own pictures of the president online.

The exchange began when a reporter asked why White House photographer Pete Souza was allowed on the speaker’s platform when President Obama spoke at  Mandela’s funeral, but press pool photographers were not allowed. Reporters also pressed Carney hard on why press pool photographers were not permitted to photograph the President and First Lady, along with former President George Bush and his wife, Laura Bush, on the flights to and from the funeral in South Africa.

The White House released its own photos, shot by Souza, from the flight.

Carney took the questions with a preamble of praise to photographers. “I have huge admiration for that service to the free flow of information and the unbelievable bravery that cameramen and photographers display, especially overseas in hard areas, in dangerous areas, like Afghanistan, like Syria and elsewhere,” he said.

He added later on after reporters kept pressing the issue, “From the President on down–and I mean that–there is absolute agreement that there’s no substitute for a free and independent press reporting on a presidency or the White House, on Congress, on the government. It’s essential. Essential. And that includes photography.”

The White House got as much access as it could for press pool photographers on the speaker’s platform at the funeral, Carney said. When pressed about the lack of access on the flight, which reporters pointed out was 20 hours each way, Carney said, “For a lot of those hours, the President, the former President, the First Lady and the former First Lady were asleep. So we probably weren’t going to bring in a still pool for that. Or they were having dinner or something like that. But look, I think I just made clear that I want to work on this issue.”

How committed he is to “work on this issue” is unclear. Reporters pressed repeatedly for details, and Carney offered none, other than to say his office has met with representatives of the White House Correspondents. And he added, “I can promise you that the outcome of that will not be complete satisfaction” because of inherent tensions between all administrations and the press over access.

Last month, Carney rejected a request from 38 news organization for a meeting to discuss their complaint about a lack of access for press pool photographers to the Oval Office. In doing so, he told them the public interest was served well enough by the stream of photos the White House was releasing on social media.

The media has dismissed those photos, by Souza and other White House photographers, as “visual press releases.” In an op-ed piece published in The New York Times yesterday, Associated Press Director of Photography Santiago Lyon labeled the White House handout photos as “propaganda.”

Related:
AP Photo Chief Appeals to Public About White House Access. Will It Help?
Media Protests White House Limits on Photographers

December 12th, 2013

AP Photo Chief Appeals to Public About White House Access. Will It Help?

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza, from memorial for Nelson Mandela. Handouts like these are "visual press releases," argues AP's Santiago Lyon.

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza, from memorial for Nelson Mandela. Handouts like these are visual press releases, argues AP’s Santiago Lyon.

The White House has waved off a complaint from media organizations about photographers’ lack of access to the Oval Office, and now Associated Press director of photography Santiago Lyon has taken the complaint to the op-ed pages of The New York Times.

The question is, will the AP’s protest stir the kind of public outrage that makes the White House relent?

Last month, 38 media organizations sent a joint letter of protest to the Obama administration, charging that it was denying them the right to photograph and videotape the President while he was performing official duties in his office. According to the letter, the administration is keeping photographers out by designating the president’s work meetings as private. But the White House has been posting its own photos of those meetings on social media.

In other words, the White House is doing an end run around the press corps. The aggrieved media organizations criticized the administration for its lack of transparency, and dismissed the White House photos as “visual press releases.” The news organizations asked for a meeting with White House Press Secretary Jay Carney to discuss removing the restrictions.

Through one of his deputies, Carney’s response boiled down to: We’re keeping the public plenty informed, so take a hike.

With Lyon’s Op-ed piece to the Times, AP is hoping to get a more sympathetic hearing in the court of public opinion.

Carney “missed the point entirely” with his dismissive response to the protest letter, Lyon writes. From there, he reiterates the point that White House photos are visual press releases, not journalism. The official photos “propagate an idealized portrayal of events on Pennsylvania Avenue,” he writes.

After arguing the merits of images by independent news photographers, Lyon concludes: “Until the White House revisits its draconian restrictions on photojournalists’ access to the president, information-savvy citizens, too, would be wise to treat those handout photos for what they are: propaganda.”

And he’s exactly right. But it’s hard to imagine a public clamor on AP’s behalf for two reasons. First, when it comes to Oval Office photo ops, citizens might have a hard time distinguishing between photos from the pool and White House handouts. Second, the public doesn’t hold the press in high esteem these days. To many non-journalists, Lyon’s complaint might only come across as whining.

What citizens are really interested in are images of the President’s unscripted moments, as Lyon suggests in his op-ed piece. He mentions some memorable photos of past presidents. Most happened outside the Oval Office: Nixon flashing a victory sign as he was boarding a helicopter after his resignation, Ronald Reagan waving from a hospital window after his cancer surgery, George W. Bush’s look of astonishment when he first heard of the 9/11 attacks.

What news organizations need to do, besides editorialize in The New York Times, is redouble their efforts to show the public what the White House will never release: fresh, unscripted, uncensored images of the President. The pictures from Nelson Mandela’s funeral of Obama’s handshake with Raul Castro and the selfie incident were certainly a good start.

November 21st, 2013

Media Protest White House Limits on Photographers

Visual press release? President Obama and Vice President Biden met with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in the Oval Office, July 30, 2013. Media organizations say their photographers were excluded on the grounds that it was a "private meeting." The White House issued this photo by staff photographer Chuck Kennedy afterwards.

“Visual press release”? President Obama and Vice President Biden met with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in the Oval Office, July 30, 2013. Media organizations say photojournalists were barred because the administration declared it a “private” meeting.  The White House issued this photo by staff photographer Chuck Kennedy afterwards via Flickr.com.

More than three dozen news organizations and journalists’ trade associations have submitted a joint letter of protest to the Obama administration, charging it with denying the news media the right to photograph and videotape President Obama while he is performing his official duties.

“We write to protest the limits on access currently barring photographers who cover the White House,” the letter to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney began. “We hope this letter will serve as the first step in removing these restrictions and, therefore, we also request a meeting with you to discuss this critical issue further.”

To get Carney’s attention, the letter includes an indirect threat of legal action on First Amendment grounds. It says the restrictions on photographers “raise constitutional concerns,” and goes on to cite a 1980 Supreme Court ruling that protects the First Amendment right of the press to access information about the operation of government.

The letter was delivered to Carney today. It was signed by all major TV news networks, wire services, major newspapers, as well as American Society of Media Photographers, National Press Photographers Association, and other organizations.

“As surely as if they were placing a hand over a journalist’s camera lens, officials in this administration are blocking the public from having an independent view of important functions of the Executive Branch of government,” the letter says.

It accuses the administration of excluding photographers by labeling the President’s meetings as “private events.” The letter lists 8 examples of meetings that amounted to “governmental activity of undisputed and wide public interest,” including meetings between the President and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, and other officials, dignitaries, and activists.

After all but one of the meetings, the White House issued official White House photos of the meetings, according to the letter.   “You are, in effect, replacing independent photojournalism with visual press releases,” news organizations complained to Carney in the protest letter.

The letter says that previous administrations were more transparent, and adds, “[T]he restrictions imposed by your office on photographers undercut the President’s stated desire to continue and broaden that tradition.”

The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the letter.

The Obama administration has been subject to past criticism for its handling of the press.

For instance, the Committee to Protect Journalists says in a recent report, “Despite President Barack Obama¹s repeated promise that his administration would be the most open and transparent in American history, reporters and government transparency advocates said they are disappointed by its performance in improving access to the information they need.

“”This is the most closed, control freak administration I¹ve ever covered,’ said David E. Sanger, veteran chief Washington correspondent of The New York Times.”

The Times was one of the 38 organizations that signed today’s letter of complaint to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.