Recently I visited Rick Caruso’s newly opened Americana at Brand.
I am a graduate student from San Francisco conducting research for my MFA thesis on thematic design; as such, the stunning architecture of Americana was a must-see.
After being on the premises for a couple of minutes, I began snapping a few pictures for my research, and was immediately accosted by an albeit friendly security guard who informed me that all student, commercial, industry and entertainment photography must be pre-approved.
Basically, all photography other than personal shots of friends and family is strictly prohibited.
That’s right: no pictures of the lovely greens, the fountain or the fun trolley car.
I had been to Caruso’s Grove earlier the same day, and I took copious photos there; absolutely no problem.
A security guard even stopped to admire some of my shooting angles.
Both here and at the Americana, I was courteous to others and did not use a tripod or a flash.
After discussing my intent with the polite Americana security guard, I was informed that I could get a photography permit from the marketing director’s office.
Fortunately, the fact that I was only a student conducting research (and not someone shooting for stock photo purposes, etc.), I was able to fill out the lengthy paperwork and get a laminated pass that kept Americana’s private security force at bay.
I have two problems with this policy.
First of all, there are no postings of this regulation anywhere.
Secondly, as reported in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere, the Americana at Brand is a troubling mix of public and private property, with the standards for conduct ill-defined.
The streets and buildings, sure enough, are private, but the two-acre park in the center of the complex is actually public property.
By the letter of the law, at both the state and federal level, standing in this green space, I am allowed to take pictures of the public on public property.
Not so at the Americana.
Even if I’m standing on the streets, though, how am I to know they are private property? There are no signs, no posted regulations, not to mention that Americana is consciously designed to appear like public space.
More important, though, is the spirit of the law.
What does Caruso expect to gain from this policy? Will it prevent others from lifting the idea of his outdoor shopping mall and building their own?
Even explicitly private spaces like Disneyland do not prohibit guest photography of any kind; they only kindly ask that you do not bring tripods into the park (a reasonable request for the comfort of others).
My thesis research has taken me all over the world, from Dubai to Walt Disney World, from Paris to Tokyo, from Hong Kong to Macau, from Las Vegas to Southern California, and the Americana at Brand is the only place I was told I was not allowed to photograph without prior written permission.
Caruso certainly has a lot to learn about the precedent of photographers’ rights.
What makes him think his shopping mall is so special that he attempt to enforce stricter regulations than at Las Vegas casinos or the Disney theme parks?
This policy represents a lack of goodwill that will not be lost upon patrons of the Americana at Brand.
DAVID GOTTWALD is a San Francisco resident.