Seven months ago a small group of photographers became aware of a Fairfax County Parks policy that had been purposely not enforced, requiring photographers to pay a permit fee in advance of scheduling a portrait session in a local public park.
Since then more than 900 hours have been invested in what has amounted to a monumental group effort.
The issue was simple. Photographers using Farifax County Public Parks were required to apply and pay for a disproportionately large permit fee in order to stand in a green space and make pictures of families. Wildlife photographers, commercial, retail, and news gathering photographers were all caught up under the same vague and arbitrarily enforced regulation. We asked that all fees for photographers be suspended and that Parks staff and photographers work together to be advocates for our parks.
Arriving at a solution has been anything BUT simple.
From the beginning is has been tremendously difficult to navigate the archaic, hostile and opaque rules and regulations of the Fairfax County Board’s practices; regulations that are rarely written or revealed to the general public. Communication with the Parks Authority staff has been often difficult and contentious and with a few commendable and notable exceptions, Board Members have been more concerned with the publicity this issue has brought to them than they have been with actually affecting positive change.
Our photographer advocates have been called “trouble makers” and “unreasonable” by Board members and the Board Members who attempted to assist us were publicly called to task and criticized for their efforts. Individual photographers who have been advocating on behalf of our colleagues have been singled out by name in official meetings for their efforts. One Board Member went so far as to charge us with the task of fixing the Park Authority’s reputation and ensuring this new policy receive 100% compliance by our colleagues.
Just under 200 photographers, residents and concerned citizens voiced their opinion on this issue (overwhelmingly, more than 99%, in support of removing fees restricting photographers). The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) general counsel Mickey H. Osterreicher has said that fees could impose restrictions on First Amendment rights. Park authority managers countered that the fees were similar to those paid by other businesses that used parks, and that the fees were an effective way to manage park resources. Parks authority managers continue to disregard the fact that photographers are unlike ANY other business, in that our work is covered by additional freedoms, rights, and laws (through the Constitution, Federal, State and local laws) that do not apply to any other type of business. Park managers themselves have stated that the current fee and permit process does nothing to manage photographers. The new policy does very little to address any of the issues on the table from either the photographers or the Parks staff.
Over the last 7 months we have prepared more than 100 pages of notes, created a comprehensive information package for Board Members and Parks Staff, and when negotiations stalled, created a compromise proposal. In the end the Parks Authority has declared in a Washingtonian article today that they are very pleased with the results.
This photographer at least is particularly disillusioned with the process and the results.
New Fairfax County Parks Photography Permit Policy
While the new policy provides some relief from the heavy permit fees, it does add more complexity. The new policy in place does very little to address the issues that launched our efforts
Effective immediately, there will be a suspension of all permit fees. Permit applications appear to still be requires and the new policy is implemented July 1st, 2015. (As always, I will post a link to the policy as soon as it is published, so you can verify this independently). Here is a comparison between the old policy and the new policy. (Click images to enlarge on screen.)
This small change for the better would not have been possible were it not for the support from far and wide. I am so proud of my peers, colleagues and industry leaders for coming together to express our individual thoughts and opinions (support AND dissent) and for YOUR participation in this democratic process. Further opinions have been presented in the following articles: