Photographer Marisha Camp and her brother Jessie were recently passing through West Virginia on a nationwide tour for a documentary series when they were reportedly confronted by “a hostile mob.” The residents were suspicious of the photo taking and allegedly harassed and detained the duo until a trooper arrived and escorted the photographers from the scene.
Above is a news report about the incident that aired on local NBC station WVVA, which reports that it received phone calls, emails, and Facebook messages from parents concerned about their children’s safety.
The messages accused the photographers of taking pictures as they traveled through each town — images that included “pictures of some children” that were captured without permission.
In audio recorded during the confrontation (it can be heard in the video above), a resident asks the photographers if they shot any photos of kids.
“No. And you can check it, not of your kids. I can show you. Jesus Christ. We didn’t stop and approach like, yeah; you guys are making us out to be like crazy pedophiles. You guys are making us out to be people that we are not,” the two say in defense.
“Have you looked at yourself in the mirror? You all don’t look like upstanding citizens,” responds Jennifer Adkins, a mother of three kids who originally contacted the local police chief.
The group of residents then demanded to see the photographers’ camera and the photos they had taken, saying they weren’t allowed to leave until they did so.
Here’s Marisha’s account of what happened, as told to WVVA:
While traveling between Bradshaw and War, where we had planned to attend a church revival, we drove through a residential area that may have encompassed most or all of the town of Raysal. We were in this area for a few minutes, where I captured some imagery of houses and the surrounding landscape from the road. We then traveled quite some ways down the road and stopped at a gas station, where we crossed the street and interviewed and took posed portraits of several young adults.
Someone was screaming from the parking lot of the gas station, and I turned around to find a middle aged man and woman beckoning to us. Their minivan was parked right behind our car, effectively parking us in, as it were, but at the time I thought that maybe they’d accidentally bumped into our car. I began to cross the parking lot, still not entirely able to make out what they were saying, and then… Convinced that we had taken photographs of their teenaged sons, this couple had tracked us down and they were not leaving without our camera. I refused to hand it over. At this point, the woman opened the door of the minivan, pointed to a backseat, said that she had her gun right there, and we were not leaving until the police arrived. A hostile mob was beginning to gather, spurred by phone calls and the couple’s loud insistence that they were just trying to protect “the kids” without having actually witnessed a crime or presented any tangible evidence of actual wrongdoing.
I spent the next forty minutes crying, shaking, and begging in every way possible for everyone to calm down. With no cell phone reception, and under threat of being beaten or shot if I tried to go into the store and use a landline, I nervously sent text after text, silently praying that somehow, against all odds, something would go through so my mother would know where I was and wouldn’t spend weeks not knowing what had happened to her children.
It’s important to note that photographing from a public place is not illegal, so we were being held hostage for 1. something that isn’t a crime in the first place and 2. something that we had not, in fact, done.
“Ironically, up until this point, we had been deeply moved by the warmth, generosity, and openness of everyone we encountered and befriended in West Virginia. But now, of course, we’re just left with this tremendous fear,” Marisha writes. “I’ve been a photographer for a long time. I view most of my work as collaborative, involving the active participation of my subjects, not just their consent.”
You can find a longer version of her account over on the WVVA website.