A San Francisco-based photographer is facing some legal backlash from the Golden Gate Bridge District over a photo that they claim he took from a restricted area. The photographer says the District is simply “hunting for money” by searching the Internet for pictures that they believe were taken from restricted areas.
Bruce Getty is a passionate San Francisco photographer who credits photography with helping to save his life. Shortly after moving to San Francisco with his family in 1979, he became addicted to cocaine and alcohol. He was just 13 years old. He spent the next 28 years of his life struggling against the demons of substance abuse and alcoholism, endured multiple meth-induced psychotic episodes, and finally got clean in 2008 when he was sent to Atascadero State Hospital.
When he was released in 2011, he used an insurance check to buy a Nikon D600 and a computer from FireSide Camera. That’s when his fascination with the Golden Gate bridge began. “I started interacting with local photographers and went on to Instagram,” Getty tells PetaPixel. “We were always fascinated with that area of the Golden Gate Bridge, trying to find new creative angles.”
It’s one of these creative angles that got him in trouble, captured from what the Golden Gate Bridge District’s lawyers claim was non-public land, while trespassing.
The photo is a composite—a combination of the bridge photo taken in 2014 with a supermoon shot that Getty says he captured in either 2018 or 2016. He was actually given a $150 ticket in 2014 for being on the rocks photographing the bridge, but Getty maintains that this “restricted” area isn’t actually off-limit.
“I’ve always accessed that place during low tide and the coast line is not supposed to be off-limits unless it’s specified by the military,” says Getty. “There is an elevated road that’s off-limits, but the coast is not supposed to be off-limits. I’ve been there many times. It’s not a sensitive area and it’s not any more dangerous than any other area around the Golden Gate.”
You can see an outline of the area in question in the screenshot below, provided by Mr. Getty:
The letter Getty received from the Golden Gate District disagrees with Getty’s assertion that he was not doing anything wrong. It claims that Getty was on restricted, “non-public” property on January 31st, 2018—because that is the date of the last super moon—and that the photographer’s presence on this land constitutes “an actionable trespass.”
The District goes on to claim any profits that Getty has made selling the photo, which is still available for purchase as a print through his website.
You can read the full letter below:
The more information you have, the more convoluted the situation quickly becomes. If Mr. Getty took the photo from actual non-public, restricted property then the District is within its rights to send the cease and desist. However, the date of the alleged trespass is based on the image of the moon, which wasn’t even taken from that spot and may have been taken in 2016.
Getty, meanwhile, maintains that he wasn’t trespassing in the first place. The other side of the bridge also has chain link fencing, but it seems clear to Getty that the shore is not off-limits there.
“Here are two photos taken with my camera positioned just on the other side of the sign that says where you cannot go,” says Getty. “So are these illegal angles because I’m pointing past the sign, but I’m not on the other side of the sign?”
You can see the sign in question in the video below:
Ultimately, Getty sees this as an attempt by the District to make money from photographers like himself. On its website, the Bridge District makes it clear that it “does not have the authority to levy taxes,” and so the district operates entirely off of bridge tolls, transit fares, and government subsidies.
“I’m not just some punk kid breaking the rules. I represent the San Francisco Bay area and promote it like nobody’s business. I don’t disrespected it in any way, especially the bridge—people come from all over the world to see the bridge because of me and other people like me.” Getty tells PetaPixel. “They’re just hurting for money.”
In addition to a very strongly worded warning about ever “trespassing” on the District’s non-public land again, the Golden Gate District’s letter demands that Getty pull down the photo in question. Thus far, he has refused to do so, though he says that he’s not made any money selling prints of this particular shot.
We’ve reached out to a representative at the Golden Gate Bridge District for comment, and will update this piece if and when we hear back.
UPDATE: Paolo Cosulich-Schwartz, the Public Affairs Manager for the Golden Gate Bridge District, responded to our request for comment with the statement below:
Keeping the public safe is our top priority at the Golden Gate Bridge, and we take trespassing very seriously. For security reasons, some areas at the Bridge are off-limits to the public and are clearly marked with signage, security gates, and fencing to let people know that trespassing in these areas is prohibited. By law, people found trespassing in these security sensitive areas face removal, citation, and fines along with deletion of any photographs or videos taken from the restricted areas.
We know many visitors want to capture images of the beloved and iconic Golden Gate Bridge, and we offer ample public access areas on and around the Bridge for the public to enjoy and take photos for personal use.
Image credits: Photos by Bruce Getty, used with permission.