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An American photographer explains how the “laptop ban” hurts his work

“I don’t trust people to not steal my stuff.”

Fliers Lose Laptops at Airport Checkpoints Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Travelers from several Muslim-majority countries can no longer bring most electronic devices on airplanes, the United States and the United Kingdom announced this week. These devices have to be checked into a person’s luggage if they are traveling to the US or the UK.

When Antar H., a black American Muslim photographer who travels around the world for his work, heard about the ban, he said, “I’m not going to let this stop me. I’m going to come up with creative, innovative ways to continue what I’m doing.”

As someone who carries a considerable amount of heavy, expensive equipment and travels internationally for his work, Antar was frustrated, especially since he is currently in the United Arab Emirates, one of the countries affected by this new ban. He shared his thoughts with me about what the ban means to him and his future.

Nesima Aberra

How did you react when you first heard the news of the ban?

Antar H.

When I travel, one of the largest concerns is: How do I protect the massive amount of extremely expensive camera equipment, computers, hard drives that I end up traveling with? For the most part, I’m able to do a carry-on and backpack. Sometimes I have to check certain items in, but for the most part I bring sensitive things with me.

You can imagine my surprise and my chagrin that this ban is on essentially all electronic devices except for a cellphone, which is 95 percent of my luggage. I wear the same three things over and over and wash them, so that keeps the weight down. Everything else is cabling and electronic devices. I bring all this stuff on the plane.

Most airlines won’t insure the equipment. They say it’s your responsibility, we’re not going insure $20,000 worth of gear. Checking those types of things opens you up for theft. I don’t trust people to not steal my stuff. The best way to know they won’t do that is to keep it with you.

Also, I physically do not have the luggage to check my items. It doesn’t exist. I have a carry-on suitcase, duffel, and backpack. Let’s say I wanted to comply with this ban. How do I physically do it? That’s a problem.

My next problem is that most of these airplanes charge you for additional baggage. So I’m going to front the cost of this additional security. If I had one bag, now I have to check my bag with my laptop and they’re going to charge me for checking that, even though it’s mandatory to do so. A Delta flight from the US across the Atlantic, typically they’ll give you one checked bag, but if you already had one, an additional bag is $100.

Nesima Aberra

Exactly what kind of equipment do you travel with regularly?

Antar H.

In my carry-on, I have with me a full-size GoDox photography strobe, which is battery-powered, a light stand, photography umbrella, reflector for that, and an additional reflector.

In my backpack, I have a 15-inch MacBook Pro with power adapter. I also have an adapter/converter, Canon 5d Mark 3, two lenses with that, a Sony A6300 camera, two lenses, another GoDox photography strobe, battery pack for that, respective chargers for the cameras, also photography gimbal stabilizer, a portable Bluetooth speaker, iPad mini 4, set of Sony headphones, set of Powerbeats Bluetooth headphones, DGI Magic Pro drone, three batteries and charger, Seagate 2TB hard drive, 512 GB hard drive, a graphics tablet and pen, and a host of power adapters, aux cables to plug everything in and make it work. And also have portable batteries.

Nesima Aberra

You’re on a pretty extensive trip right now.

Antar H.

I’m currently in Dubai, but my trip started in Toronto. I traveled to Toronto to meet with some friends, shoot some bloggers and social influencers. From Toronto, a client of mine, we have a photo project in Istanbul, so they flew me from Toronto to London because we were going to meet up in London and fly to Istanbul and then come back.

When I have the opportunity, I stretch out my trip to explore and go to other places. I went from Toronto to London for four and five days, then went to Copenhagen and spent a day or two there. I caught a train into Sweden and went to Stockholm for a few days, then flew to Dubai. I arrived in Dubai and am here for about a week for some fashion events.

I’m planning to go to Doha for two days, then Istanbul to do the project; I’m here for three days. Then the plan was to fly from Istanbul to London mostly on Turkish Airlines, because it’s an amazing airline, then fly from London via Amsterdam back to Toronto.

Nesima Aberra

You’ll be traveling out of Dubai in a few days, so what do you plan to do? Are you going to comply with the ban and check your stuff in?

Antar H.

There’s no way. Initially yesterday, I was having a discussion with some people here about the ban like, “Oh, it’s just the US. Oh that’s crazy, we’re absolutely crazy.”

In my mind, I was thinking, “Well, I fly out of London. Obviously the British are following us down this rabbit hole.” So they’ve issued this ban too, and I’m like, “Great, that was how I going to get out of Istanbul.”

So now my plan is to fly to probably Milan or Stockholm, then catch a smaller flight on Ryanair or EasyJet from those countries into London. It’s probably cheaper than the additional cost of checking in luggage. But it’s an additional trip and added route for me.

Nesima Aberra

What do you think about the argument for the security needs for this ban?

Antar H.

People cite security concerns for a lot of things. If you go back through American history, security concerns are a justification for a lot of things that we got away with, from negative racial relations, incarcerating individuals, going to war. I ultimately have issues with conjecture and having to take someone’s word that there is a “credible threat” or whatever.

There’s this implication with these types of bans that everyone else is lazy and unable to protect themselves and the only people that are competent are in US and European countries — like we’re the only ones who are diligent. When you travel around the world and meet other people, when you go to a country that actually has a terrorism problem like Turkey, when you go to places like that, you know that’s historically and fundamentally untrue.

In India, especially in Delhi, when you present your boarding pass, there are armed soldiers. Even though the terminals are relatively connected, if that’s not the door for your airline, then they say, “No, go to the other one.” When you get through, they check you again. They made me pull everything out of that bag. We think we’re the only ones concerned about our well-being, but that’s just not true.

The reality is that when we look at things and people cite security concerns, I think it’s interesting to be concerned with one aspect of security but not another security. When we look at terrorism, the biggest problem is domestic terrorism and it’s from most typically an adult white male. We don’t vilify them, don’t fearmonger, don’t paint them in these broad brushes, but that is the greatest concern for us.

Nesima Aberra

In the long term, what does the ban mean for you?

Antar H.

I’m not going to let this stop me. I’m going to come up with creative, innovative ways to continue what I’m doing. Whether that’s building relationships in countries so I bring less stuff or if I’ve made friends in those regions, we can have shared mutual arrangements where I’ve got access to things for you and you’ve got access to things I need. There are multiple ways to accomplish what you want, but this ban is not moving ultimately in the right direction. We’re creating more hostility toward us internationally.

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