Mailbag

– Item 1.  Teacher of first grade class asked permission to use photographs from the web to give students stimulus for drawings.  Hopefully I’ll get to see what the kids came up with next week.

– Item 2. There were a bunch of people out this morning taking pictures of the snowstorm.  Mostly with point & shoots.  I was on third ave. under an awning.  Just waiting / hoping something would happen.

One guy did yell at me because he thought I was taking his picture (which I wasn’t).  “Don’t put me in the frame.”

– I’m not.

– Well it looked like you were.

– I wasn’t.

– Then how come you were pointing the camera wherever I went.

– Just chance I guess.

– Well so long as I’m not in the frame.  You shouldn’t take pictures of people without their permission anyway.

– Whatever you say, sir.

– Can I see what you took pictures of?

– No.

– Why not?

– Why not… because I don’t feel like showing them to you.  That’s why not.

Of course this is an idiotic conversation but it happens now and then.  Main thing is to size up your potential opponent and he was skinny and well-dressed, and I just couldn’t imagine he’d want to get his nice suit ruined in a scuffle.

I put the camera to my eye and continued to take pictures.  No, not of him, but of whatever caught my eye and then he knocked on the window of the diner (that was closed) near where I was standing.  I hadn’t moved and so could hear the conversation.  It was something about his desire to get a takeout menu.  The guy in the diner said they weren’t putting the menus out because they’d get soaked.

But did they have any dry ones inside that he could have?

No.  The diner guy didn’t know where they were.

Long pause while paranoid menu seeker thinks it over, and then he turns and goes to hail a cab which is impossible in this weather.  Nothing is working out for him.  A guy in a dirty yellow parka might be taking his picture. He can’t get a menu.  He can’t get a cab.  So now he crosses the avenue and disappears into a Korean Deli (open 24 hours).  He walked out a few minutes later with a supersized bouquet of flowers that he can almost hide behind and tries to get a cab from the other side of the street.  No luck.  The flowers aren’t wrapped well  and are drooping.

He must have walked into frame of one of the point and shooters (using flash) on the other side of the street, because now I see him talking to this high-school student guy who had been taking pictures of third ave. in the snow when I first came downstairs.  And the guy with the wilting flowers is yelling at the student. I can’t hear what he’s saying, sort of a high squeaky voice, but I see him gesticulating.

I’m guessing that he wants to see whether he was caught in any of the shots because he’s trying to get the camera away from the kid, and he makes a grab for it and drops the flowers in the snow.

The kid grabs the camera back and gives the guy a push – just a slight push – and the guy slips in the snow and falls on the flowers.  The kid with the point and shoot walks off with some of his friends who have come by to see what was going on and the “don’t put me in the picture” guy with the now crush and wet flowers has become the center of attention.   He slips again while trying to bend over to pick up the flowers and almost falls.  Regains his balance.

Now he heads back to my side of the street and crosses while traffic is coming up third, and he almost gets hit by a car which swerves so as not to hit him and at that point I do put the camera to my eye but just miss what could have been a great shot because when the first car swerved, it causes another car to switch lanes and there’s almost a second accident.

Anyway – the whole thing was pretty strange; and as I say – I’ve really only come across one or two people who were willing to get into something physical because they thought I had taken their picture, though I did once have a cop called on me for taking a picture of an apartment building.  It’s always the stuff you just never expect that turns into something.

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Dave

My name is Dave Beckerman. I am a photographer and programmer working in New York City.

6 thoughts on “Mailbag”

  1. Dave – The whole “people coming up to you while shooting” situation is certainly a topic to talk about for any street or urban photographer. Well, actually, any place you might bump into another human being.

    I was shooting in downtown San Francisco, at night and in the rain. For a city shot I decided to use the weather to accentuate reflections of neon in the rain slicked streets from a series of “gentlemen’s clubs” that line a well traveled tourist area downtown.

    A young man comes up to me asks me what I’m shooting. I say the “strip clubs”. He says he wants to see what I’m shooting. I ask why. He explains that he lives above the strip clubs and wants to see if I’m taking pictures of him. Ugh. Why on earth would I go out in the middle of the night, in the rain, stand in the street with a camera and tripod and take pictures of him – and somehow actually photograph him within his apartment from street level? I give him an emphatic “no” and tell him I’m in my legal right to do what I’m doing and tell him to call the police if he has problem with it. At this point I’m pissed and I’m not feeling like being the “nice” accommodating photographer.

    He then says how would I feel if someone showed up at my house and started taking pictures. At this point I just had to laugh. Um, I don’t live in a ramshackle apartment above strip clubs in a well traveled tourist area of a major metropolitan city. You know how many people take pictures of his building every day? What is this guy on? No one cares about taking pictures of my house and if someone showed up camera and tripod in hand – have at it.

    I’m beginning to think that he was concerned I somehow captured him doing something illegal or he was in fact “on” something. At this point I was growing more pissed and just said either leave me alone or I’ll call the police, leaving him with my “get out my business or else” look. He backed off and left.

    I just dont feel a need to be “nice” when it comes to people approaching me when I’m working. It’s optional and up to me – being nice and answering questions that is. If I’m in a public place and within my rights to take pictures I dont have to say or do anything to explain myself.

    Having said that I realize that it maybe better to sweet talk an over zealous, self important security guard from time to time rather than have him harass you or worse. It’s less hassle and you’ll likely get what you came for.

    I think in part my developing attitude towards bystander inquiry stems in part from being approached on a number of occasions by security personnel, subway employees and even the Harbor Master in Honolulu if you can believe it. They all want to know what I’m doing…which of course is obvious…I’m taking pictures. They all view this with suspicion as if after 9/11 some memo went out saying be suspicious of “middle aged men with big cameras and tripods”. It really is just plain ridiculous to think someone with I’ll intent would make such an obvious spectacle of themselves taking pictures. Especially when much of this information is available via Google Earth. A terrorist doesn’t even have to leave his lair to “stakeout” a target.

    It’s interesting how we walk anonymously threw large cities like San Francisco and New York every day no one bothering to say hello or even acknowledge your presence. But pull out a camera and tripod and you’ll attract attention and human interaction whether you want it or not.

  2. My own reaction depends on mood as well as how I’m approached.

    Yes it is incredibly stupid to think the terrorists are going to setup in a public place with a tripod or even a dslr. But since 9/11 people ESP. Security guards feel that they have a duty to interogate you.

    It happened a few weeks ago when I was sply shooting a street sign to dou hdr thing for a client.

    A few weeks before that I was shooting a well known landmark for another client. This te I was actually approached by security guards fr THREE buildings.

    Yes I had tripod and long lens. Actually I was shooting infrared. In general of you are polite with guys and explain what you’re doing they eventually leave you alone. Some are even sheepish about what they’re forced to do.

    But if they giver a hard time I will give them a hard time and have them call a cop.

    I’ve done this three or four times and was always supported by the police.

    People are just crazy paranoid. And of you ever want to really get a reaction try taking a nice HCB type shot of a kid running with a bottle of wine.

    As we say in NYC fergetaboutit.
    DB

  3. Parts of this post remind me, somewhat,
    of those old books by Carlos Casteneda.

    It’s something to do with his, and your,
    ability to write up a street process in
    detail.

    People tell me that you can hire very
    good ghost writers from the Philipines
    to write on all manner of subjects. Do
    they have interior decorators in the
    Philipines, I have no idea?

    But say you found a real interior
    designer from New York and helped them
    set up a blog with links back to your
    main site, plus a few suitable articles
    about how your prints may be used. . .

    Wouldn’t that be something?

    Stephen

  4. At least you don’t have Buddy leaning over your shoulder asking “whaddaya doin?” when you’re working away in lightroom.

    My kids are always asking priceless questions like :
    -Why do you have so many pictures of that thing/place?
    -Why did you take a picture of him and not me?
    -Don’t you already have a picture of the dog?
    And so on…

    I shouldn’t complain about them though since they don’t have me on any kind of watch list …yet.

    😉

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