A couple months ago I was giving my friend Karl shit about one of the pictures in his otherwise excellent play series (click here for the linkPlay series) “Bumper cars don’t interest me, its not up to the level of the others and come on, fucking fairs are in the nude self portrait level of ‘over exposure’. Not to say that I haven’t done it, and may do again, but its been done to death”. True to my word, this saturday I went to the tri county fair ready to flog that horse corpse. I paid 10 dollars, took a couple pictures and then went into the animal barn. I saw this boy who had his face painted to look like a zombie. He was racing other kids on these wierd little john deer tractor trikes. I stood there with my camera over my shoulder waiting for him to get off the ride. He finished the race and I stopped him “Are you a little zombie? Can I take your picture” he seemed confused but he didn’t object so I took his photo, I thanked him and off he went. I was approached by a teenage fair volunteer. She asked me if I was with the paper and I said no, she said that “well there’s been some trouble and we don’t want anyone but newspaper people taking pictures” I told her that I was a photographer and she shouldn’t worry about it and walked away.
A couple of months ago I was taking pictures at Revere beach and I was stopped by a lifeguard he said something to the effect of “You see this is a public beach so you can’t take pictures” I was so angry at that nonsensical statement that I blew up at him. When well meaning but uninformed people tell me I’m breaking some law that dosen’t exist I get electrified, I tighten my fists and start talking high and fast. The reason people think I’m doing something wrong is because I’m an odd sight, man with giant wierd camera approaching strangers, and because its not something they see everyday they assume its wrong and try to stop me. I point out how there is alot of people taking pictures, either with little point and shoots or their cell phones, and the only reason they are singling me out is that I have a different camera. Sometimes I say that if it was my perogitive, I could be taking pictures secretly and no one would ever know, and that in contrast I am very open about what I’m doing, I ask permission and answer questions, and that actually is the least creepy way of photographing people. Anyways I yelled at him “I don’t have to listen to people who don’t know what they’re fucking talking about” and walked away in a huff.
So with with that in mind I thought that just brushing the volunteer off was better by comparison, I wandered into the oxen pull, and watching it I understood why PETA was protesting it. I don’t know how much the oxen care when they are being whipped and yelled at while trying to pull cement logs several feet, but it didn’t seem like the most ethical form of (dubious) entertainment. I photographed some teens waiting for the Tiger show (which was super lame, they had the tigers ‘waltz’ to a midi version of ‘my heart will go on’) and took some pictures at the Polish food stand, being half Pole myself nothing makes me happier than a sign proudly advertsing ‘Golumbki’
I was reloading the rollei when I was approached by two police officers. They asked me if I had photographed a child, I said yes, they asked for ID, and while one of them radioed my information the other asked me why I was taking pictures. I never know what to say to that question, ‘I take pictures because I’m a photographer… no… I don’t work for anybody, no I don’t really show them anywhere…’ Thinking about it now, theres no normal reason why I take pictures of people other than my friends and family. I remember one year for christmas I gave my grandmother a framed print of a kid in the ocean gathering water with a bucket for his sandcastle. She didn’t understand, was this a picture of me? No, just some kid. “Why would I want a picture of some stranger in my house” The whole family laughed at me, and I decided to never again expose my art to my relatives.
I was trying to reload my camera and calmly explain myself to the cops, but I couldn’t stop shaking and sweating and dropping things and generally acting like a child pornographer caught redhanded. They told me I was making people uncomfortable, and while I was down on a ground looking for my flash cable (I had to borrow one of their flashlights) they said that I can’t take pictures of children in this day and age, what with all you hear about… Anyways they heard back from headquarters that I wasn’t a known sex criminal, and left me alone. I found my friend Jair and he said that he had heard a guy talking to the police saying “Theres some 35 year old creep taking pictures of kids” and he just knew that creep was me. I wandered off into the midway, still shaking and sweating like a madman. I tried to take some pictures but I was a total mess and people were being nasty. “No I don’t want to end up on the internet” said a man dressed up as a leather fetishist at the battle of the bands, “Of course not” from some laughing teenagers lounging on the grass infront of the ferris wheel. I could barely get the words out, and I was dripping sweat and vibrating. I went behind the race track stands to try and calm down. They were doing truck pulls, which is like the oxen pull but with giant trucks and alot more noise and smoke.
In retrospect the cops were actually pretty cool about it, they were only trying to figure out who I was and what I was up to, but what freaked me out was that people had been complaining about me, suddenly it seemed that everyone was looking at me and whispering ‘creep’ ‘pedophile’ ‘weirdo’ and clutching their children tight as I walked by. I wasn’t a 25 year old art school graduate working on an awesome nightlife project, I was some sweaty pervy 35 year old who plasters the walls of his ramshackle cabin with pictures of children he took while hiding in the bushes, who knows what I could have buried in the backyard.
I took an intro to sociology class, and I found it fascinating. We know these things from our own lives and expierences but reading them in very first chapter of a text book changes the way you think about the world. Social etiquette is enforced by laws, customs and folkways, and when you break these rules they will try to correct this behavior, depending on the offense this could be anything from the gas chamber to the cold shoulder. The nail that sticks up will be hammered down basically. The best way to illustrate these ideas is through extremes so they always bring up the Amish, if you renounce their religon you are completely shunned by the community, even your own family. Maybe to a lesser extent thats what I was feeling, or maybe I was having a little panic attack, I found my sister and I told her I couldn’t stop shaking and she said, “of course, you have the fears”
I had forgotten all about the Fears. Thats what I used to call these ‘states’ I would go into back when I was running around flashing (with my camera not my genitals) people in downtown Boston. I would run up to people take their picture and run away while they screamed at me, the same thing would happen, I would stop to reload, or be on the subway going home and I wouldn’t be able to stop shaking, like I’d just chugged 10 shots of espresso. It was probably that acting like a freak with a camera and being chased around got my adrenaline flowing and when I stopped, my fight or flight response didn’t.
I had forgotten about the fears because it hasn’t happened in years. I’ve gotten so comforatble working this way that I forget how strange it can seem to others. I can’t make the pictures I want if I’m worried about what other people might think, so I try to push it down, not think about it, even when I hear people talking behind my back. To me walking up to people and taking their picture is natural so when I think about people being so distrubed by my actions that they go find a policeman to report me I don’t know what to do. I feel like a pariah because I’m interested in people.
Eventually I calmed down and managed to make some decent pictures, even though I was totally off my game. I think I have to do some more fairs, even if its well trod ground, if I want to make a whole project of night portraits some kids with chickens will break up all the drunk 20 somethings nicely. I could have gone yesterday and today but I devloped my film and licked my emotional wounds in the basement, which funnily enough is plastered with photo’s of children (and adults) much like the lair of a creep you wouldn’t want moving in next door. But no, I can’t think like that, I’m not a creep, I’m an artist goddammit and I’m not gonna let the fears or people’s stares stop me.