i wish i was more of a jerk

I wish I was more of a jerk. I probably would be a better photographer.  Unfortunately, at least for my image output, I actually have some manners.  These were taught to me as a kid, and like so many annoying things your parents taught you that you mightily discounted in adolescence (otherwise known as the “jerk years”),  they turned out to be both entirely true and useful in adulthood.  We’re not talking about what fork to use at a fancy dinner party here, but concepts like simple table manners, waiting in line, taking turns, thanking people when they do something nice for you, and not making a scene.  Not being a jerk, basically.  It’s not easy for me and it never really came naturally (I think I was born a fairly selfish and jerky person) but I do try.

So what does this have to with photography? Quite a bit, actually.  Because since I started carrying a good camera around, I’ve been noticing that my artistic impulses are in serious conflict with my desire to Behave Myself In Public.  It’s one thing to sneak a shot with the phone camera when you are pretending to engage in the almost universal modern pastime of “messing around with your phone”, but it’s another to haul out a Big Black Camera, or even one of the Fujis, and start pointing it at people.

It was bad enough to not get a shot of the man I saw in a restaurant a few weeks ago: he had his hair in a bun and horn rimmed glasses and the most elegant wrists and would have been a perfect model for a character in a prose story I am working on.  But he was sitting at the next table at a nice restaurant with tablecloths and rum drinks and just, no.  Even though I had the big Pentax with the excellent fast portrait lens mounted right on it sitting in my bag between my feet and the shot would have been good, I know it would have … still, no.  Even after a couple of rum drinks

But today’s situation was even worse.  I was walking around the neighborhood architecturalizing  with the new Fuji, and I came across a guy sleeping on a porch.  Awesome shot, right there: great porch furniture, interesting railing, guy was wearing clothes that were exactly the right colors to make a good composition, ideal lighting, perfect camera with the perfect lens for the job.  It was the middle of the afternoon.  My subject was dead to the world asleep. No one else was outside. No passing cars.  Not just no one to stop me, no one to see me doing it. I stood there for what felt like a long time: just me, and the Fuji, and the absolute knowledge that it is Terribly Rude to take a picture of anybody you don’t know really well when they are asleep.

You want to take a picture of somebody in the street when they can see you coming with the camera, and they don’t kick up a fuss, that’s fair.  But not when they are asleep on a porch.  Even if it would potentially make an excellent photograph and if you didn’t show it around town nobody would ever know.

So that’s why there’s no photograph here to illustrate this post. And why I sometimes wish I was more of a jerk.

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4 Responses to i wish i was more of a jerk

  1. w.kier says:

    I feel your pain. Really. I have the same problem over and over and over. I’ve even thought of buying a little point-and-click just for people. Great article, and if you find a way to be a polite jerk, please be sure to let me in on it!

  2. Pam Bliss says:

    Unfortunately, while this was written with the tongue in cheek, I see the conflict as a very real one that I have to live with every day–and you do too, it seems. I can only that I’d rather go to bed a fed-up photog regretting a lost shot than a guilty person with no self control who has behaved like a jerk and knows it.

    That said, there’s definitely a strong argument in favor of getting a small, inconspicuous camera for street style work. People react way differently to a point and shoot or a small retro camera than they do to a Big Black DSLR.

    (Sorry for the delay I getting this comment approved–I forgot I had to do it by hand the first few times!)

  3. I understand your dilemma. I rarely do any life drawing of real people on the street because I feel like a weirdo. That being said, I think your reason for taking the pictures makes you not a jerk (that is if you would have taken that sleeping guy shot). If you were using the pictures for some nefarious purpose. Like to make gobs of money off his misery or embarrassment that would be jerky, but taking a reference picture for private no-nefarious artistic use seems pretty gold-hearted to me.

  4. Pam Bliss says:

    I actualy think you can get away with a little more with a sketchbook than with a camera. If you keep a couple different drawings going at once, you probably won’t be staring at any one person long enough to get caught. Plus people are generally super impressed with anyone who can sketch from life and may well be flattered by you drawing.

    I hadn’t thought of the “I only want to use the photo as an art reference! ” justification. I was in full on photographer mode, and frankly if the pic had turned out as good as I thought it might, the temptation to show it off would have been overwhelming!

    In the end, I went by the Golden Rule: if I happened to fall aleep in public, would I want somebody to photograph me? Probably not, no matter how artistic the finished pic ended up being.

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