Saturday, February 20, 2016

Getting Yelled At For A Photograph

Trash Mover - Tehachapi, California
This driver was upset that I took his picture.
Have you ever been yelled at for photographing? Ever had someone act aggressively towards you for no other reason than taking a picture?

I have.

The first time was about five years ago. I went to Starbucks to get some coffee. I pulled into the parking lot and, since I had a Holga 120N medium-format film camera with me, I decided to snap a picture before heading in.

Just as I clicked the shutter open I heard a voice, "You can't take pictures here! Put your camera away!" I took the camera down from my face and looked to see a Starbucks employee (perhaps the manager) coming towards me.

"I can't take pictures here?" I asked.

"No! It's against our policy," he replied. "Starbucks does not allow people to take pictures on our property. No photography!"

I wanted to point out that where I was standing was not likely Starbucks property, but the property of the shopping center where Starbucks was leasing space. But I decided to let it go and simply answer, "OK."

With that I left. I didn't buy coffee, and I never again returned to that particular Starbucks.

When I got home I researched Starbucks' position on photography. Turns out that they once had a no-photography policy, but by the time I was confronted by an employee their policy had changed. This person apparently never got the memo.

I got the last laugh, however. Holga's are notorious for their light leaks, and somehow "666" managed to get burned into the image from frame six (or perhaps frame nine, I'm not sure). It was completely unexpected, yet perfectly appropriate for this scene.
666 Coffee - Avondale, Arizona
Starbucks didn't want me to capture this image.
A couple of years ago I stopped to photograph an abandoned house in the Mojave Desert. I got out of the car, camera in hand, and began heading towards the house. The place was obviously abandoned and the house was so dilapidated that nobody could live in it even if they wanted to.

Suddenly a voice came booming from behind me, "Hey! Get out of here! You don't belong here!"

I turned to see someone on the other side of a dirt road behind a fence. I didn't even notice the person when I drove up. I held up my camera and replied, "I'm just here to take pictures."

"Get out of here! I'll call the cops," he yelled back, looking quite angry and waving his arms around. "You don't belong here!"

I didn't stay to find out why he was so angry or if he really was planning to get the authorities involved. I left. No big deal. There are tons of other abandoned places in the desert to photograph.
Broken Gate, Broken Home - Mojave, California
An abandoned home near the abandoned place that I didn't get to photograph.
Last month I had to take a load of trash to the local dump. I had my camera with me. After emptying the bed of my pickup truck I decided to capture an image of this tractor that was pushing the garbage around.

As soon as I made an exposure the driver stopped his tractor and yelled down to me to stop taking photographs. "No pictures!" He looked quite upset.

With a smile, I simply responded, "Sorry!" I got into my truck and left.

I never attempt to anger anyone. I don't go around trying to get people mad at me and what I'm doing. I don't want to encounter aggressive people. But no matter how much one tries to avoid it, it's inevitable that someone will act angrily at one's photography. It's going to happen.

When this happens the first rule is to not exacerbate the situation. Don't engage anger with more anger. Don't push the person any further. Even if you are completely in the right and they are completely in the wrong. Have that argument when heads are cool.

A warm smile and calmly spoken polite words can go a million miles towards diffusing a hot situation. Show that you are friendly and intending no harm.

Finally, don't put "getting the picture" above your own safety or above your humanity. If you don't capture the image you want, that's fine. Let it go. It's not worth the risk. There will be other photographic opportunities. Don't be a jerk, even if the other person is being a jerk to you. Just leave. Get the heck out of there! You don't want to be around someone who is that angry.

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