Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hey Fella, Would you Mind...?

Audacious, brash, brazen, daring, disrespectful, forward, impertinent, impudent, presumptuous, rash, rude, shameless, ...

One of my pet peeves, in and out of photography, is what I call the "in your face" approach some people take to get my attention (I am sure I am not alone is despising this phenomenon to the "beyond measurable category" level). I am emphatically not referring to people who are quiet and polite; (which most are, of course); and certainly not those who patiently wait for me to finish whatever it is I am doing - usually hovering over my tripod, bending up and down and sideways, while gesticulating wildly with my elbows trying to find a reasonable composition (my wife refers to my picture-taking process as akin to the wild thrashings of a stark raving mad broken-pretzel) - before introducing themselves.

No, the class of people I am referring to are of a distinct "Hey Fella, Would you mind...?" bent of mind. The kind who - regardless of how busy they must surely see you are (it is hard to be "gesticulating wildly" without at least appearing to be busy doing something ;-) - nonetheless suddenly, brazenly, and anything-but-quietly approach you - often tapping you on the shoulder for good measure, presumably trying to increase their chances of getting your attention - to demand (yes demand!) that you stop what you are doing in order to take their picture. As preposterous as this may sound - come now, people don't really do that, do they? (yes they do!) - this has happened to me for so long, so consistently, in so many different places, that I never go on any of my photo-safaris without expecting (and bracing for) at least one such encounter.

Here is a typical "Hey Fella, Would you mind...?" encounter I had recently on a trip my wife and I took to Grand Cayman island (to get away from it all during Spring break). My wife and I are on the beach in front of our hotel. The sun is setting (with precious few moments left before it disappears below the horizon). I have my tripod set up a few feet from shore, and am attempting to get a few Hiroshi Sugimoto-like (i.e., looooong exposure) shots. I have my trusty Singh-Ray vari-ND neutral density filter screwed on. And I am very much "in the moment"; ticking off the seconds of a shot and anticipating only a few compositional opportunities left before the light disappears for the night.

Behind me, I faintly hear some whispers (though with an obvious urgency). "There are only a few moments left! Get someone!" A family. A man, a woman, and two teenage kids. I hear feet shuffling on the sand, ice sloshing in a glass (a rum punch?); voices getting closer. "He's busy." "So what, the lights going!" Two pairs of feet shuffling now; I also hear a few giggles from the kids. "I can't bother him now!" (A faint glimmer of hope that at least one member of this party has some decency!...but alas...) "He can take his pictures later...ask him, go ask him!" I hear: "Ah, fella, would you mind...?" (I'm not kidding you!) Keep in mind, I'm huddled over my camera, and in the middle of a minute-long exposure. I keep my posture, and say (without lifting my head) - loudly enough for him to hear, but with an even tone - "I'm in the middle of a shot right now; this is not a good time." "But I just heard the shutter; you've taken your shot already!" I can't believe this comment (I sigh, inwardly, but keep my eye at the camera - 45s, 46s, 47s, ... - and remain silent.

I feel a light tap on my shoulder (I am not making this up!) "Hey fella, didn't you hear me? My wife and I would like you to take a picture of our family before the sun goes down." I still - somehow (!) - manage to keep my composure. I remain glued to my camera, but say, firmly this time, "Sir, I am busy right now. Perhaps you can find someone else to take your picture?" I should point out that the beach was filled with people, many of whom had their own cameras; and at least one other person had a tripod (which he was not even using, and was content simply enjoying the sunset view).

The man persists: "Fella, there are only a few minutes left!" An assertion that finally grabs my full attention. I stand upright, look his way, and say - rather angrily I admit - "Yes, I know! I'd very much like to use this time to do my work, if you don't mind!" He doesn't let go: "Hey man, it's just one shot, come on..." Now, I know there must be some Emily Post etiquette behavior guide for situations such as this (there ought to be, if not). I grit my teeth - outwardly trying to smile - take his camera, move in front of the man, his wife, and two giggling teenagers, and tale a quick shot with their camera. "Thanks man," is all I get for my efforts (as I run back to my tripod)...almost. As I prepare to hit the shutter one last time (to capture the shot you see reproduced above), I feel another tap - I can't make this stuff up! - "Hey fella, can you do one more, please, without the kids this time?" At least he said please!

I have dozens of stories very similar to this one. An unforgettable "encounter" happened in Santorini, Greece last year, and involved a German couple who spoke not one word of English (nor I German). That made it both better and worse (and in hindsight - but only in hindsight - hilarious), but I'll leave the details to your imagination :-) There are no deep lessons or morals here, save for the obvious ones: (1) people will be people (on both sides of the camera); (2) always plan for one or two rude people (that way you won't be surprised); and (3) it pays to not lose your cool (had I lost mine, I would not have gotten the one "keeper" of the night, the shot at top).

Postscript. For those kind readers who have, over time, picked up on my penchant for Borgesian/Godelian recursive mysteries, be assured that I did toy with the idea of weaving my tale around an infinite regress induced by my having thrown the "audacious, brash, brazen, daring, disrespectful, forward, impertinent, impudent, presumptuous, rash, rude, shameless,.." man's words right back at him: "Hey fella, would you mind...?" (Which would have made as much sense for me to use on him, as he clearly believed there was in using them on me.) In some unknown universe in the limitless multiverse we occupy an infinitesimally small point in, there is a world, much like our own, where an "encounter" between a photographer and a man wishing the photographer to take a picture of his family never ever ends: Hey fella, would you mind...?, Hey fella, would you mind...?, Hey fella, would you mind...?, ...


Miserere said...

I'm sorry you have to endure this so often. I often get the "could you take a photo of us?--you look like you know what you're doing."

With time, I've learnt to avoid the tourists wandering around looking for a victim photographer, but my radar occasional jams and the duty must be performed :-)

Diane said...

Yep, I've had that happen a time or two, not quite with the persistence of your askers, but never the less it is annoying, disrespectful and rude. I've also had the type of askers that come up to you at just the moment you've framed your shot and ask, "Whattcha photographing? Anything good?" Ugh!! One fellow was talking so much, I gave up on doing any more photography, and simply walked and talked with him along the shore. (since that's what HE seemed to need) I was soon rescued by my husband. This fellow should have known better, he too, was an artist himself.

Don't get me wrong, I do like a friendly chat or a "Hello" every so often, but when you're trying to capture a moment that you've composed in the camera, and that moment is fleeting, all that I ask for is a little respect.

Anonymous said...

HA! I laughed and felt the tension in this. I get it often too and for the most part don't mind but... can be annoying and I'm afraid I wouldn't have handled it as well as you after I said no.

Here's a thought though. Maybe #2 is where the problem lies. If the expectation is there then aren't you ensuring that indeed it will happen?

Bronislaus Janulis / Framewright said...

Well, I guess there is a benefit to being obviously asocial, and possibly something worse, as I'm never bothered. Very late I'm beginning to realize, if I'm not smiling, I scare the hell out of people. Myopic intensity, I guess.


Roy said...

This can be an oh-so-frustrating occurence and it's happened to me a few times, although I have to say never with the brash persistence of your encounter. Perhaps that's an occasional peculiarly American phenomena?

Short of having an assistant/friend accompany you who is willing to field these requests with either a rather imperious "the master is busy right now", or who is willing to do the honours themselves, I've often thought that a good deterrent is to look so eccentric and absorbed that nobody dares approach you.

So the wide-brimmed fedora, flowing black cape lined with red (which doubles as a focusing cloth) and possibly a Dali-esque moustache if you can manage it, usually does the trick.

If anyone still dares to approach you then it is usually sufficient to remain completely silent, not to make eye contact, raise one finger in a non-threatening and non-abusive way and to raise a large old pocket-watch in the other hand whilst gazing intently at your intended subject (real or imaginary).

This usually convinces people that it's probably best not to bother this weirdo any further.

Christoph Hammann said...

Roy's suggestions are all good and pleasingly excentric. A more common and increasingly socially accepted deterrent would be wearing those white earbuds from an iPod or somesuch mp3-player. In some creative situations, I find Jazz or minimalist music supportive, but you could as well leave it off without it loosing it's effect on others.

Sebastian said...

My brother has mentioned this book a few times and your comment about "Borgesian/Godelian recursive mysteries" brought it right into mind. I haven't read it myself yet, but if you're interested in this sort of thing it might be worth checking out :-)


Robert said...

and then there are the people that come up to you and offer they take a picture of you and your family with your camera so that at long last you have a picture of the whole family at your destination (I rarely carry a tripod).
Thank you to the stranger that did this yesterday and gave us our only group shot of the day.