Camera in hand, trying to act inconspicuous

Down the Road is on hiatus, returning Monday, 26 September. I’m rerunning old posts in the meantime.

I wish I had a cloak of invisibility. Whenever I grab a camera and head out to shoot, I don’t want to be bothered or even noticed.

Because I take so many pictures along the roadside, drivers frequently stop and ask me if my car has broken down. I used to try to explain, but that seemed to just confuse the good Samaritans. So now I just smile and say, “No, everything’s fine!” and turn back to what I’m doing. But I still haven’t figured out what to say to people who ask questions when I’m in town shooting with my vintage cameras.

When I was shooting with my Argus A2B last year, I stopped for a cheeseburger and noticed that the adjacent strip mall had some good photographic possibilities. I shot several photos there, including this one of a check-cashing place. A man immediately came running out and, clearly agitated, asked me what I was doing. I showed him my 60-year-old camera and briefly explained my hobby. He shook his head and said, “Don’t you think that’s a little strange?” I was gobsmacked, and I just walked away from him. When I reached my car, I turned back to look and he was still standing there, watching me. It makes me wonder what he was trying to hide.

Legal loansharking

When I was shooting with my Pentax K1000 not long ago, I burned off the last few shots on my first roll of film in the parking lot at work. I was looking for colorful cars to shoot, which isn’t easy these days given that the most popular colors are white, black, and endless shades of beige. I liked this shot of a Jeep’s headlight best.

Jeep light

The next day, the company that manages our office park sent out an e-mail saying that they had received several reports of a suspicious dark-haired Caucasian male wandering the parking lot photographing cars, and that if he is seen again to call local police. Don’t they know I’m harmless?

I did attract police attention once. I was out exploring the many old alignments of Indiana’s State Road 37 south of Indianapolis one spring day in 2007. As one old alignment curved to meet modern SR 37, I noticed a sliver of old road beyond. Naturally, I drove onto it to see where it led.

Old SR 37

I was thrilled to find an old bridge back there. It was a simple concrete affair, typical of bridges built by the Indiana highway department in the 1920s and 1930s.

Abandoned bridge

I lingered on the bridge. It was peaceful back there, though I could hear the cars whizzing by on modern SR 37. The road from the bridge ended in somebody’s driveway, and there was a little gravel path connecting it to modern SR 37. It let a police car in while I was back there. It was just before the police arrived that I noticed that “Private Property, Keep Out” sign. Now, I heed “No Trespassing” and “Private Property” signs when I go exploring. I don’t want any trouble, and I empathize with property owners not wanting strangers traipsing around on their land. But this sign faced the road; you wouldn’t see it unless you stopped next to it and looked right at it, as I did. I hoped that it meant only that the land behind it was private property. But when the police car arrived and hovered anxiously, I realized that this was not the case. The property owner probably called the cops on me. I turned around and hightailed it out of there. Fortunately, the officer let me be chased off.

I’m too old for this kind of excitement.

Shaken but not deterred, I kept exploring the old alignments of SR 37 that day. Where another old alignment curved to meet modern SR 37, another sliver of the old road stretched out beyond. This time, the property owners did a much better job of marking their territory.

Do you think they wanted me to stay out?

You’d better believe I didn’t drive in there.


5 responses to “Camera in hand, trying to act inconspicuous”

  1. Terry Avatar

    You struck a nerve with your comment about looking for “colorful cars” to shoot. Sit at any intersection and watch the cars – black, white, silver, drab, drab drab. It is a pet peeve of mine. :-)

  2. Carlos Galo Avatar
    Carlos Galo

    These days you are considered spy or terrorist if people see you carrying a camera. There’s not enjoyment shooting a camera anymore. Every one is suspicious. Happened to me too. There is no more fun anymore.

  3. hmunro Avatar

    YIKES, Jim! But hats off to you for continuing your photographic pursuits anyway — and for later respecting the sign that marked the end of this particular adventure. You’re both an inspiration for more timid photographers, and an excellent ambassador for those who are perhaps too bold.

  4. paulwaynemoore Avatar

    innocent curiosity, shame of those that spoil it. Thank you for sharing I too would be interested to know what was around the bend if it clearly gave me the way.

  5. roykarlsvik Avatar

    I have read this one before, Jim, but always interesting to compare a bit between the two continents. I am also waiting to see what you post after your trip over to this bits of the world and what experience you get out of it.
    Overall I think it seems a bit easier to carry a camera over here, but that might just be wishful thinking. There have been times I have felt that maybe I’m a little bit in the wrong place with that camera, but I have never been challenged or asked questions about what I’m doing. Maybe I have not tried hard enough :))
    Great post, and a nice tiny bridge that one.

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