Bee rider

Bee rider
Canon PowerShot S95

What are your thoughts about photographing children on the street?

Before I moved out of Indianapolis, I went to the State Fair every summer. I enjoyed it in its own right, but I also enjoyed practicing street photography there. Lots of people bring cameras to the State Fair, so I never stood out. I prefer not to be noticed when I make photographs in public.

The midway rides offer good opportunities to catch faces full of emotion. Most of those people are children. I didn’t used to think anything of photographing children, but I’ve since changed my mind. I finally realized that if someone had photographed my children on the street when they were small, I wouldn’t have liked it one bit.

It comes from a fatherly feeling of needing to protect my children. But protect them from what? Someone on the street with a camera probably has positive intentions and is harmless — like me, by the way, if you ever see me on the street with a camera! I suppose some creeps might photograph children on the street for their own sick purposes, but I can’t imagine it’s the common case.

As an adult, if some stranger photographs me on the street and I don’t want to be photographed, I can do something about it. I can ask them to stop, or leave. I suppose I could tell them off, or punch them in the mouth, or call the police on them — probably not the best responses, but you get my point: there are things I can do.

Children lack that agency. When I aim my camera at them, they are at my mercy. So I don’t do it anymore. I will photograph scenes where children happen to be in it, along with adults. But I don’t make photographs like this one anymore.

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Essay, Photography

single frame: Bee rider

A girl riding at the State Fair.

Photography, Stories Told

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.

Stories Told

On blogging and privacy

I have three sons. None of them feature on my blog.

While most of this blog’s posts are about photography and history, sometimes I tell stories from my life. I try to lay myself bare in them, to go right to the places where I struggle and am scared, because I think that’s interesting. I like to read stuff like that, and based on the comments you leave, so do you. And so I’ve told you about deep depression and a time I contemplated suicide, about resentment and pain after my divorce, about struggling to let go as my sons grow up and prepare to leave home, and even about the time I got fired.

Penelope Trunk

I model these posts after the blogs of Penelope Trunk and James Altucher, who tell startling things about themselves and the people close to them as a means of giving life and career advice. It’s usually interesting — and sometimes as compelling as a train wreck. Both hold radical positions that privacy is outmoded. Because all of us have broken places and messy lives, their thinking goes, to improve our lives we must first embrace who and where we are. We’re all bozos on this bus; we are only as sick as our secrets.

James Altucher

I have a lower need for privacy than the average person. But I can’t go as far as Trunk or Altucher. I have stories I won’t tell here, no matter how interesting.

I’ve told you a little bit about my sons and even my ex-wife, such as hereherehere, and here. But I never name them, never give details about them, never show photos of them. Well, you have seen the backs of my sons’ heads a few times in photos. But you know nothing important about these people from me.

Calling my older son a chip off the old block is no exaggeration. His personality is startlingly similar to mine. But there’s one crucial exception: he is deeply private. He recently cancelled his Facebook account because mom kept posting photos with him in them. Seems harmless to me, but he is clear: that’s over the line. So’s this paragraph, probably; I beg his pardon. Point is, my sons have a right to their privacy. So does my ex.

I wrote several times last year about the brutal time in my life after my wife said it was over. (Here, here, here, and here.) I deliberately framed those stories to focus on me and experiences only I had. There are so many more interesting, even shocking, stories to tell of some breathtakingly destructive things my ex … and I … did to bring our marriage down. I learned so much from those times in my life, and I could write some really compelling posts that would really reach you. But this is tricky territory, for three reasons.

First: I don’t want professional colleagues or someone who might want to hire me to read these stories. My co-workers sometimes find my blog and say something to me about what they read. Some things that happened don’t need to be part of any at-work conversation. Penelope Trunk and James Altucher arrange their lives and careers around their blogs, which I think frees them. That’s not where I am.

Second: I don’t want my sons to read these stories. I’ve told them what I feel is appropriate for them to know. I’ve been pretty open about my part in it, actually, but I’ve done little more than vaguely wave my hands past “bad stuff” their mom did. Those are her stories to tell. Regardless, the first place they hear these stories should not be from their dad’s blog.

Third, and most importantly: No matter how balanced I would be in telling these stories, they would be from my perspective. My ex’s reality was probably different. The truth probably lies in the middle more often than I’d like to admit. And I’m not going to drag anybody through the mud here, even if it is the truth from my perspective, no matter how interesting it might be to read.

Maybe one day, when we’re all a lot older and these stories are of antiquity, I’ll change my mind and tell them. I’d like to tell them. But not now.