This isn’t as much a confession as it is a retelling of an irritating, yet eye-opening experience I had about five years ago (my second year as a serious photographer). However my thoughts after the event are what led me to the title, “Shooting In Black & White”, of which I’m sure you’ll understand shortly (besides, it’s been a bit since I blogged about photography).
If you read my post back in August, “My 10 Commandments As A Photographer” you might remember my 4th commandment: “Remember The Scheduled Day And Keep Your Commitment” (thank God I didn’t get struck by lightning for blasphemy, although that would have been a great shot for anyone nearby with a camera). The following tale partly serves as its inspiration…
Let’s get to it, shall we?
I was scheduled to meet with a couple and their recently turned one-year-old son at a shopping complex in Columbus, Ohio. Our appointment time was 10 a.m. (with mall security’s permission). This time was great because it was before the crowds could fill the scene, making the shoot quite difficult for the trick photography we had planned. They wanted a “Clark Kent / Superman” themed photo shoot, as we had just photographed his birthday party of the same theme.
I suggested this center as the location because it had one of the few remaining telephone booths. As an added bonus, it was colored red, one of Superman’s colors.
In fact, this was the location of my first “model” shoot (before I even got serious about photography).
My plan was to take shots of him in flight poses, with his father holding him up. I would take several shots and edit out his father to give the appearance of him flying alone, out of the booth. We were going to take a few shots beforehand, with him removing his shirt and glasses while in the booth.
Even though I was young in photography and still learning, I was proud of this project.
Of course you always wish you knew back then, what you know now.
The bottom right picture (above) wasn’t used, but that was the bold color scheme.
Here is a mid-edited, unfinished test shot before we scrapped the “flight” idea. He got a little nervous being held high (and tossed a few inches) even when his mother tried it. I’m also a believer that a photo shoot should never put anyone at risk, especially children (so his father crouched beneath). We never got around to changing his direction so he could fly OUT of the booth. Shame. I liked where we were headed.
We had a great shoot, but I was a little frustrated because of what had transpired a month prior, which is the real story. This shoot had been rescheduled because they had to cancel, the day of the original session. Actually, I was notified about 60 minutes after the shoot appointment time. Don’t get me wrong, things happen and I wasn’t angry with the family, just a tad perturbed that I didn’t know until so late after the arranged time. Still, it was my decision to wait for so long, although nowadays, I do discuss a cut-off time with my clients. No, what bothered me, and still does a bit to this day, is what happened after…
[Insert Quentin Tarantino “Time Jump” heading]
ONE MONTH BEFORE…
I decided to kill some time after the phone call to postpone and take a few pictures of the surrounding area for future ideas. I did so for about 15 minutes, then packed up to head home. When I reached the corner of the block before the parking lot I was stopped by two security guards who asked if they could “speak with me for a minute”. As they asked what I was photographing, I politely answered while respectfully adding that I wasn’t doing anything wrong, nor anything different than any other photographer. While we were talking, two security cars pulled up, along with 4 other security guards on bike and foot. I soon found myself surrounded by them in a semi-circle against a window full of restaurant customers. When they asked if they could see pictures, I reminded that I didn’t have to show them, but agreed to, so as to deescalate the brewing situation.
At this point, I’m sure you’re thinking that I should have exercised my right and refused, but I thought quickly and heavily about the big picture. Attempting to walk away would only have led to detainment and possible banning from the mall area as a photographer, whether or not I was within my rights.
…and I really like shooting there.
Of course I could have gone the route of The Defiant Ones (I love movie titles), then taken legal action, but I didn’t think all of that was worth the hassle, especially since I could simply speak with mall management and voice my concern. But trust me, “ghetto” Kenny wanted to tell them to do something that was anatomically impossible and walk off. No disrespect, but that’s what I was feeling in the moment.
Before showing them, I asked why it was so important that they see my photos and they answered that they had received THREE phone calls that “I” was taking pictures of little children (which is funny, not-funny, because I was photographing buildings for background ideas, not the play area). After explaining the canceled photo shoot and informing them that I was enraged at the accusation, I showed them the photos, which I refused to delete. They apologized and explained that three weeks prior, someone HAD been taking pictures of little girls, to which I answered, “man with a camera doesn’t always mean PERVERT”. By this point, there were onlookers, video recording with their smartphones from across the street. This prompted me to mention that this all was ridiculous, acknowledging the unnecessary amount of guards “in my face”, as I put it. I hadn’t gotten very far into voicing my dissatisfaction before an older white man across the street yelled, “they wouldn’t be doing this if you were a small WHITE woman!”
That was interesting because there was a tall white woman leaving with a camera when I first arrived.
That honestly made me think. WAS general appearance, specifically RACE, a factor? Would that have happened if I was a younger, smaller-framed caucasian female? What if I was just a black female? I shared the occurrence with several colleagues in photography and several agreed that my classifications could very well have been a factor and they were confident it wouldn’t have happened to them. It’s actually kind of funny, as well as mildly comforting, when someone who ISN’T black, references the term “white privilege”.
I thought back on the times in Florida and Maryland when people (in groups) used to walk “across the street” when I walked towards them on dimly lit streets. I even called home once and told my mother, questioning why. She simply told me to put my hoodie on (years before the Trayvon Martin tragedy, may he rest in peace), turn off the bathroom light and look in the mirror. She then asked me what I would do if I saw him coming towards me.
Damn. I was 6′ tall and broad-shouldered; larger than I was during my college years because I had begun working out and had quickly filled in the “bony” gaps. It wasn’t personal, it was the appearance. But to me, that MADE it personal. I would sooner HUG a stranger than snarl at him. But that’s not what others perceived. Hell, one time, while walking down the sidewalk, a woman in her car quickly slapped the lock down on her car door as I walked by. Without even stopping or looking at her, I told her that it wouldn’t work unless her window was rolled up. So yeah, I guess a large man with a tiny camera can look a bit awkward. Sad and wrong, but true.
But don’t tell me that my skin color is never a factor. Whether or not it applied to this incident.
Ok, back to the story…
I could tell that the guards were now beginning to realize how this was starting to look to passersby. Here I was, a very large-framed (in fact, quite overweight), limping, 47-year-old who wasn’t going to run if lions were chasing him, dealing with a situation that could easily have been resolved with a simple Q&A with just one person.
They let me go, apologizing again as I shook my head and walked away after asking for management’s contact information.
I later contacted management and we discussed the matter, which led to more apologies (truth-be-told, at this point, unless you’re going to give me a $2,500 shopping spree to your center and several Cameron Mitchell dinners for two, I don’t really need any more “sorrys”). They did offer information that I should have been told the first time around. They said commercial photography was not permitted without prior consent of management and that people have been known to photograph businesses in preparation for robberies. Now THAT would have gone much smoother with me during the confrontation and it didn’t require the entire Cincinnati Bengals offensive line to be present.
In the end, for my trouble they granted me permission to shoot exclusively in the morning, before businesses opened and without interruption so we could have an effective session, which I did appreciate. And as I mentioned before, I was now in their good graces, should I decide to shoot in the future. I definitely didn’t want to lose the freedom to shoot there after hours, either.
Since the event, I’ve received mixed opinions on how people would have responded but in the end, they all understood and agreed that my approach was best for me and my needs. Besides, I’d be more inclined to have a discussion with the so-called “whistle blowers” who felt it their civic duty to call the authorities on me to begin with. The number of calls is what bothered me more than anything else.
In the end, we had a good shoot. It’s just unfortunate that I had to be reminded of a personal phrase that I taught my children years ago (my personal phrase, so pay me royalties if you use it):
“Try as you might to see the world in shades of gray, on some days, some of those shades choose to become one of two colors. You know what they are…”
I think no one has said it before, at least not in that context.
I’d love to think that that was an isolated incident and will never happen to me or anyone else again. But as idealistic as I am, I need to be realistic, for myself and my children. You see it’s happened to me before, in various situations, and to my friends. Even so far as being contacted “in confidence” and informed that some people didn’t want to hire me, because of my color. I can, but won’t go into those tales. This should suffice.
Anyway, thankfully this doesn’t happen often, although it HAS happened more than once, a lot more overt. That’s why I’m always on alert, because this is what can happen, when “shooting in black or white”.
Like what you read? Leave a comment and follow my blog (at the bottom)!
Feel free to spread the word by sharing with those who can benefit from this.
And let me know if there’s any particular subject that you’d like me to cover in future posts!