|On being accosted by a
Paris Madam: 2008 Sept
|As a real world street
life photographer I have always tried to be invisible to my subjects.
My concern was with possible emotional volatility on the part of my
subjects towards me. Mostly with encountering unstable men (especially
ones stronger and quicker than myself) - never considered women as a
possible threat. The following story proves otherwise.
|Walking down a Paris Street,
I was taking random pictures with my digital camera in silent mode -
I carry the camera at waist height with my thumb on the switch while
staring blankly into the crowd. This covert method of taking photos
was used by Leon Levinstein; his photographs of New York gave the city
a less-pretentious, human context.
|The Paris Madam was standing
in a doorway and, a few doors down, one of her girls stood in a doorway
reading a news paper.
|In retrospect, the Madam
must have seen my thumb move with the camera pointed in her direction.
She turned (just as I was taking the second picture) and excitedly walked
towards her girls (there were two) waving her arms and yelling something
in French which caused them to quickly run inside. She made enough noise
to attract my attention but I did not understand what was happening.
It was not my concern so I looked elsewhere for interesting subjects.
|As I walked passed her,
the Madam slapped my hand and said in French something to the effect
that I should not take photos like that. Her slap startled me - I looked
down at her retreating hand and up directly into her eyes - a habit
that some artists develop. She backed off, a little startled - she was
shorter and much younger than I am and probably not sure what my reaction
would be. She may have thought she had slapped her grandfather and didn't
quite know what her next
action would be.
|At that moment, I realized
she was a Madam (1) and, for some reason, had become upset at my taking
pictures in such a covert fashion. In my own mind, I was another photo
artist at work trying to graphically feel the soul of the city. She
was part of that collective soul. My status as a member of the faceless
crowd was, for the moment, suspended.
|Within fractions of a second,
she and I had communicated at the perceptual (right brain) level and
came to a non-verbal agreement: she would continue her verbal tirade
in a subdued tone and also wave her finger at me in a chastising fashion.
This enabled her to maintain her dominant position over her girls who
were now hiding indoors. My part of this perceptual agreement was to
smile at her - bob my head while continuing to look at her and saying
"ya ya ya" as I kept walking away. I then turned and looked for more
The pictures by themselves don't tell the whole story.
The left picture shows her in the doorway. You can just see her girl with the newspaper on the on the other side of her - note the knee high boots on her girl.
The right picture (taken just after
she turned) shows her starting to walk towards her girls. There were
two girls. The story is described in the text above the pictures.
|If she had not made such
a fuss, the photos would have remained part of hundreds and may not
have been selected for the final set. I wasn't even sure the pictures
were any good - some are blurred others catch only parts. They were
good and with some cropping and supplementary text they have become
a story unto themselves.
Photos taken in Paris Sept 2008
|(1) I should mention that as a street artist diring the 60's: sketching portraits of night people brought me into contact with some of the most expensive escorts (as well as the inexpensive ones) in my city. This previous experience allowed me to realize the situation once I became conscious of it.|