Photography tinman Gallery logo by  keith o'connor
Keith O'Connor
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 subjects.

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.

Keith O'Connor

2008 Oct.

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.