Vernon

My last post was about subtly taking pictures of people without their permission. This is not the first time I wrote about it and when I have, it usually evokes arguments on both sides. In fact some of them are quite vocal, accusing me of being sneaky, and “invading people’s privacy”. Absolute bullshit! If one is concerned or should I say obsessed with being “politically correct” when you shoot, you will be guaranteed to end up with a days worth of mediocre photographs. Good photographs come from everywhere–meaning you walk, you see you shoot and every now and then–perhaps more often then that you encounter people, get involved and still shoot good photographs. Why should you be restricted to shooting only one way.

Last week I was in Taos Pueblo, NM, wandering through the place looking at the buildings and taking a few shots. All I had ended up with at that point were a few shots of the church–something that was far from original–having being shot thousands of times before by thousands of photographers. I wander into one adobe and saw a photograph of President Nixon shaking hands with a native (The B&W photograph at the top of the photograph).

“Who is that?”  I asked

Vernon replied that the photo was of his father. The land had been seized by the government for some reason back in the ’30s and it was now being returned to them. This little photograph was from the presentation ceremony. Vernon was very friendly and we chatted for a while and I was about to ask him if I could take his picture when I heard a shout from outside the hut.

“David! Help me”. It was my wife telling me to come outside. I ran outside to see her holding  a Kleenex to her scalp. It was stained with blood. She said she had accidentally hit her head on a metal sign that was hanging outside the store. Vernon rushed out with some paper towels, told her to sit on the bench, and press the paper towel to her head. He said the bellied should soon stop, and he was right. He then suggested I go back to the parking lot, get my car and enter through the local entrance, tell them at the gat I was visiting him and picker her up, which I did. By the time I got back, the bleeding had stopped, I put her in the car and was about to drive off to find an emergency clinic. I asked Sharon if it was OK to stop for a quick picture. She said she was fine so I grabbed my camera and returned to the hut. Vernon asked if she was OK and I replied that she was.

“Mind if I take a few shots of you” I asked.

He smiled and told me to go ahead. I snapped a few, thanked him and off we went to the emergency care clinic in Taos. All turned out well. Sharon was fine. I had my shot. Hopefully I will make a print one day, return to Taos and give him the picture.

On the subject of asking permission to photograph people, I think about a third of my shots do not have people in them. Another third of my shots, the subject is very far away, in shadow, or partial—unrecognizable. The other third of my shots are like the one above where I encounter someone, get a bit involved and then take their picture with their permission. Probably about 2% of those are more subtle—meaning I just take it because of the moment. These the ones people complain about. Who cares. In my book every picture tells a story.

ask

Last week, I attended PrideFest in Lake Worth Florida. I usually do it because its a lot of fun, I have no problem getting people to have their picture taken, and it usually results in a couple of great shots. This year was a bit different though. I decided to just photograph the Gay Pride parade—or at least the initial setting up before they actually went out and paraded. This is when the people are concentrating on what they have to do instead of performing in front of a camera. It results in what I think, are more honest pictures—pictures of people just being themselves.

At the far end was this group of kids setting up and rehearsing with this large banner which they were going to use in the parade. I snapped a few shots and just after this one I heard—

“You’re supposed to ask, you know.” 

I looked up and there was this other girl at the far end of the banner yelling at me. “Your supposed to ask, you know” she repeated. “Why” I asked, and she replied “it was only polite.” I began to tell her that if I asked, I would end up with a shitty picture of the subject grinning, all teeth for my camera and this made for boring photographs but she was not listening. She was to into being offended.

What the fuck is wrong with these kids today and where do these rules come from? They are about to march in a fucking parade in front of two or three thousand  people and one would expect that a few of them have cameras or cellphones. Do they not expect people to take pictures of them? Why are we supposed to ask? I certainly do not impose on people when I shoot them (in fact I am the opposite and try to stay invisible) and the chances of them ever seeing a copy of this photograph are next to zero so what is their problem? Actually, I think I know what the answer is. People feel so alienated and ignored these days that they feel they have to seize power over people wherever they can find it. Everybody has to make a stand—no matter how ridiculous, or pointless it may be. These days people quite often confront me when I take pictures because they feel either I am invading their privacy, stealing a moment (I like that one), or I am just an everyday pervert. All of this is bullshit. They could simply turn away, but that makes them feel like a victim for my camera. It is too passive. Confrontation is much more effective—at least in their twisted logic so they blurt out stupid comments like,

“You’re supposed to ask, you know. Its only polite” 

No I am not supposed to ask. At my age (72), I have been around a bit, and I do not need an uptight politically correct teenage prig to tell me what politeness is. Making up stupid rules for strangers  to follow, telling people how they should behave, and what they should or should not do is anything but polite. It is downright rude!

superman_walking

Sometimes I get depressed. I feel I have taken my last photograph and there is nothing left to do. Its a good thing, I have been around because I know from many past experiences that this is just a passing phase. Like everything else in life, this too will pass. Most creative people have experiences this many times in their career. Its inevitable—there is nothing left to do but sit it out.

I took this shot in New Orleans a few weeks ago. I did not notice it on my first edit but then upon looking over my shots—voila!… there it was. I liked it. I liked it a lot so I put it up on my Facebook page. Then something strange happened. For one brief moment, I though I would never again do anything as nice. The initial shock quickly passed but moments of doubt, lack of confidence, feelings of inadequacy lingered on. So I stopped. Every now and then I pick up a camera but I have not done anything much. I went to Daytona Bike Week, got bored after one day and came home. I was supposed to go to Caile Ocho in Miami, but I changed my mind. Last night I was planning on going to the Northwood neighborhood in West Palm Beach but it rained. Feelings of doom rained down alongside it. Nothing works.

So I do what I always do when this happens. I play some golf, eat nice dinners with my wife, putz around the house and go over old photographs in Lightroom. Guess what happens? While going over old shots that I took a few years ago, I find something new, something different, something fresh, something I never saw before. In a few days all this shit will be over and I will resume the quest_the quest for my next photographic gem.

drinking_03

A few years ago I wandered into this bar in Beatty Nevada one sunny morning and ordered a beer. The lady at the bar served me and then mentioned that they were in the middle of a “ladies group” meeting, but I was welcome to hang around. I did, and asked if they would mind if I took pictures while I had my beer. They all said go ahead, and so for the next hour, I drank my beer, took pictures of the bar and the woman having their meeting. The photograph above is from this series and at first glance, it appears that the woman was not aware of her being photographed but this is not true. The simple fact is that she was completely aware of what I was doing and did not really care.

From time to time I read articles, or get emails mentioning that the photography of people without their permission is rude, sneaky, and dishonest however I must strongly disagree. In a lot of cases (such as the one above) the person is actually aware, but it is not apparent. When the subject is unaware, this practice is harmless and doesn’t hurt anyone, and makes for an interesting photograph. A few years ago, I wrote an article in BlackStar Rising on this subject titles A World Without Photographs. I have updated it and posted it below.

————

Over the past few years I have read articles, or had people mention to me that photographing strangers without their permission is rude and constitutes an invasion of their privacy. I got the impression these people thought photographers were a crass lot, incapable for any feelings toward their subjects. I even got the distinct impression that they would like laws passed to enforce this notion.  What kind of world would we have if there were actually laws that prevented people from photographing strangers without their permission? First of all, we would never had the pleasure of  enjoying the magnificent work of Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Robert Frank, and countless others. Their work would have been considered illegal.

The photographic record/history of the 20th century would have been very different. It would have consisted of pictures of empty streets, devoid of people. The only pictures of people from that last 110 years would have been of people, standing still, posing for a camera. Photography would have been forbidden at sporting events, wars, public places, store openings, movie premiers, crime scenes, travelogues, dog shows, etc—anywhere where crowds were present. It would have been a history totally absent of people. Snapshots would be entirely different. You would have to take special care when taking snapshots of family friends and children to make sure no strangers were present in the background. The same would be true when taking pictures at your kid’s birthday party. You would probably need a signed release from the parents authorizing you to take pictures of all children present. Weddings would be different of course because some guests would not want to be photographed. Of course they could also sign releases.

Of course news reporting would be entirely different. There wouldn’t be any. Newspapers always contain photographs of people in the news, the spectators, the crowd and passers-by-— that would all stop.. All they could include in the way of photographs would be formal portraits (most likely of politicians) of those in the news. The same would be for TV news—there would not be any news because most stories are about and include people. All that would remain is a world consisting of formal portraits, of people stiffly posing in front of cameras posing. To liven things up they could jump in the air when the shutter is snapped.  Its so exciting!

Of course that is only the beginning—why stop with people. It would not be long before those who wish to protect their “privacy” would attempt to pass laws protecting photography of homes, offices, monuments and such. This is actually happening. Have you ever watched reality TV shows lately? Thanks probably to lawyers, logos on baseball caps and T-shirts, signs on buildings, brand names of any kind are all crudely blurred out.

Although this scenario may seem a bit extreme, that is the type of society that can evolve when allow ourselves to by driven by fear, political correctness, stupidity and ignorance. Photographs harm absolutely no one. We all have the right to refuse to have our pictures taken —all we have to do is politely say no. But to presume we are protecting the general public by restricting these activities in others is fundamentally wrong. I consider myself a sensitive person. Sometimes, I ask permission to take someones picture if my intent is that obvious. On other occasions, I like to be “invisible” and if someone happens to notice me, I walk away. I try to stay out of the way and if someone objects when my camera is pointed at them I respect their wishes.

There are two ways to go through life. One way is to be timid, constantly worry about offending others, never take chances, and always side with the majority. People like this seldom are very creative. The other way is to be out there, hunger for discovery, be curious and follow your own path. This is the road I choose to take and if people think it is offensive, its just too bad!

 

4_kids_playground

These days, taking pictures of children can sometimes get you into trouble. Usually, I try to refrain, or even ask the parent (which usually results in an affirmative). however on occasion I just snap on automatic and quickly move on. I prefer this to asking because I do not loose the moment. Sometimes people may notice me photographing them and say “you should have  asked.”  I don’t really have a response for this, although I do know if I ask, the moment is long-gone and I am left with a face with a shit-eating stupid grin. Thats not what I want to photograph so I try to be as subtle and inconspicuous as possible. This photograph was taken last year at Hollywood Beach in Hollywood FL—one of my favorite haunts. Most of the time I try to pass when kids are my subject because parents can be kind of weird about me taking photos of their kids. I don’t really know what the potential danger may be—for instance posting this picture is quite innocent and non-perverse but these days, people for the most part are weird. A few weeks ago in LA, someone objected to me photographing on the street in front of their store because his store window was in the shot. I told him there was no law forbidding photography on a public street and he answered that the window was private. Private! I guess some people are just natural-borne schmucks.

Book_028Its been a pretty good year so far. With only 2 days left to go, I hope it will continue. As I look forward to the coming year, I can reflect on the past one quite fondly. I’ve taken a few good pictures here and there, received some kind words of encouragement from other photographers and hopefully have begun to set some plans in motion. One of them is to publish a book of my photographs. This idea was given to me by a photographer whose work I have respected and admired for over 40 years. It was a surprise when I heard it from him, but I decided to take it seriously and move forward as they say. It is not such an easy task. Getting the photographs together, editing them and fine-tuning them is the easy part. I have them—more than enough for a book. The hard part is doing the rest of it. Writing a proposal and approaching publishers is something I dread. It is not the fear of  rejection that bothers me, it is the lack of experience in proceeding. The truth is that when it comes to making photographs, I am pretty good at it but unfortunately, that is not enough. It would be nice if my images did the talking but publishers, critics, gallery owners seem to want more. They want me to explain it and that  is something I find difficult. I just wish I could hand over the photographs, say here you are and wait for a response but that is not the way the game is played. Unfortuneatly I have to write and that is something that does not come so easily to me.

I will, as Winston Churchill was fond of say “just bugger on.” I will probably agonize over every word, rewrite and rewrite it, tear it up, start over again  and rewrite it some more. At some point I will, just short of giving up, suddenly have an “ah ah!” moment see the light at the end of the tunnel, and end up with something very simple and honest—something from the heart. Then perhaps someone will listen to me.

Hopefully, things will get interesting.

Some of these images are on my web site at: www.dsaxe.com

paperman

Part 1

If you are Jewish, and you live in Montreal, sooner or later, you will die, and end up at Paperman and Sons Funeral Parlor. Naturally, I had heard of it since I was a kid, but since nobody close to me had ever died, I never went there except for funerals. That means, I never knew what went on upstairs—I knew nothing of the business of death.

That changed in 2001 when my mother died at the age of 92. Suddenly I had to go to Paperman and Sons and “do business”. I phoned and made an appointment to see Ross Paperman who of course was one of the elder Paperman’s sons. Of course everybody in Montreal who was Jewish knew where it was but this time it was a bit different. I went in the entrance and for the first time, I went to the elevator, instead of the chapel. The elevator doors opened (just like the gates of heaven) and I entered. I was swiftly transported to the second floor and when I exited, there was a pretty young lady with dark hair, a dark suit, dark eye make-up and deathly thin. She walked up to me, extended her hand, and said very formally, “My extreme sympathies, Mr. Saxe, if you will have a seat. Mr. Ross Paperman will be with you shortly.” I sat down and looked around. The whole place was decorated in Jewish Gothic with dark paneling, black sofas, mahogany desks and everybody who worked there was dressed in black. I felt I was paying a visit to the Munster’s.

In a few moments a young 40ish man in a dark suit came out and introduced himself as Ross Paperman. “I am deeply sorry about the loss of your late mother.” he said. (Actually it was not such a tragedy. She had lived a long healthy life, her cancer was diagnosed three weeks before her death, and she suffered no pain. She told me she was ready to go.)

We walked down a dark-paneled corridor, past mahogany doors, and an endless bevy of employees—all wearing dark suits, and he stopped at dark-paneled door , opened it and said “Please go in.”. Sharon and I walked into this huge mahogany-paneled office. Instead of being dark like everything else. it was brightly lit by an array of fluorescent ceiling lights. I felt I was about to “beamed” somewhere. Every shelf, tabletop, bookcase was adorned with miniature GI Joe figurines. Yes! Fucking GI Joe figurines! I smiled. Sharon smiled.

“This is such a gloomy place sometimes, I keep my collection here to cheer me up. I hope you don’t mind. If it bothers you we can move to another room.”  All I could think of was where the fuck was my camera!

Part 2

Two years later, my father passed away. Again it was no great tragedy. He was 96, institutionalized, in dementia and passed away peacefully in his sleep. For the second time in my life, I had to go to Paperman’s to “do business”.

Sharon and I walked into the building, past the chapel and entered the elevator. When the doors opened, everything was as it had been before except that this time, I brought my camera. The woman with the dark hair, black suit and dark eye make-up motioned for us to sit on one of the black sofas in the reception room. As I waited, I thought I was so clever for bringing my camera this time. I eagerly anticipated meeting with Ross and photographing his office with himself surrounded by 10,000 GI Joes. After a few moments, he came out, gave his sincerest sympathies and we followed him to his office. We walked in and I could not believe it. There was no trace of any GI Joe except for a small glass case on the wall containing 4 figurines. “Where are all your GI Joes,” I asked. He told me that some of the customers had complained and his brothers and sister and father thought it was not “professional”  enough for Montreal’s finest funeral parlor, so he reluctantly removed them. Sadly I sat down in one of the black leather chairs and “did business”.  I signed some papers, received the death certificate and performed other “pleasantries”. At some point, I had to pee and asked where the bathroom was.  “Use the chapel restroom. It is much more comfortable. It is on your right at the bottom of the stairs.” I left the office, walked down the dark hallway and entered the staircase. As I was walking down the stairs, I saw this very old man standing at the bottom staring at the wall. “Hello,” he said. “How are you?” I introduced myself and told him I was here to arrange for my father’s funeral. “I am very saddened by your loss. My name is Herbert Paperman.” I introduced myself. At that point he noticed my camera around my neck. He said he used to collect them and at one time he had about 100 of them (including a few Contax’s). He rambled on and on about cameras and although he knew his stuff, he was not entirely connecting with me. I asked him if I could take his photograph and he said “of course.” He seemed to be a bit fuzzy on some matters and on others (like his Leica collection) he was very lucid. He was elderly and his mental state reminded me of my late father in his final years—dipping in and out of reality, punctuated by strong moments of lucidity. “Everybody in my family liked to collect things.” he said. My sons like to collect exotic cars. They spent a fortune on their Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s.” Really” I answered, suddenly understanding why the costs of funerals in Montreal were so high. “Oh ya,” he continued, “they were buying and selling so many we had to build a separate garage for them to store them. They take up a lot of space you know. At one time they… Suddenly the door to the staircase was flung open and two women with black hair, dark eye shadow wearing black suits rushed in and grabbed him and ushered him away. As they were dragging the old man out the door one of them turned to me and tersely asked if I was lost.

“I have to pee” I answered. “I was on my way to the bathroom.”