Black, with a grip, I
Walk the hoods with it, shoot from
The hip. Art gangster.
Even having just used it as a metaphor, I am rather uncomfortable with the easy co-opting of “gangster.” Perhaps I am particularly sensitive just now because I have friends, churchmen and women, who live in neighborhoods where real gangsters sometimes take the lives of very young people, some of whom are merely uninvolved bystanders. I struggle not to hate such gangsters and ardently hope for their demise. When I remember the principles of my religion, however, and I am helped to do so, I right myself and instead I hope they may come to face the justice of man and the mercy of God, should they desire it.
Nonetheless, sometimes when I walk in the city, holding my Canon 5D by its grip, ready in an instant to shoot (even the action of that verb matches the persona) I feel the connection, not that people walk around like this with guns anywhere other than in the movies or perhaps Texas. More pointedly, though, I worry about what other people perceive that black object in my right hand to be, particularly if the light is dim and they are some distance from me.
The irony is that, aside from sometimes walking down alleys and streets looking for interesting shots in some marginally rough areas, I am not all that bold, even with my sort of “shooting” that takes and yet can give life, as opposed to the sort that gives and can take life. Some of this is because, even though it might seem artistically gauche to say so, I don’t have that much interest in being all that transgressive. Also, though some of it is timidity, sometimes my reluctance to take pictures of scenes of disappointment and ruin springs from more noble impulses. It is a delicate thing to take a picture like the one below, in a neighborhood that has seen difficult times, and to not merely further take from the neighborhood for selfish purposes in a sort of artistic larceny, without trying to really enter into and understand the scene. I confess too often I am mostly after the interesting shot.
It is not only in rough neighborhoods when I worry about how my “Canon”-gripping-right-hand might appear. In fact, just this past weekend, whilst walking in downtown Clayton, Missouri-a very prosperous city indeed-and pausing to take a picture of the odd sculpture or building I was very cognizant of how I might be viewed. This was not only because of the lateness of the hour, though. It was also because, well, sometimes, with some good justification, and especially in cities, I worry a little bit about the syndrome of being looked at suspiciously for “shooting while brown.” It might be that I am paranoid, if it were not for the fact that several years after 9/11, in broad day light, I was stopped by a policeman while coming out of a church, having taken some pictures of it and other buildings, who asked me what I was taking pictures of, claiming there was some sort of government office in the area and to not take anymore.
I did say I was not interested in being “all that transgressive,” but that is not to say that if I see an unsettling or interesting image which tells a story, that I will not take some pains or risks to get the shot. While walking in the residential part of Clayton on the same night, I was rather being drawn in by the lovely homes with lights twinkling in windows and and hints of nice appointments and furnishings inside. I was beginning to think how nice and peaceful it would be to live in one, even though I am wise enough to know that wealth and comfort are no ticket to contentment. Then I saw the windows with no curtains, and thought, “Hello, someone has just must have moved in.” And the two bare windows with a lamp in each and full-service bar in one made for an interesting story. And, though I am not a Peeping Tom nor likely would I have taken the shot had anyone else been about, I figure if I can see it from the public sidewalk, it is fair game!
Admittedly this post has been a bit of a meander, or perhaps a it is like a recipe with such disparate ingredients that they may not work well together, but I have been working on the haiku for several days and nailed it down only on my lunch time walk today. I thought of the camera shots also while walking, and rushed home to carry them out. I dug up the supporting images, and, for better or worse, there you have it.
And so what do I do when I am worried that someone might think I have a gun while I am walking? Well, I let the camera drop and carry it by its strap, swinging it a little like a purse, and hope that that will settle the question.