Wednesday, February 25, 2009

day +554

This unusually harsh winter coupled with the feeling that I needed a break from my project has made for little output. But this all changed about three weeks ago. Since then, I've been out and about photographing quite intensely.

Sloan's Annual Patient Art Exhibition will take place in late April. The theme of the work that I want to showcase at the show will be the long exposure of traffic (streaks of light at night) near or crossing the Harlem River Bridges. As a consequence, most of the shoots that I've been on recently have had this aim in mind.

A few days ago, I experimented photographing the early dawn traffic zipping by the Macombs Dam Bridge, a lovely swing bridge which is one of the oldest bridges in New York City. It didn't go as well as I had hoped, so I returned to the site again (about a 25 minute walk from home) this morning at about 5:30. All was going well. It seemed like the shots I was taking were coming out much better than before. Then, suddenly I noticed in the murky distance the flickering red and blue lights of what I assumed had to be one of New York's Finest. I would be proven right. I ignored the lights not knowing where the vehicle was headed and continued shooting but quickly thereafter, the police car pulled up beside me. The officer driving the car asked what I was doing. I explained: "Photographing traffic streaks with the dawn sky behind me." He went on to say that someone had reported a person taking pictures of the bridge. This is NYC, of course, he went on to say. This kinda of stuff freaks people out. He asked for I.D. I gave him my driver's license, which he handed to his partner, who then began to copy down some indecipherable notes. I asked what the information was for. He said to show that they responded to the call. Basically, to cover their asses. I then asked jokingly, "I hope this isn't really related to the Patriot Act?" I don't know if I was successful at the humor here, however. He shook his head dismissing any such suspicion. I reiterated to him that I was a photographer, who was completing a project to capture the bridges and the waterfront. He said he understood. After the second officer completed copying whatever information he needed, he told me that if another police car comes over after they leave to just tell them that they already stopped and questioned me. I said OK, thanked them, and they went on their way. I continued to shoot for a bit longer before the morning glare became too intense and then, I returned home.

I wasn't really comfortable handing over my I.D. knowing that I didn't do anything wrong, but it was dark, bitterly cold and it was 6 in the morning. I just wanted to do what I was doing, finish, and leave. Thankfully, the cops were polite and cool. They were just doing their job. But really, how can I know what they told me is true? How do I know that my information is not circulating on some terrorist watch list now?

My story isn't unique amongst photographers. Some don't have any problems when questioned by the police, but others have a more trying experience. It depends a lot, I think, on the officer. In last week's NYT, there is an irritating story of a photographer, who was stopped and wrongfully arrested by the police, after taking photographs in the NYC Subway: No Photo Ban in Subways, Yet an Arrest.

I don't mean to sound preachy, but these post-9/11 fear tactics can get my blood boiling. I'm reminded of what President Obama stated in his inaugural address:

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man -- a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience sake.

Here, by the way, is one of the photographs that I snapped this morning.

Finally, late this afternoon en route to my barber, I stopped in nearby Franz Sigel Park to take a self-portrait. This is something that I had been meaning to do for sometime, but I just hadn't gotten around to it.


Comment Blogger Sarah said...

You should start walking around with some of your portfolio with you. Might help with the police, at least! And what a sad world it is if an artist can't produce because of fear.

I hope other things are well!

Sarah (and Scott too)

10:59 AM  
Comment Anonymous Anonymous said...

You look great in your self-portrait. Strong and healthy! Hot too! *wink*

Sorry about the police. Yeah, just doing their job, but it's too bad that this is what it's come to in the U.S.

12:04 PM  
Comment Anonymous Terri said...

Hopefully the police just looked to see that you didn't have a record/aren't a sniper. I agree with the portfolio comment. It makes me sad to think about real crimes where nobody noticed anything suspicious and nobody reported it if they did.

1:50 PM  

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