Thursday April 26, 2012
I tried to take a picture today of the interior of the plane. There isn’t much to see, it’s just a plane, but still, it’s the plane that takes me to the PCT, so I wanted a picture. I’m was sitting at the back of the plane, pointing my camera at the curtain that separates economy from business class, when one of the the stewardesses approached me from behind with her cart, on her way to serve snacks and drinks. “Excuse me”, she said “I saw you taking photographs and I don’t want to be in your picture”. I told her there was no reason to be concerned, I wasn’t taking pictures of people’s faces. Everybody was sitting down and facing forward anyway. Apparently, she didn’t want to be in the picture at all, not even unrecognizable. Yet she must have known that I wasn’t interested in her, because I was taking pictures while she was well outside the frame. In fact, she would have been in the way. Yet she must have thought of herself as something I was interested in. This has happened to me several times now, and every time I forget to ask why not. What is it that makes you so suspicious of me? What could I possibly do with an anonymous behind that would be so troubling that you have to interfere with what I’m doing?
Perhaps some people are uncomfortable relinquishing control over how they look. I think I look much better in the mirror than in a picture, and even though I know I look more like my photo than my mirror image, the mirror gives me a moment to correct myself that the camera doesn’t give me. Simply looking at them people doesn’t seem to be a problem for most people; they are seen, but not observed. Staring is different; it makes most people uncomfortable. It violates a social code that dictates that we look away when two gazes intersect, to return in order to request permission. If we look away, the watched person only presents an image that is not taken, so that (in a sense) they can maintain the illusion that they are unobserved, which is politely acknowledged by quickly shifting our gaze. The camera is too obvious and too slow to pretend, as we do when we look away quickly, that we weren’t really looking. Perhaps it is that violation of the code that is so offensive?