Rannie, of Photojunkie
, has a nifty new project on the go: Portraits in the Park
. Every week he sets up in a different city park, people drop by, and he takes photos of them. My mom has been complaining that she has no decent photos of me, so I was pleased when I got an e-mail from Rannie today inviting me to take part.
Today's shoot was in Bellevue Square Park, in Kensington Market. The skies were cloudy but the rain held off, and when I showed up around 6:30, Rannie and a couple of other photoblog people were there. It was a quiet bright day; some toddlers played in the drained wading pool at the other end of the park. Rannie took a couple of shots of me with a tree and some playground equipment. Carrie
wandered off a bit and took a picture of a giant toy crayon lying on the ground, and I took a picture of her taking a picture.
And that's when things suddenly got very weird. A young woman who had been over with the toddlers stormed up to Carrie and I and yelled, "What are you taking a picture of? What are you taking a picture of?!"
We explained that Carrie had been photographing the crayon, and I'd been photographing Carrie. But she didn't believe us. "You were taking my picture! You were taking a picture of me and my child! I have a legal right to take your camera and smash it!" We were baffled -- remember, we were nowhere near
the children. But almost immediately four or five of her friends -- a group of sharp-faced, angry teens and young adults -- joined her, screaming at us and grabbing for our cameras. One of them grabbed my arm and demanded to see the photos I'd taken. I showed her: two shots, one just of Rannie, one of Carrie taking a photo. Some tiny figures were visible far in the background of the shot of Carrie. "That's my friend!" the girl yelled. "You have no right to take that! You have to erase that! Erase all those pictures!" How she could even tell it was her friend at that size I'm not sure, but I erased both pictures (I probably would have erased them anyway -- they were pretty bad). She was still holding onto my arm, trying to take the camera away, but I looked at her face and calmly repeated that I had erased all the photos, just as she had asked, and finally she let go.
The most bizarre thing about the whole incident was the kids' self-righteous indignation, their conviction that taking pictures of your friends in a public park was illegal and a terrible thing to do (because someone who didn't want their picture taken might show up in the background). Can you imagine if that were true? Every vacation photo you've ever taken would be illegal, for one thing. There are probably a lot of places in Toronto where you might get swarmed by a gang for your camera, but you know you're in Kensington Market when they talk like you're oppressing them
Finally, since I'd erased my photos and they weren't getting anywere with the others, the mob backed down and wandered off. It was starting to rain, and we went to the Embassy and had stiff drinks. I asked Carrie and Rannie, both of whom have been taking pictures for a long time and are a lot more serious about it than I am, whether they'd ever had anyone freak out on them like that before. Both of them had gotten a lot of funny looks, and occasionally had been asked to stop, but neither had actually been threatened.
The whole thing was unsettling, I have to say. It was a reminder that the friendly, laid-back Market, which I've lived near for ten years, has another face. (Stefan joined us at the Embassy and remarked that he's seen a lot of drug deals go down around that wading pool. "It's where drug dealers go with their kids!") I'll definitely be more careful from now on when I'm out taking photos on my own -- although, again, it's hard to think of a more innocuous activity than taking pictures of your friends in a park, so it's hard to say what I need to be careful of
. I suppose the lesson here is to avoid letting anyone shifty-looking notice that you've got a camera out. I don't know. What do you think? I hope I'll still have new pictures of street art and bicycles and raccoons to show you in the future, anyway.Update:
Lots of interesting comments on this post! Also, Rannie has blogged about this incident
, and posted a link to a good article
about a Supreme Court decision clarifying the legal status of photographers in public places. Brett has weighed in with a post
describing some of his own adventures in outdoor filmmaking. Be sure to click on the "we were dressed like this" links -- they take you to the funniest pictures I've ever seen on Blamblog.