Tag Archives: unauthorized photography

Photography, Random Run-ins, and Cousin Cookie

6 Nov

Back in 2003, I, along with 22 other intrepid students, went on a year long expedition around the world, learning about politics, economics, ecology, feminism, and all sorts of other things. More than anything, though, I would say that we learned how to be proper human beings. We learned what it meant to go into other people’s countries, other peoples homes, and understand that we were guests there. We had to learn to suspend our own cultural norms in an effort to try and fit, as best we could, into our new and extremely different surroundings. This proved easier in some situations – Cambridge, England, for example, where our biggest concern was remembering that in England the word “pants” is actually synonymous to the American “underwear” – than in, say, Zanzibar, Tanzania, where in incredibly hot temperatures we kept our heads, shoulders and knees covered in an attempt to be respectful towards the majority Muslim population there.* I’m sure that as a group of 22 American, and one super awesome Bulgarian, students traveling through England, Tanzania, India, New Zealand and Mexico we unintentionally offended some people but the point is that we tried. We asked questions of our hosts and attempted to understand local norms and customs as best we could so as to represent ourselves, and our countries, to the best of our abilities. Overall I think we did a pretty good job.

One of the things that we learned about, and something that I have kept with me ever since, involved photography. We were taught that in certain cultures, people believe that when their photograph is taken, a piece of their soul is taken with it. Whether or not we believe this to be the case, it is important to respect the beliefs of those around you and so we were taught to always, always ask permission before photographing anyone. Consent is key. It might mean that sometimes you don’t quite get the photo that you hoped, but who the hell cares, really. There is something sort of fucked up about taking photographs of people without asking them first, especially when we are surrounded by those who have lived incredibly different lives than us. To me, it reeks of voyeurism. I know that when I have been traveling and have caught people taking photographs of me I have felt somewhat dehumanized. These people don’t know me, don’t know my name, where I am from, what I am about, and yet they want to capture this image of me and what? Show their friends? It’s this idea that an image of me could be in someone else’s home and I could have no idea that always makes me think twice about snapping a photo of someone I don’t know, someone who didn’t consent to it. The idea that a part of our soul is taken every time that flash goes off starts hitting a little closer to home.

Let’s maybe take this down a notch in seriousness, largely because I haven’t had enough coffee yet and this is making my brain hurt. So in New York City you come to find that the longer you live here, the smaller and smaller this town becomes. Partially that is because as we live here longer, our personal map of the city changes. There are certain parts of the city that we know nothing about  – for me it’s just about everything above 34th street and most of North Brooklyn – and then other parts where we can practically dictate the store fronts in order. The city just becomes smaller and the more we circulate within the territory of our truncated maps, the more people we end up seeing until the point when you go to the grocery store and run into about 12 people on the way home, all the while Toffuti Cuties are melting in your environmentally conscious shopping bag. In your own neighborhood, and especially when you are a neighborhood bartender, this is pretty normal. But it is always super fun and exciting when you run into people randomly in other parts of the city that you rarely frequent. Like that time I ran into some girls I went to high school with on the 6 platform in Manhattan, or the time my mom came to visit and we saw her massage therapist, who works in New Jersey, on University Place. I mean, really, what are the odds?! And every time this happens I think to myself

“Self, mere seconds in either direction, one different decision, one missed or caught light, and I never would have run into that person.”

And then I start thinking about all the people that I probably just barely miss. And then I think about how if my life were a sitcom, which I sometimes like to think it is, the audience would be like

“No! Turn on that street! That guy that you made out with in college is walking this way and it might be a love connection!!!”

And then would come the sad, prerecorded


when I proceeded on course and missed what could have been the love of my life. Or some other bullshit. Anyway, back to photographs. So on a similar theme, have you ever thought about how many times you might be in other people’s photos? Like, just walking along and you get in the background of some group picture or something? Now, this is something I think about a lot, like, how weird would it be to go to someone’s house and look at an awesome family photograph on their mantel and then see yourself casually walking through the background? Mind blown, right? I mean, you could be on someone’s mantel right now! And not even know it! And they might notice you one day and be like,

“Huh, I wonder where that person was going on this day that is forever remembered as the day that Cousin Cookie drank too many pickle back shots and hasn’t been able to look at cucumbers the same way since.”

I don’t know, it’s just a thing I think about it. There was a This American Life on it a few years back but I was thinking about this long before I heard that episode. It just made me realize that other people think about it too and maybe, just maybe, some of you, dear readers, also think about it.

So this post totally just went on a really weird adventure from the ethics of photography to random run-ins and Cousin Cookie. Funny thing is that I was going to write about this weird thing that happened at work the other day and see what you guys all thought about it but now I have already written over a thousand words so it doesn’t seem the best time to ask you to read much more. So, that’s a post for next time. I guess just remember this: ask permission to take other people’s photos otherwise you might end up on the mantel of some family in the midwest that gives each other nicknames based off their favorite snack foods.

* I know that’s not that difficult but I haven’t had enough coffee yet so it’s all I could think of. Also, there were some people on vacation there wearing short shorts and tube tops and it was really, really inappropriate. Like, wildly.

Donald Trump is a Dope

18 Sep

There are very few people, famous or otherwise, that get my blood boiling quite like Donald Trump.  To me he is the epitome of everything that is wrong with the United States and at least some percentage of what is wrong with the world.  He is excessive.  He is greedy.  He is a total misogynist.  And good god that hair.  Seriously.  What is with that hair?!  I am so annoyed by Donald Trump, in fact, that I don’t even like to say things like “you trumped me” because there was a time in my life when I was fairly convinced that the word “trump” was actually Donald’s last name repurposed.  (That time was up until about 6 months ago when my mom assured me that the word “trump” actually predated Donald Trump.  I am still not fully convinced but I will give my mom the benefit of the doubt because she is really smart.)  I mean, let’s be frank, what could be more ego-boosting than having a word created using your very own last name?  (Get it?  Frank?!?)  So what has brought about this sudden Trump-inspired outburst?  No, there wasn’t an Apprentice marathon on TV.  No, I didn’t go to midtown to have my eyes assaulted with the myriad Trump-named properties.  No, I didn’t attend a beauty pageant.  I simply went online and noticed the following tweet, compliments of Donald Trump himself:

Kate Middleton is great — but she shouldn’t be sunbathing in the nude — only herself to blame

Ugh.  Nothing like a little victim-blaming to get the heart rate up!  Way to be, Donald!

I actually had a conversation this past weekend with one of my customers in which he, also of misogynistic tendencies, said roughly the same thing as Donald but, being aware of his audience (read: me) attempted to tone it down a little.  He failed.  Basically he said that she is famous now and should know better than to go sunbathing topless to which I responded with strongly worded opinions.  And then I thought to myself, why should I waste my brain-space worrying about images of the breasts of famous people?  Well, here’s a little bit about why.

This issue is symptomatic of something way bigger which is that famous people and, let’s be honest, all women, are generally thought of as public goods — anyone can look, touch, snap pictures.  Famous people and women have no grounds upon which to object because we should know better.  Well, I am calling bullshit.  Just as I should be able to walk up a flight of stairs without a nagging fear in the back of my mind that some creatch is going to snap an image of my underwear, Kate Middleton should be able to sunbathe topless in an environment in which she has a reasonable assumption of privacy.  She wasn’t walking down Broadway in the middle of the day.  She wasn’t standing outside of the Palace in London.  She wasn’t on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.  She was in a private, isolated French chateau (is that what they’re called?) that she and her princely husband rented for the purpose of enjoying some peace, some quiet, and some not photographs.  So some asshat with a long-lens camera comes and takes some photos and suddenly it’s her fault?  At what point are we going to take the weight of responsibility and place it squarely in the hands of the person who made the immoral decision to violate someone else’s privacy rather than on the shoulders of the one with no actual control over said decision?

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how I had been in my bed and some guy yelled at me through my window.  One of the first things I felt was the weight of responsibility.  It was my own fault that some guy noticed my open shades and, rather than avert his eyes, decided to look through my window and yell at me.  Upon further inspection, I realized how ridiculous my logic was.  Sure, it would have been better if I had remembered to close my blinds, but it is not my fault that this man watched me sitting on my bed.  I didn’t invite him to look.  I didn’t hold a gun to his head.  The only person at fault, clearly, was him.  There is no way in which my logical brain will allow me to see the situation any differently. That knowledge, however, doesn’t make me feel any less violated.  But the scope of my violation was so much smaller than Kate Middleton’s.  If I felt as strongly as I did about this one person I can’t even imagine what it must be like to know that millions of people are looking at images of your naked body that you did not approve, did not ask for, did not want taken.

Now normally, I think that talking about famous people is a colossal waste of time.  I think that people who make a living off of analyzing the lives of people they will never meet are lame.  This, I think, is different.  First of all, I am not making any money off my opinions at all (although I would like to say at this point that if someone would like to pay me for being me, that’d be awesome and I accept with a resounding YES!).  Second of all, this incident is something that I think a lot of women can relate to, even if it might not seem like it at first.  We’ve all been there.  We’ve all felt violated.  We’ve all read stories about women being masturbated to on trains, had photos taken of them, been touched inappropriately.  This, in my mind, is not much different than that.  Just because she is famous doesn’t mean she should be expected to give up her privacy, her rights, her anger.

Also, Donald Trump is scum and I wish he would go take a long walk in the ocean.

(I would  also like to add that I am annoyed that I spent any of my free time at all on Donald Trump.  He is a turd.  And!  Someone found my blog by searching “Rebekah Frank bartender” and it wasn’t me!  Rock!)