Street Peeps and Restraining Orders

Street Peeps and Restraining Orders

The first time he appeared I was traveling at a high rate of speed so my eyes couldn’t be a credible source of information. It was my neck that proved his presence, straining in split seconds to help survey the scene, as I was driving in the opposite direction than he was walking. Hours after the incident, his vision lingered in my brain, infringing on the comfort of my regular routine.

The second time he appeared, I called the police. My conscience couldn’t bear the burden this stranger had unknowingly placed there. And, my concern that a cane may be his only companion was too much to bear. I spoke to the Sergeant from my cell, telling him about the old man, traveling on a turnpike not constructed for pedestrians. There was no shoulder to speak of, and the two-lane highway, though desolate by day, served as a savior for commuters by night, becoming a highly traveled thoroughfare. Perhaps dementia had set in and he was wandering the streets, scared, lost, and alone, seeking the safety and comfort of his home.  I had no knowledge about why he was roaming unsafe streets, and it didn’t seem right to let him continue walking roads that could literally lead to his death.

The third time I saw him, he was wearing a fluorescent, reflective vest. My neck, once again, bore the brunt of my brain’s attempt to absorb this reality, as I didn’t expect to see him at all! My phone call to the authorities had all but confirmed in my conscious that he was safe at home, sitting on a sofa watching the evening news, where a man his age should be. But, there he was, walking near the same place, traveling in the same direction, assisted by the same cane. And then, a smile stretched across my face, knowing his persistence was at least a little more protected, if only by a small swatch of reflective fabric, because of my call to the authorities.

This man, and the observation of his daily routine, are excellent subjects for the artistic genre known as, Street Photography. This is the art of not only noticing people but being compelled to use one’s camera to capture the scenes played out by these strangers, while in their natural habitat.  Wikipedia defines Street Photography as, “candid photography conducted for the art or inquiry that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents within public places.” I love this next sentence the writer felt compelled to clarify, should there be any question, “street photography does not necessitate the presence of a street or even the urban environment.” I suppose it’s good to know that the ashphalt need not be present in the final photograph.

I’ll admit, despite my trepidation about trying street photography, I’m tempted to secure my camera on a tripod, and from a considerable distance, capture the old man on one of his daily walks. There’s just something about him, and his determination, that remains in my mind far beyond what it probably should. And, I know his story could best be told by photographs rather than words alone. But, I’ve yet to muster the courage to delve in, dodge traffic and document his actions digitally.

The point is, we all encounter and observe people on our way to this place and that. Sometimes we become even more aware of people’s presence when, for reasons unknown, they disappear and we no longer see them at all. But, if you think about it, we often see the same scenes during our daily routine, including the joggers, dog-walkers, kids traveling to and from school, men and women waiting for the city bus, and delivery drivers running packages to front porches. Perhaps it’s possible that photographers possess an increased awareness of these people, simply by the nature the art form necessitates. I can certainly confirm it’s changed the way I perceive my surroundings, and for the better, as I’m now more cognizant of nearly everything around me.

In my humble opinion, street photography takes enormous more courage than shooting common subjects such as portraits, landscapes, or wildlife. Snapping photos of strangers is completely different than capturing images of birds or butterflies, as animals are certainly not known for seeking restraining orders. Let’s face it, there’s a fine line between being seen as a street photographer, and being considered a stalker!

So, for now, I’ll stay in the space where these stranger’s lives and mine remain perfectly synchronized, as we travel the same roads at the same time, during our daily routine. The space where these people’s presence are forever immortalized in my mind, as I have little courage to capture them by camera. The space where care and concern for our fellow man can only come when we slow down and become cognizant of one another’s presence, even if the other isn’t aware that we exist! And, it’s this mere fact, should street photography come calling, that just might keep me safe from phone calls to the police and restraining orders.

Postscript:  I haven’t seen the elderly gentleman walking his usual route since the end of February. I’m left wondering what’s become of him. Wherever that place is, I trust he still takes a daily stroll, assisted by a walking stick, each stride leading further and further from his sofa.

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