Thursday, October 4, 2012

On Bullies and Expectations of Privacy

I don't back down from bullies.

I first dealt with a bully in the second grade, when he was picking on another kid in our class. All of the kids in the school were in the playground, at recess, and I saw the class bully standing over another kid in our class, who was cornered against a wall. He was hunched over, turning away from the bully, doing everything in his power to avoid eye contact, to will the bully away.

I heard the bully, taunting the kid, who was smaller. I felt sorry for this guy, who had probably done nothing worse than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The bully angered me. He was trying to get the kid to fight him. The kid that he was picking on was a shy person, who kept mostly to himself. He didn't have any friends in our class and I never saw him interact with anyone.

I called out to the bully: "If you want to fight someone, fight me." I, too, was smaller than the bully. "You'll still get to beat up somebody, but at least I'll make it a challenge for you. I'll hit back."

The bully looked at me, considered his options, and then let out a frustrated, "Aww, you're not worth it. Why don't you go to your boyfriend?" With that, he walked away.

I've rarely encountered bullies since then. Last year, when one of my kids was being bullied at her school, she told me about it, and the next day I went into the school and approached the vice-principal, who took the issue seriously and dealt with it swiftly.

No more bullies.

This week, I feel like I'm a kid in the playground again, dealing with a new bully. And once again, I'm standing firm.

The incident that stirred the bully started, like many emotional issues do, with something small.

I pointed a camera and pressed a button.

This past weekend, I was invited to come to the Oktoberfest Ottawa celebrations and act as their official photographer. There was going to be food, music, and beer. How could I say no? I also had the opportunity to meet actor George Wendt, who everybody knows as Norm from TV's Cheers. It was an honour for me to be called upon to do this job.

The festivities were held in a park in my community. A soccer pitch had been cordoned off with fences, and two entrances faced the east and west ends of the festival zone. At these entrances, among other rules and notices of the festival were notices that photographers for the event were on site and had authorization to take pictures.

I have taken photographs at events before. I have shot them at Bluesfest, on Canada Day, at Winterlude, and recently I was the official photographer for the National Capital Craft Beer Week. I try to get up close when the situation calls for it; I keep back when I don't want to intrude, such as when I want to capture candid moments.

I know what I'm doing.

Sometimes, as I'm setting up to take a shot, my subject sees me and turns away. That's okay. I respect the fact that that person does not want to be captured. I won't pursue the shot.

Other times, after I've taken the shot, that person approaches me and asks me if I'm with the event. When I say that I am, they relax and move on. Every once and a while, that person will politely ask me if I would mind not publishing the photo. They don't say why and I don't ask: it's none of my business. But I respect that request, and that photo, no matter how good, doesn't see the light of day.

I have no obligation to honour that request, but I do it out of kindness and courtesy. At heart, I'm a pretty nice guy. I'm approachable, I'm reasonable, and I'm considerate.

A couple of times, people at Oktoberfest asked me to take pictures of them, and I would do so, providing my business card and telling them to contact me. I would send the photo to the e-mail address that they used. It puts the ball in their court: they control whether they want me contacting them or not.

Never once, in all the years that I've photographed public events, has anyone ever asked me to delete a photo that I've taken.

Until this weekend.

As I was photographing people around a puppeteer (children, celebrities, and public figures), a man approached me and, in a tone that was not friendly, asked me what I was doing and what my name was. I explained that I was the official photographer of the event and I gave him my name.

When he told me that he didn't want me taking pictures of his family, I stopped taking the photos. But then he asked me to delete the photos that I had taken. It wasn't a request, it was a demand.

I only delete a photograph for one reason: it didn't turn out. The composition is so bad that no cropping will fix it (for example, if I cut someone's head off). The photo is blurry, but not in an artistic way. The exposure is so poor that no post-production work can make it look good (it's way over-exposed or under-exposed).

I don't delete photographs because someone doesn't want me taking a particular picture, especially when I'm taking the picture at a public event that I have accepted to cover. The photos are for the event organizers, not for me.

I explained that I would delete the photos if the organizers asked me to, and he walked off, saying that he would talk to them. I moved on to take pictures of the band on the main stage.

A short time later, the man approached me and demanded again that I delete the photos. I repeated that I would delete any photos that the organizers told me to delete. I told him I was working, and I continued shooting the band.

I shot more than 2,500 photos of the event. The number of photographs that we're talking about in this conflict represent approximately 0.2 percent of the time I expended over the weekend. This issue has now consumed much more time than I want.

I've been harassed about this issue. I've even been called at work.

And I want it to end.

I'm standing up to someone who has acted like nothing short of a bully. I did nothing wrong. I pointed my camera and pressed a button. The organizers of the event expected nothing less of me.

I'm not questioning this person's right to protect his family. I don't know what he thinks he's protecting them from, but that's not my concern. I won't question his motive behind believing that his family needed protection at a beer festival. Perhaps they are a private family? But they have posted their photo and names on a public Web site.

I question a person who thinks that he can come to a public event and expect to have privacy. I question a person who thinks that he can tell a photographer, who has the authorization to take photographs of anything at this event, to delete photos that are technically the property of the event. I question a person who thinks that he can get someone to call me at work and harass me. 

I want it to end. Now.

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