When the head of Canada's military said that men are "biologically wired in a certain way," as a way of explaining the reports of sexual assault and harassment within the ranks, it was a bone-headed statement. In hearing those words, I interpreted Gen. Tom Lawson's message to mean that while a soldier is trained to exercise control in a combat scenario, the soldier has no discipline when it comes to keeping his (or her) hands to himself (or herself).
But he wasn't wrong. We are, as humans, basically hard-coded for sex. As a guy, if I notice an attractive woman, my eyes will go to her, may even linger longer than a cursive glance (without leering).
We are hard-coded to look. Looking without acting further is proof that we have evolved.
Yet, with this wiring, we also think about sex. We might see someone and think something about sex, but again, as our society has evolved, we keep our thoughts to ourselves.
The other week, I saw something, had a thought, and then felt ashamed of myself for thinking that thought. Because in that thought, I wasn't the person I thought I was.
In the middle of a Thursday afternoon, I expect to go to certain places and not be surprised at what I see. When I'm in a public space, or even a space that isn't supposed to be accessed by the public but has no safeguards in place to keep people out, I expect my eyes to see something that anyone could see anywhere. It's out in the open, after all.
There is a chain-link fence at the end of the bridge. You run into it as you leave the pedestrian and cycling pathway and take the well-trodden path up a gentle hill. The fence is compromised, and it takes no effort to pass through. In the summer months, branches and leaves spread over the fence and along some of the steel beams of the Prince of Wales Bridge, creating a screen—shelter from the path.
As I approached the breached fence, my camera upon my tripod, my tripod over my shoulder, I sensed that people were in that sheltered area, but I wasn't concerned. Ottawa is a safe city, it was broad daylight, so I could see everything, and there were plenty of people on the pathway, other people, further down the bridge. I wasn't worried about an ambush.
I also wasn't prepared for what I saw.
A young man, in his 20s, blonde hair, tanned, muscular. In a Speedo. Stretched out across the tracks. Another young man, perhaps older, holding a reflector. And a third man, of about the same age as the assistant, camera in hand.
Both the photographer and his assistant were fully dressed.
A model shoot. Nothing out of the ordinary, and the light on the bridge made for a great backdrop. As a photographer, I appreciated what was going on. I actually thought that this would be a great place for a future Ottawa Photography Meetup shoot. I would have to suggest this spot to our club organizers.
The model saw me first, as he was facing toward me as I reached the tracks. The photographer turned, following the model's gaze, saw me with my photo equipment, and I could see the puzzlement in his eyes. He wasn't expecting another photographer.
"Hi," he said, his words seemingly seeking an explanation for my presence.
"Hey," I said. "Are you guys going to be here for a while?"
"Yes." The answer was curt, to the point.
"I just want to shoot the bridge," I said. The model was lying in the line where I wanted to take my shot, but I was willing to adapt. "I can shoot past you."
I set up my tripod and composed my shot. I wanted to frame the plant growth with the tracks, getting as low to the ground as I could, but I found it hard to do without getting the model in my frame. So I got higher, and shot. The model was so close to the outside edge of my frame that to move even a millimetre to the right would capture his legs.
Here's the shot I took, with the arrow showing where the model was lounging.
I didn't feel comfortable, shooting toward where these three were working, so after a couple of shots, I scooped up my camera gear and headed past them, further out and over the river. I kept to the left of the tracks, thinking that I would stay out of their background.
I continued to shoot various angles of the bridge, but the further out I walked, the stronger the wind became, and I had to hold onto the tripod to keep it from blowing over. After about five minutes, I called it quits. I pulled up the legs on the tripod, slung the camera strap over my shoulder, and turned back.
It was then that I discovered that the model was nude.
We are biologically wired in a certain way. My first thought was of revulsion. Why couldn't it be a female model? I would ask if I could photograph her, I thought.
As quickly as that thought came to me, I was ashamed for thinking that. I have participated in a male-model shoot. The model in my shoot, though never completely naked, had stripped down to boxer briefs. It was a good shoot. But just because I'm not interested in photographing a nude male model, it was wrong for me to discount those who want to capture the male form.
As I walked past the shoot, my eyes remained trained on my feet. There was a good reason for this: walking on the tracks, I had to watch the ties, watch where I stepped, to ensure that I didn't trip, didn't hurt myself or, worse, my camera. I averted my eyes, as I walked past, merely uttering, "Have a good shoot," not waiting for an answer.
I left without looking back.
Normally, when I see a photographer at work, I'm curious to see the results of his or her efforts. Not in this case. And there's the double-standard. But I can't help it: I'm wired a certain way. I'm hard-coded.
But in this case, I can live with it.