This is not a great photograph. It’s a pretty indifferent photograph, if you ask me. But I took the time to print it in the darkroom back in ’98, and I take the time to upload it here, because it has the distinction of being the only photo I’ve ever taken that’s brought me close to a sock in the jaw. Well, probably not a sock in the jaw. I just like saying “sock in the jaw.” It perhaps brought me as close as I’ve ever been to a crack in the lens.
This man and his colleagues were selling wind-up birds under the Eiffel Tower. You might think anyone with a job like that would go to work in the morning knowing that by the end of the day he’d be in a lot of pictures, and there was just nothing to be done about it. But maybe he was a private man. Maybe wearing an umbrella hat was a daily injury to his dignity. Whatever the reason, he locked eyes with my camera, and when I snapped, he raised his chin. “Eh!” He walked over slowly to where Gail and Richard and I were sitting and looked down at me.
“Si tu veux me photographier,” he said, “tu me demandes. Tu me demandes.”
This is as near as my memory and my high-school French can recreate it. Richard, who was perfectly fluent but distracted by context, waved his hand and said, “Non, merci.” I, with my unerring sense of Crap, I’m in Trouble, ducked my head and said, “Excusez-moi. Excusez-moi.”
“Alors,” he said, and walked away.
It’s harder to keep your privacy now than it was in 1998. Now anybody who looks like he’s dialing his telephone may be taking your picture and sending it into the ether immediately, without going through the intermediate steps I did for my photograph of monsieur, which took sixteen years. By which time, I hope, the offense is forgiven and he and I can look back and share a nice Gallic chuckle. In your case . . . did you find yourself here? Maybe you knew I was taking your picture — maybe we’re friends, or we were once — but you didn’t know I’d show it to the world (and by “world” I mean a small handful of viewers) one day. Maybe you didn’t know I was taking your picture; maybe I caught you at a parade, or a coffee shop, or in costume on Halloween, or a bit lit on St. Patrick’s Day. Maybe you don’t mind; maybe the more pictures of you out there, the better, and maybe, if you saw yourself here, you’re delighted. If you’re here, I identified you, when I could identify you at all, by first name only, to reduce your googlability. But if you’re not delighted, all you have to do is write me a letter. And it will come down, as the French say, toot sweet.