Art 100E - Photography
Humiliated, Angry, Ashamed, Brown.
I really wanted to take some pictures of my nephew riding his motorcycle for my motion assignment — maybe one of him making a jump with his dirt bike — but he couldn’t make a break in his soccer schedule to help me out with the shoot. I also thought about photographing a remote control plane or helicopter, which would’ve been really cool, but I don’t know anyone with a remote control anything, so that was out. I’d taken pictures of passing traffic after accidentally locking my keys in my car, but I knew that the whole moving car thing had been played out. It was Wednesday, May 26th, 2004. My motion assignment was due when my evening photography class convened, and I found myself quickly running out of both ideas and time.
Realizing that I’d have to settle and just go for the grade, I considered things that were less exciting, but more familiar and accessible. I finally decided to take photos of boats over at the Ballard Locks. Who knows, maybe I’d get lucky and even get a passing train into my composition.
I suppose a little background would help. The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks are a bit of a sore subject with me. I’d been over at the Locks earlier in the quarter, back at the beginning of April, taking photos of the picturesque landscape surrounding this prominent local landmark. I’d even left my subject and returned with more film just to try to get the right shot. Being new to photography, I made careful notes of my camera’s settings.
Within a half an hour of my returning home I found myself confronted by two uniformed Seattle Police officers, both of whom had their hands casually resting on their sidearms. (This is definitely not something you want to see at the door of your home.) I was sincerely surprised and alarmed to learn they were looking for me!
They asked if I was taking photos of the train bridge, and I couldn’t help but laugh. I quickly pulled my notebook from my back pocket and explained that I was a new photography student over at Shoreline Community College, and showed them all of my notes — a list of exposures, subjects, f-stops, and shutter speeds. I think I talked to them for about five minutes, setting things straight and giving them all of the background information I could. They clarified that I hadn’t done anything wrong. I thought we were done.
“Can I see some ID?” one of the cops asked. I was really confused by this request. I’d already provided all the information I’d felt I’d needed to. If I hadn’t done anything wrong then why did they need to see my ID?
I don’t know about you, but I’m not exactly comfortable with policemen detaining me, let alone running background checks on me. To my understanding, even though this kind of stuff isn’t admissible in court, I recognized that each background check is added to some undisclosed police file, and that any officer checking that file would have to interpret it. I really wanted to know at what point I had the right to say “no.”
“Well, you don’t have to cooperate,” the cop responded, exaggerating his tone. Yeah, I got his message. Have you ever tried not cooperating with a cop? I gave him my ID, and then sat through another ten minutes of awkward and demeaning questions. I was hoping my neighbors wouldn’t assume that I was a drug dealer. Aggravated and embarrassed, I retaliated by snapping off a few shaky photos of the strategic placement of their police cars when they finally let me go. (I've developed an odd sense of humor. It kicks in when I'm nervous.)
This episode kept coming back to me over the following days. I was angry, but more honestly, I felt embarrassed and powerless. I felt violated. For what it was worth, I eventually contacted the Seattle Police Department and obtained an official copy of the police report.
And now, back to my more immediate dilemma...
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