The One That Got Away

It’s always been this way to some extent, but it seems more than ever we live in a time where people take advantage of other people. To get ahead, to make money, for some selfish reason. It’s why racism exists and it’s the means of capitalism. It’s created a culture of distrust, suspicion and fear.

“What’s the catch? C’mon, something can’t be right.”

I was driving through a neighborhood today with my 4×5 Wista camera and some freshly-loaded Bergger Panchro 400 sheets of film, looking for a subject to present itself. And one did. A couple of boys dressed to the nines in all white. Three-piece suits, vests and all, with a bit of decoration, a pattern also in white to fancy the suits up. In the back of their house was a gazebo set up, a pile of chairs awaiting unfolding and placement, and a bouncy castle.

I guessed perhaps it was a christening or some kind of a religious event. The family was Latino. There were several adults running in and out of the house carrying catered food trays. This was some kind of a celebration.

And the boys looked amazing.

I parked my car and opened up the Wista so it was in a position to show it to them, to explain that I wanted to make a portrait of the two boys for them. They were maybe 3 and 5, and absolutely adorable, they even had white shoes.

But then I thought, “Maybe the family won’t go for it.” They probably will eye me suspiciously, wonder what I really want, when all I wanted was to make the kids’ portrait together, and then print and gift it to them.

I got out of my car, camera in hand, its wood exterior and its black bellows shouting “old timey photography”, and stepped to the sidewalk by the house and waited for an adult to come back outside. After a short while, a man did, though it appeared he didn’t speak English, and a younger boy came to the door next to him and translated my words.

I smiled, held up the camera and asked if there was a christening or some other event today. I said I saw the kids all dressed up and explained I would love to make a portrait of them with the old camera, which I held up, and gift it to them.

Suspicion was raised, I could tell. The younger boy explained my offer to photograph the boys. The older man shook his head, said, “No thanks,” and went back inside. The younger boy said, “We’re not interested.”

And that was it. I gave myself credit for having asked rather than not bothering. It would’ve been easier to just drive on, confident in my instinct that it wouldn’t happen, they’d never say ok, that fear would prevent the photo from being made. Which is exactly what happened.

I typically charge $950 for a commissioned portrait on film with the large 4×5 camera. Here I was offering a gift, a portrait of the two boys that I would have framed and gifted at no cost, excited that it would stay in the family for years to come. That was my hope, really, that was all I wanted from the photograph–legacy. I wanted it to exist.

But it doesn’t.

Their day went on. I’m sure that bouncy castle was great fun. They probably took a bunch of snaps with their cell phones. Snaps that will probably never be printed and will be eventually lost–that’s what happens to most digital photos within 10-15 years. (Can you find a photo you made in 2005?)

The light on the side of the house was shaded. The boys were radiant in white. All I can do for you is describe the photo that would have been, because there is not one to show.

There is only fear that someone was trying to take advantage of them, and best to just say no, close the door.

That’s the world we live in. That’s the world I would like to work to change.

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