He stood alone staring intently at the camera before him. In fact, he was so focused that he didn’t even hear me approach. Curious as to whether he was a photographer or simply a hobbyist, I tentatively introduced myself.
“Parlez-vous anglais?” I asked.
“Yes, yes I speak English!” He turned, slightly startled, perhaps afraid that he was in trouble. “What do you want?”
“I noticed your camera, are you a photographer or do you do this for a hobby?”
“I am a photographer. What do you want?” He inquired, still slightly agitated.
“I am a photographer too. I just wanted to introduce myself!” I continued as pleasantly as I could.
“Oh you are a photographer!” His demeanor changed entirely. “Wonderful. I teach a class in France with 30 students. Where is your tripod?”
“I didn’t know I would be here this late. I wish I had my tripod, but I will bring it next time.”
“You need tripod!” He continued as if he did not hear a word I had just said.
“Yes I know, thank you!” I laughed, slightly forced.
He then proceeded to give me a photography lesson. Despite having relayed that I studied photojournalism and photography for several years at a university, he continued to tell me how I should take photographs. Rather than letting my impatience get the best of me, I smiled and let him speak. He even gave me his business card insisting I should attend his class. After his lecture was finished, he urged me to take a photo and apply the lessons he had just taught me.
While I adjusted my settings, the sound of endless suggestions rang in the background. With one click of my camera, I turned to show him the results.
“Wait….” He paused. “How did you do that? Come, come, let me show you this great place to take pictures.”
Considering I still had a few more hours, I decided to tag along. Perhaps he knew of a spot that I may have missed earlier.
“See, isn’t it beautiful?” He began. “Now, watch as I take this picture. Look at what I do!”
Quietly, I observed from the distance. I could have pointed out that his photograph was out of focus or that his exposure was too bright but I bit my tongue.
“Now you go!” He instructed. “It might be hard because you don’t have a tripod.”
I sturdied my camera on the concrete wall and fixed my settings accordingly. Once more his voice echoed suggestions and criticisms. I took a picture and showed him the result.
“Wait…” He passed again. “How did you do that?”
In a sudden turn of events, as I knelt down to explain the process, he leans in and kisses me on the cheek.
“No! No! What are you doing? I don’t understand!?”
“Oh sorry, sorry! I may have misread the signs.”
“You’re right, never mind. Sorry!” He replied quickly scurrying back to his tripod.
We parted ways on a civil note but I found myself reflecting on that night’s events. I know this was an incredibly innocent act and the scenario could have been much, much worse but I think my frustration was a result of not being taken seriously in multiple ways. Being kissed, thankfully only on the cheek, was not a vile act, but perhaps it was the combination of being dismissed as a legitimate photographer and then being objectified that left the uneasy feeling in my stomach. Perhaps it was simply the overall lack of respect.
The world is incredibly large and this encounter was incredibly small, but I share this story hopefully as a reminder that how we treat one another is the foundation of humanity and the essence of what it means to be a respectful human being.