It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly a decade since I lost interest in photography, but I can remember the exact day it happened. My husband and I had gone to a Christmas market in Glasgow, and I was taking pictures of the various items the vendors were selling. I should mention here that I was never that big on photographing people. I tried street photography a couple of times and it just wasn’t for me. I always preferred objects and landscapes. They don’t move around and don’t feel any discomfort when they see someone with a camera.
Back to the Christmas market, I was looking through my camera at the back of a vendor’s stall. I can’t remember what was there – something like knitted baby items or maybe toys. I hadn’t even pressed the shutter when the vendor yelled ‘Don’t take my picture!’ I immediately lowered my camera and told her that I hadn’t taken her picture and was focusing on the items behind her. I offered to show her the photos I had taken that day so she could see she wasn’t among them. She then shouted that she’d had a stalker in the past and she didn’t want her picture taken. I reiterated that I’d not photographed her and then I moved to get away from her.
She chased me though the crowd, making a point to shout and draw attention. She loudly proclaimed that there were young girls elsewhere in the building doing sport, and that they were dressed in their sport kit and it would be wrong to take photos of them. I had no idea about any other functions going on, but the woman was determined to make it seem like I was some sort of weirdo or pervert. People in the crowd were staring at us and I just wanted to crumple into a ball and disappear. My mouth was dry, my heart was pounding, and I was deeply embarrassed that anyone might think I had sinister motives. I was so distressed that we had to leave the market. I was shaking and tearful in the car on the way home.
That was the last time I comfortably took my camera out in public. I tried a couple of times, but the dry mouth and shaky hands returned, and I felt scared and uncomfortable. I couldn’t focus on framing a shot and I certainly couldn’t press the shutter button. It was like my entire body had retained the memory of being humiliated and shamed in front of all of those people.
I wonder sometimes if the woman thinks about the situation, or if she even remembers it at all. My guess is that she left the market that day feeling important and justified, proud of herself for putting me in my place. She’ll have no idea she robbed an innocent person of an activity they enjoyed. She’ll also never know that I’m hyper-aware of how I treat strangers, and that I’m mindful that my behaviour towards them might have an impact that could last for years.