No prenez pas ma foutu photo!

street and film photography by Paul Ottaviano
Av du Mont Royal, Montréal. Nikon FE2 film camera. Agfa 400 color negative film.

Those of you who speak French know what the title means. Those of you who do not speak French, you can probably guess.

This film photograph has a story behind it.

As I was setting up this shot – on a day I was hunting for strong natural front light and not necessarily subject matter – I heard a voice behind me say, “No prenez pas ma foutu photo!”

I think he used the word fotografía, in case I didn’t get the message. Maybe he thought I was Spanish or Portuguese. Who knows?

I looked at him with a raised eyebrow. I got the gist of what he was saying, but wanted him to work for it.

“No prenez pas ma foutu photo!”

Ummmm…

I went to my go-to line, “Je suis Américaine.” That’s when nice Québécois would take pity on my poor-to-no French, and go into what I called mercy English. He looked at me intently and smugly, as if thinking, “Shit, he’s from The States.”

“Don’t take my fucking photo!”

I had no idea who this guy was. I had never seen him before. I had not taken a picture of him, ever. I was shooting with an old film camera, so I’m obviously not a journo or someone who would post it on Instagram two seconds later. Doesn’t he get that? I wondered.

I was taking a shot of the building you see above. Any person in it would have been coincidence, not the clear subject of the photo. Canadian law backs a photographer up on this.

Sure, he has every right to ask that he not be photographed individually. And of course, if the person is clearly the subject of a photo, no signed release means no sales.

But in public on a busy street where he might be part of the cityscape? No, sorry-not-sorry pal. And nobody can guarantee it, even if they try hard to honor it. The art and craft of photography would be compromised, and there would be a lot of shots of seemingly empty streets (unless you want that, of course).

Also, as I have mentioned, I wasn’t and did not shoot a photo of him. That includes a coincidental street photo with perhaps a lot of people.

Write ass on a shirt. Did you spell so others could read it?

So I got to thinking, that in his faux aggressive way, he was being presumptuous. Perhaps he is a locally famous guy? I didn’t know, and I didn’t care. Perhaps he is wanted by the law? If so, that’s his problem.

In the end, I realized that whatever his deal, he was just being an asshole. I had every right to be there, shooting an innocuous film photo with a 30 year-old Nikon FE2.

So, with a dismissive smirk, I said, “I’m not interested in you.”

He was perplexed, “Yeah, riiiiight.”

Notice he went from being angry at the delusion of me allegedly wanting to photograph him, to being angry at the realization that I didn’t want to photograph him. Arrogant and a bit crazy, I thought.

In another situation, or another mood, I might have attempted to make peace and get-to-know the guy. Perhaps there was a fascinating person in there. But he was just being a bully, and I don’t take well to that.

So I turned around and shot what you see above. He walked away frustrated, and threw in a homophobic slur on his way out. Not cool.

Nothing to Get Off With

At first, I of course didn’t enjoy the brief encounter. But then, in a strange way it grew on me. At least it was fresh and honest interaction between two strangers on a street that overdoes it on fast coming-and-going and could slow down, take in things a bit more.

So this photo has become one of my favorites of Montréal. Not because it’s an amazing work of breathtaking whatever. It’s not.

It’s a nice shot of light, on a storefront I found interesting. But that is the superficial part of it.

I now like the photo because of the word exchange with a young man who had the guts to speak up, even if he was mistaken and in poor form. There was sincerity in it. Aside from the homophobic remark, I respect that.

 

 

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