It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Actually, it was lunchtime on a Tuesday and the plan was to first visit a restaurant participating in this year’s Grilled Cheese Festival before capping off the day with a few beers care of Montreal’s first annual Beer Week. How better suited can two festivals be for each other? The day was mine!
Act 1, scene 1: The best of times
I arrived at the restaurant to find it nearly empty, with the exception of the staff and a couple who were just finishing up their meals. I glanced at the menu for vegetarian options and chatted for a bit with the person taking my order, explaining to him that I was there for the event and asked if they had a special sandwich for the occasion. After placing my order I chose a seat and set my camera down, slightly disappointed that in all likelihood I would be unable to get a shot due to the apparent lack of subjects. It was then that I had a moment of inspiration.
I walked back up to the counter and asked the chef if I could be allowed into the kitchen and get a few shots of the cook putting together the sandwiches. To my delight (and surprise!), the request was enthusiastically accepted, and we had a lovely discussion about my project and film photography while I snapped some shots.
This was one of those times where having a professional camera in my hand is like holding a backstage pass, allowing me access to a magical land that mere mortals cannot enter. Like a badge of honour amongst fellow photographers or enthusiasts, giving me a chance to forge an instant kinship, even if only for a few brief moments before we go our separate ways.
Act 2, scene 1: The worst of times
Still full from my delicious grilled cheese and glowing from the day’s events, I continued on as planned to a bar for Montreal Beer Week. The sun was still shining so I was pretty excited that I would actually get a little natural light for this shoot, as most of the festivals I’ve been to in dimly lit bars or concert halls have been photographically challenging, to say the very least. The waitress was happy to hear I was there for the event and told me about the beer that was being offered up. I ordered a glass, sat down at a table, and took out my camera.
I did a light meter reading and enjoyed my beer, waiting for an opportune moment to snap a shot. Nothing much was happening, it was still early in the evening so I decided to go up to the counter and order another drink while snapping a few shots of the couple sitting across the bar from me. I realized that the waitresses were at the other end of the bar and not looking at me, so I walked over to them. While waiting for my order, one of the waitresses asked if I was taking pictures for the event. I replied that I was, and that’s when things got uncomfortable. Her demeanor abruptly changed and she told me to make sure that I asked before taking anyone’s photograph while giving me the vibe to drink my beer and get out. There was no use in explaining my intentions, my camera and I were no longer welcome.
Obviously this came as a shock to me as I was expecting more of a warm welcome given that this particular bar’s website comes with a link to its own Instagram account, loaded with mobile uploads of patrons enjoying drinks and dancing. I guess anything bigger than a smartphone in my hand instantly makes me persona non grata. How bizarre.
I understand the apprehension some people have when it comes to being photographed. With the immediacy that the smartphone has brought to the distribution of images, some people are uneasy with the fact that their image could be splashed around the internet. However, as a photographer I am deeply interested in the candid moment and feel that it is vital to the documentation of life in this time and place.
I was not even upset that the waitress advised me to ask for my subjects’ permission, but more surprised that it was instantly implied that I wasn’t welcome to photograph the event, without even given the chance to explain myself. If I had had a smartphone in my hand we wouldn’t have had that conversation and it would have been business as usual, but because I had what to some looks like a professional camera, I was seen as an immediate threat.
I ended up attending the event a second time at a location more open-minded than the former. The image you will eventually see will more than likely be from the latter, as I prefer the beauty of the natural moment.