Even Sapir, Jerusalem
Saturday, July 10th, 2004 http://adamkhan.net/rambles/photographing-an-old-man
felt somewhat foolish fiddling with my camera in a cafe. I realize I have never much tried to photograph people, preferring instead street scenes and alleged compositions. Now however I very much want to get people in the pix, but I see it’s quite tough when you’re no longer a wide-eyed teenager, because people generally don’t like to think they are a spectacle. Kids love it, but grown-ups and the religiously prone are uptight about it. I understand them, I guess, as it is an invasion; suddenly one is felt as if one is on the spot. It’s interesting to note at what point in our lives people stop loving having our picture taken.
I was also disturbed because I was sitting there too after all yet despite taking his picture I did not wish to speak to this man because when he spoke to me his tone was somewhat bitter. I had assumed that having the camera on the table was much less obtrusive than having it up at my face and aiming it at him. But as I fiddled with the controls and the lens was pointing at him, he knew. I guess it’s better to fiddle with the controls first, then casually aim it later.
Now at this point I should say that for what it’s worth I ask people if they mind before I press the shutter. This man was sort of surprised at the question. He didn’t say no but neither did he seem very happy about it. He picked up a reed and asked if I want a picture of the flower. Then he asked me if I want him to take a picture of my watch (I have a rather chunky Suunto), so it felt like he wanted to shift the attention over to me.
This felt strange to me because these sarcastic jibes are how Israelis speak to their peers, so I felt like I was talking to a contemporary who just happened to have been around a lot longer than me, and not to a wise elder. Also, he looked old enough to me that I thought, What the hell does he care what’s in the stupid weekend newspaper?
So he didn’t refuse, but neither did he seem to understand the obvious: that it wasn’t about him, but rather about catching the scene — of which he happened to be the dominant part — all without getting up from my seat cos I’m still a bit half-assed about all this. Plus, it feels sort of peculiar to stick around after taking a picture (I took it while waiting for my own order). Especially in Israel, which is, I think, severely under-photographed outside of the geopolitic angle, the reaction is: Who do you think you bloody are, some sort of foreign tourist? Away and work or produce some children.
This one was also disturbing because it was the first time I shot in such high resolution, and the quality of his — our — 80-something-old skin alarmed me. Perhaps this upset his equilibrium too, ie, Ah, you should have taken my picture 50 years ago, then I was something to look at, sonny, but now you’re not doing anyone any favours. All in the Hebrew equivalent, which would translate “sonny” for “chabibi,” which is not quite so pleasant.
There was a period during which I thought I was not long for this world when my perception of our elders shifted totally; instead of pitying them their frailty and physical devastation, I envied them their achievement and acquisition of elderliness. But although I remember having that feeling, I can no longer feel it.
Obviously, both pity and envy are stupid and inappropriate reactions to old age.
The coffee was good. Speaking of which, this is the bar at the original Aroma on Hillel St. Aroma is now a hugely successful cafe franchise in Israel, exploding even during (and obviously partly due to) these economic hard times. The white and red on black menu behind has become a sort of national icon.