In Praise Of The Shot Not Taken

Wedding party by the Bay- water scenery with flower girl

Looking For Beauty

This weekend I celebrated a friend’s marriage at a lovely wedding on the Chesapeake Bay. Perfect weather, perfect mate, in short the very idea of perfection for her. And it was. It seemed like everyone had a great time.

Let’s face it, at my age, I am going to a lot more “Happy Your Hip Replacement Went Well” parties than weddings, so this was interesting.

I loved watching everyone interact, and since this was an interfaith marriage, the two camps of family and friends cautiously mingling was fascinating.

Things have clearly changed since I last had a big wedding in 1970-something, when the fun thing was the disposable one-use Kodak instamatic camera on the tables for guests to use and leave.

Of course this wedding had the usual professional photography team, complete with videographer (I haven’t seen much of this here in the states, but in Baku it was the de facto standard).

But what most struck me was that, in addition, it seemed that everyone there had a camera of some sort, taking candid photos and short video clips, like these that I shot.

(BTW, full disclosure here- For those of you who are amused by and/or interested in this little video clip, the gentleman I caught by surprise, the one who couldn’t figure out which way to go to get out of the shot, that’s my husband, Joe. No egos were harmed in the making of this clip.)

But let me backup a bit and share a little context that generated the title of this post.

I had just finished shopping for my friend’s wedding present, as we do, humming along with the radio, generally feeling wonderful. A nice birthday week, wrapping up with a little trip over the Bay Bridge, anticipating yummy Maryland crab, wedding cake and friends.

As I pulled up to the main intersection, I was [amused, concerned, saddened] by the sight of 4 men, one on each left-turn island panhandling, competing as it were for loose change or more, each one looking more pitiable than the last.

My first reaction was to pull out my phone and document this curious sight, as we do now days. I mean, after all, how often do we witness turf wars between the homeless? The irony just seemed, well, ironic(al).

We find any number of these ‘OMG’ clips on the web everyday. “Can you believe she went out in THAT???” “Is THIS for real?” and so on. It seems like we are always trying to out-do someone in the contest for discovering the most outrageous [dress/behavior/stunt].

So it was with a good deal of shame that I caught myself. I had to acknowledge that these men, real hard-luck cases or scammers, were still people underneath the beards and layers of salvage clothing, people who shouldn’t be subjected to being caught on film just because of their circumstances.

The Shot Not Taken- a photo of a smartphone

In Praise of The Shot Not Taken

When I was overseas, I would often see expats take photos of the gypsy children in the square, or old babushkas on the market sweeping with these fluffy weed brooms. Or the boxes of “Barf” washing up powder. It was not uncommon to have a laugh at anything that was “backward” or “uncivilized” or the lease bit suggestive- like the young girls who learned to be women from MTv, becoming caricatures of hookers and prostitutes instead of ladies. International humor markets are insatiable and awfully cruel to developing cultures, who have to hop the fast track to modern behavior with no tutorials. Sometimes they get it right, but mostly not so much.

Which brings me to this weekend. And to our mindset as people, expats, repats, travellers or tourists… or wedding guests.

At the wedding, as I stood there taking in the sights with my phone/camera, I wondered how many of these same genteel ladies and gentlemen would later star in their own You-Tube highlight reel? I wondered how many of these young people, imbibing at the open bar, would later regret something captured for posterity, and posted for all to see?

What’s that old saying? “There but for the grace of God…”

You never know who may show up in some of these photos, videos or tweets online. Have you ever found yourself online unexpectedly? It’s a small comfort for sure, but the internet is also a great leveler, and what goes around may very well come around to bite the poster in the keister, so to speak.

The Life Lesson in this story, I believe, is to think kindly about what we post, whether as expats talking about the developing cultures we have been sent to [rebuild/remodel/remove/rejuvenate], as repats regaling each other with our “I had it harder than you” stories, or as people on their way to Wal-Mart for a day of people watching (hey, it could happen!).

This post in praise of the shot not taken, the photo and the posting not designed to embarrass or make fun of a friend. This post is in praise of judiciousness and restraint.

This post is in praise of culture that turns a blind eye on occasion instead of exploiting every perceived shortcoming.

I’ll drink to that! (But first, please step away from the phone… This is a no photo zone.)


Additional Reading
For more on this subject, you may also be interested in reading Caitlin Kelly’s thoughts over on Broadsideblog ( .

Caitlin shares a great tip: “Here’s a wild idea. It’s easy to remember because it’s the first three letters of the alphabet:   ABC

Always Be Compassionate”   Great tip! Thanks Caitlin.


One thought on “In Praise Of The Shot Not Taken

  1. I just came across this article, and wonder how you (readers) feel about this?

    “In another recent case in New York City, photographer and artist, Arne Svenson, is selling photographs he took of his neighbors living in apartments across the street at an art gallery. The exhibition entitled “The Neighbors,” has caused much concern from some of those depicted, even though their faces were not shown. Others are considering legal action, according to reports in the AP and the New York Post.

    This raises a number of legal questions regarding the privacy rights of the subjects vs. the First Amendment rights of the photographer. In New York, those rights have been clearly established for photographs taken on a public street, but what is less certain is how the courts might view photographs of inhabitants taken through an apartment window. One of the things that distinguishes public from private is that in public, you have no reasonable expectation of privacy whereas you do in your own home or apartment.

    Mr. Svenson is not the first photographer to capture and sell these types images. Michele Iversen has been shooting in a similar fashion since 1995, as was reported in 2010. Ultimately it may be up to the courts to decide whether Svenson could be the poster child for what not to do as a photographer or whether he has now pushed the envelope in broadening the legal limits on “street photography.” Other countries have different rules as can be seen in a recent discussion in the NY Times Lens Blog.”


    Is this an example of how “professionals” do what we’re discussing in the post here?


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