Welcome to Thatz Not Okay, a regular column in which I school inquiring readers on what is and is not okay. Please send your questions (max: 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "Thatz Not Okay."
Having wanted a DSLR for years I finally purchased one. Now I find myself near-obsessively archiving enjoyable moments through a lens. My roommate seems to understand this, and even suggested taking some outdoor portraits of her. The rest of my friends think it's extremely odd that I enjoy taking pictures of them while fixing dinner, watching TV, or whatever else they may be doing. They seem really suspicious as to what I'm doing with these pictures, but I'm only keeping the flattering images of them (retouching them if necessary), and archiving them. I do this with no specific goal in mind, other than the fact that I find it enjoyable. I do respect their privacy, and have gotten in the habit of asking if they mind me taking their picture, but they are generally camera shy. I'm at a loss how to make them more comfortable having their picture taken, or understand why I enjoy taking their pictures. I'm starting to wonder if there's something wrong with me for wanting to take them in the first place. I just want to photograph my friends. Is that okay?
But it's also okay that your friends don't always want to have their pictures taken. Some people just don't enjoy being photographed. Focus on the ones who do.
Of course people don't really believe you when say you are just creating art in a vacuum, for no reason. [Near-]Obsessively snapping photos of people, picking out the best shots, and carefully retouching them for his own personal records is the kind of thing that, when an old man does it—sitting alone in his apartment, peeping out his window at the grey afternoon, and all his little shoes are lined up on "his" half of the closet even though the other half is empty, and he doesn't speak English (I think he's Italian)—is heartbreaking. When...just some guy...does it, it's inexplicably sinister and undeniably creepy.
People become uncomfortable when they don't understand your motivation. It's like they're playing checkers and you're playing chess; they can't figure out how to react to what you're doing, so they don't know how to win or lose. Pretty much any reason you can scrounge up for taking these photos other than "no particular reason,"—"I want to get better at photography"; "I'm trying to build a portfolio"; "I'm going to make a fortune off your face by selling these stock photos to the highest bidder"—will soothe them.
The important thing is to stay away from the abstract. Don't answer their questions ("Why are you doing this?") with questions of your own ("Why does anyone collect anything?") That will make you sound evasive, like a serial killer.
"Some people collect coins...I collect SOULS."
If you come up with a reason for your hobby, your friends still might decline to be photographed, but at least they won't worry that you're planning to upload these pictures to your computer to masturbate to them later, which is definitely what they are thinking. Even if you say, "I'm going to upload these pictures to my computer to masturbate to later," you might still find someone game to be photographed. (I don't know your freak-a-leek friends.)
You would also do well to remember that even people who like to be photographed don't like to be photographed constantly. Don't become the friend paparazzi. Your friends will quickly grow weary of your presence if, every time they invite you over to watch American Horror Story, you spend the hour taking pictures of them watching TV for an exhibition titled "The Way We Watched American Horror Story" you're planning to curate on your computer for no one later that night.
Also, the number one rule of taking pictures of people is that you have to then let them see the pictures—"This is what the camera monster sees when it looks at you!"—which it doesn't sound like you are necessarily doing. Start doing that. It will make people feel better. Maybe give them a framed photograph of themselves for the holiday of your choice. A disturbing Pentecost surprise.
If eventually your friends all decline to be photographed but you are desperate to pursue your passion of capturing images of humans for no clear reason, maybe look into posting a "TFP" (Time for Prints) listing on Craigslist. This is an arrangement by which a photographer solicits the services of broke-ass models, who pose in exchange for receiving free copies of the shots.
Or you can take pictures of flowers or something. Flowers don't need to give consent and they don't care if you masturbate to their images.
I was recently out on a double date with my good friend, her new beau, and my boyfriend. While we were hanging out and having pleasant conversation, something very strange happened. My friend's new dude perceived that I had interrupted him and he took it upon himself to playfully slap my face as a way of, I don't know, correcting me? I was extremely taken aback. I do not like to be touched by strangers (particularly men, whether or not they are dating my friend) and I especially do not like being touched in the face of all places. I called him out on it by saying "I'm sorry, did you just... slap my face?" and he laughed and gave me a "Yeah, so?"
I was furious. I told him "Do it
again, and see what happens." So he did do it again and I launched across
the table ready to attack but was restrained by my boyfriend. Now, I realize it
was wrong to try to attack him, but his physical violation of my personal space
triggered past abuse and sent me into a blind rage. My friend and boyfriend
seem to think I overreacted to the situation and that what this guy did was no
big deal, but I disagree. My question is, if someone you barely know playfully
slaps you in the face, is that okay?
Thatz not okay.
This guy is obviously a jerk and was raised in a barn where severed hands dangled and protruded from every surface, making it impossible to go about your daily activities without getting lightly slapped in the face innumerable times. Everyone who was raised in the outside world ("The Land Beyond the Hands," his gruff mother called it) knows that slapping someone else's face—even lightly slapping it; even just touching it, with your hot, strange fingers—is extremely rude.
Unfortunately, when you have to be physically restrained in a restaurant to keep from assault someone, you are the diner who looks crazy. And that's not fair to you.
Here's what you said that was a good thing to say:
"I'm sorry, did you just slap my face?"
Here's what you said that was a bad thing to say:
"Do it again and see what happens."
That is the kind of taunt a 14-year-old on the playground (or, like, Sammi Sweetheart from Jersey Shore) uses. When you say this, you are literally inviting someone to repeat whatever behavior just angered you. (You're obviously hoping they won't—and, sure, some people will choose not to—but this guy established himself as an unpredictable oaf with the first move. You think he's going to turn down the opportunity for a slapdown smackdown?)
What would you have done if you had not been restrained? Killed him? Slapped him in the face with a dozen tiny slaps? "Here's an amuse bouche for you: knuckle sandwiches!"
There is no way to be totally in the right when you have to be physically held back—like an out of control teen addressing the Maury studio audience—to prevent you from beating someone. From your story, it sounds like this guy is more of an "I touch people" asshole than a "Let's have some dust-ups with the young lasses!" lunatic. To everyone around you (or, as they would have been described in the police report, "witnesses"), this would have looked like a crazy woman attacking a man over a table.
The one upside being slapped by a relative stranger slaps you in a casual social setting is that it gives you free rein to kill the mood.
Destroy that mood.
WASTE that mood.
You know what's going to make everyone feel uncomfortable—especially the person who slapped you? Telling that person, "I was actually in an abusive relationship for a while, so I'm really sensitive to being slapped in the face." If that's a little revealing (or dramatic) for your taste, saying "Don't do it again," in a deadly serious voice will probably have the same effect.
One benefit of responding with withering words instead of your full bodyweight is that if this guy, being FULL CRAZY, had slapped you again after your calm response, no one would have said "Well, he was wrong but you overreacted." People instead would have said, "That man is FULL CRAZY."
I'm hoping (and guessing) that it's not that your friend and boyfriend think that what the guy did was "no big deal"; rather, that what you did—launch yourself across the table like an Angry Bird to FUCKIN' GUT someone—was a bigger deal. Just like it was a bigger deal that he playfully slapped your face than that you interrupted him.
Don't attack people. Don't slap people. Don't interrupt people. In that order.
Submit your "Thatz Not Okay" questions here (max: 200 words). Art by Sam Woolley.