I was walking down rue Amelot, a street that runs parallel to boulevard Filles de Calvaire in the 11th arrondissement. I saw a cute five-year-old girl in front of a grocery store, playing with her stuffed cat and jump rope, so I got the focus and exposure on my camera ready, and walked up and took a photo of her. She seemed pretty happy to have her picture taken.
An innocent moment of street photography turns to catastrophe
Her father rushed out of the store and started taking a complete nutty on me. I said, «Je n’ai pris qu’une seule photo!» (“I only took one picture!”), and I was ready to promise that I would never again photograph his daughter, or anyone else, no matter what age, without their or their legal guardian’s consent. But he was so livid that I gave up after that one sentence. He grabbed my camera and we struggled for a bit, but he just would not let go of my camera until I took the roll of film out and gave it to him. He threw the film in the trash.
I pretended that I didn’t speak French at all and that I was a tourist. He asked me which hotel I was staying at, and where, and I told him a bunch of things he didn’t understand. I stood in front of him and repeated, “Look, I Need My Film… I’m Not Leaving Without My film… I Need My Pictures”.
The damage is done; we argue about what to do next
At first he said, “Well, come back tomorrow and I’ll have your film developed and I’ll give you all the pictures except for the one you took of my daughter”. I persisted in pretending as if I didn’t understand, so he said, “Okay we’ll go get your film developed now, on y va?” I said, «Tee-rah-jezzs?» (“Prints?”). He said, «Voilàaaaa, tirages, c’est ça!» So the two of us walked to some photo place where the lady said my pictures would be ready an hour and a half later.
I came back to the man’s store at the agreed-upon time. We were all much more calmed down by that point, I bought a can of Coke from him, and his wife came back with my photos.
The shopkeepers review my work from the previous couple of weeks
We stood around and looked at all the pictures on the roll, which they enjoyed. We came upon a picture I took of the store near les Halles, named «Déstruction des animaux nuisibles» (Destruction of Nuisance Animals). Photography ethics correctness Shop Man asked me, «C’est en Amérique ce-là?», I told him, “No, no, this is Paris. Look here, where it says, ‘Ratts capturayzz auxxx Hhhallesz versss nineteen-twenty five.’ ”
Then we came to a photo I took of a girl on a see-saw horse in a park in the Marais, which cause him to bark out, «Pareil!». I almost expected that he would want to confiscate this picture, too.
He still kept giving me that irritated, hateful look. I gazed back with my own look, with which I meant to say, “Look, I really (Really!) don’t care, but I think you’re a blazing idiot.” He found the offending frame in my negatives, cut it out with scissors, tossed it in the trash, and gave me the rest of the negatives and prints. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “whatever”, and told his wife they should put their daughter’s photo on the wall behind the cash register as I thought it was very flattering and cute.
On the way out I said, «Bonne journée», and bade them «Au revoir». It could be quite eventful if I were to run in to him later on. Luckily media-unfriendly Shop Owner didn’t notice I had that morning’s edition of Libération sticking out of my back pocket.
—David Henry April 2000
Postscript: Naturally all this happened before digital photography was much of a glimmer in most people’s eye. In a similar situation today, the shop owner would insist that I delete pictures on a digital camera. These days people have forgotten or have never known what cameras were like before the advent of digital photography, would be dumbfounded by the lack of an LCD screen on the back and would probably just give up, thinking the device couldn’t be a camera after all…