Creepy guys with cameras and what you can do about them.
Photo predators, paparazzi, guys surreptitiously pointing cameraphones at women, under their skirts, on their bodies. It’s indicative of a prevailing sentiment that a woman’s body is public property, says this article. Here’s an honest, articulate and nuanced perspective from mcyl, a friend who’s experienced this first-hand and was kind enough to share her thoughts in this guest post. I’m also thrilled that a casual discussion on Twitter acquired so many hues thanks to perspectives like these. mcyl’s point of view is by no means prescriptive and as always, more discussion makes for better comprehension so please feel free to participate.
I’ve always disliked being photographed. Perhaps because I was always too fat or too dark or too introverted, at different points in my life. Sometimes, all three at once. I’ve always felt I’ve been looked at, perhaps because as a fat kid, 99% of the people in your life point out to your being ‘different’. Over time, being photographed became traumatic and scary. Being photographed on my birthday, for instance, was a nightmare. Still is, sometimes.
With the introduction and the sudden deluge of cell phones, the ones with cameras, in the Indian market, a whole new world of trauma opened up for me. I noticed men sneakily taking pictures of white women. I noticed men sneakily taking pictures of Indian women. Worst of all, I noticed men sneakily taking pictures of me. Awkward, still mostly fat, me. In the beginning, I’d freeze. Then use the old when-people-stare-at-you-look-up-and-yell—KYAHAI and they shut up and leave you alone. But they didn’t, so I’d get mad at myself for allowing them to make me feel uncomfortable.
Now I’m going to make an argument for the men who take these pictures, which I probably wouldn’t have, before I saw Send Some Candids (www.fabienc.com) a curated project by photographer Fabien Charuau. Fabien is a Frenchman who came to India a while back and is married to an Indian woman, who he noticed was being sneakily photographed. Then, he realised, a lot of women were being photographed, in a similar fashion, without consent or knowledge – not only his wife, or white women, or women who were visually ‘different’ and therefore exciting at some level. Fab decided to get in touch with these men, who photograph women sneakily, in a project called Send Some Candids. I saw him present this project at a photography talk, and realised there’s a lot more to it than plain old creepiness. It’s a lot more (or at times a lot less) than a need/desire to go up and talk to these women. Sometimes, it’s shyness. Sometimes, it’s aspiration. Sometimes it’s about the way she moved, or the curve of her neck that struck a romantic chord in the man, in the same way as an image in an advertisement would. Sometimes, it seems to be juvenility, instilled by a closeted society refusing to talk about sexuality so a twenty-four year old man finds the sight of bras sticking out from under her clothes fascinating. And of course sometimes it’s just plain old masturbation fantasies.
Somehow, going into the reasons why (before the project, some of them didn’t realise why they did it either), it occurred to me it’s a fairly stupid thing to be scared of. It’s an even stupider thing to get incensed at and waste energy over. For me, it’s like white people (or sometimes Indians too) photographing Indians, which at times feels far more exploitative, because while there is a candids pornpic industry, a lot of these guys are just regular guys who’re taking the picture for the most harmless reasons. I also realised that these guys don’t know it’s wrong. They don’t realise it’s creepy and it’s traumatic. It’s a lack in education,that really reflects more on the society we live in, and the same old uber-moral scales, that make men
a. afraid of the women they don’t own and
b. somehow want to own the women they don’t own, by perhaps taking that picture.
I spend a lot of my time, in general, talking to people, asking whys and what nots. Today, I went to Dharavi, and noticed a few guys taking pictures of me. I was with a group of European artists and academics, who were here for a research tour, and while I wasn’t as trigger happy as they were with my camera, somewhere I felt we were doing the same thing. At some level, I saw similarity, in the expressions of the men taking pictures of me (funny, they weren’t too interested in the firang women in the group), and in the expressions of the group I was with, and realised a lot of it was simply curiosity; and as a writer, and sometimes a photographer, isn’t that what I’ve done, exactly? Given in to curiosity while infringing on someone’s privacy? At some level, I felt horribly dirty that we were doing the same thing – just that instead of dehumanising women as a gender, but really dehumanising an entire class of people who call the area their home (Side note: another firang group’s in Dharavi, doing a study on privacy, and are currently not including the Slumdog touristas traipsing through peoples’ lives and livelihoods every day). Of course, I get that it’s a different thing altogether, curiosity. But that’s the other thing, these guys who photograph urban women, it’s also curiosity.
I’m not saying it’s okay, and I’m not saying it’s not at all creepy. I’m simply saying that maybe calling them all just ‘creepy’ is somehow dehumanising them, and there’s a lot of that going around lately. There’s some merit in understanding, and then solving, or looking at a problem, because it’s an easier way to solve a problem than by pointing and screaming and dissociating from someone…
In no way am I belittling the experience of other women, who get similarly photographed without their consent, and perhaps my point of view might be considered a bit too sympathetic. Here’s how I deal with it sometimes. I just smile at them, if I catch them taking a picture, and suddenly they stumble. I become human to them, they start thinking of me as someone with a history, and they stop. Sometimes, that’s all it takes. Yes I’m aware it might be taken as encouragement, and could end up with acid on face scenarios, but it’s a silly thing to be afraid of, and there are ways to deal with it more effectively.