Life as a photographer is not always easy, or, I survived my Spain trip (and want to go back)

November 4, 2015
In the Cuatro Caminos neighborhood, Madrid, Spain

In the Cuatro Caminos neighborhood, Madrid, Spain

Okay, right off the bat I want to set the record straight or admit my naiveté or poor judgment or bad luck and say that I have to update my last post of about a month ago. At that time I had just arrived in Spain and had settled into a room in the Cuatro Caminos neighborhood of Madrid. I was there to take a one-month long super-intensive Spanish language course. The school was in an adjacent neighborhood (good school, but I can get to that either later in this post or a future one).

But anyway, in that previous post I registered my awe at how friendly and peaceful everything was in this big-city environment with families with little kids in strollers and in the arms of their parents or tagging along out on the street late at night — the Spanish like to walk (the pasearse they call it).

All true.

But in the not-so-early morning in broad daylight, on a lonely back street not far from the above photo, I got a rude awakening and was jolted back to reality. I was innocently taking photos when I heard someone yell. Without going into too many details and wasting space, suffice to say that one man seemed to claim in broken English (and I don’t think he was Hispanic, but that has nothing to do with this really) that I had taken his photo and had no right and that I had to hand over my camera. We struggled. I was not hurt but my camera, which I was able to retrieve, was because the man threw it to the pavement. The camera would not work after that. Fortunately I was able to save the photos already made — they were on a card inside. And here’s the crazy, maddening part of the whole ordeal. I know what this guy looked like. He was not in any of the photos.

It’s entirely possible he was simply mentally unbalanced, on something, or just a bully.

But it’s a lesson for picture takers. I mean I had always heard that in some foreign countries people either don’t want their photos taken or want money for them. But I had actually thought I was being careful and not being in anyone’s face and not being too obvious.

And here’s something weird. I had what turned out to be an unheeded warning before I left the states. I was taking a photo at a bus stop in my hometown — where I began my journey —  and a homeless woman got mad and threatened me. She was not in any photo I took either. It’s not easy being a photographer.

The irony continues: I have taken hundreds (thousands?) of photos for newspapers in my so-called career in journalism, and only recall one negative incident. I was taking a totally useless photo of a single-vehicle car wreck, fender bender, no one hurt. But the teenage-girl driver’s father was upset with the whole incident. She was not even in the photo. He grabbed the strap of the camera that was around my neck and I thought he was going to choke me with it. He demanded that I give him the film. Well, my concern, besides being strangled, was that I had some more important photos on the roll — I mean there goes all my work. I somehow managed to convince him that I would not use the photo of the car wreck but I needed to keep the film. He relented.

Well, I thought this post was going to be about my trip to Spain but I just had to get that out of the way, a catharsis of sorts, and maybe a helpful travel advisory.

So my unfortunate incident with the camera at first cast a pall on my trip, but I got over it rather quickly. I thought of buying a new camera, but instead fell back to my cell phone camera, in my ancient flip phone (I mean I only saw one other flip phone on the whole trip and everyone everywhere in the world it seems carries a cell and is staring at it or madly doing the two-finger text thing). But the above photo was taken on my poor old now broken camera. The photo was taken on a side street. After my incident, I tended to stay on the main drags of that particular neighborhood. But I did wander farther in other neighborhoods — but tried to be super aware of my surroundings, polite and unobtrusive — and I missed out on countless good photos because of it. My dad, a professional journalist, taught me that most photos (not all) are better with people in them.

Bottom line: stuff happens or can anywhere you are in the world — even right at home.

Well like I said, I meant this post to be more about my Spain trip in total. I’ll have to do that in my next post possibly. But I can say it was well worth it and I love Madrid. I love Spain. This was my second trip to that country. I hope to return some time.

Oh, so did I learn how to speak Spanish?

I learned a lot. I had taken courses years ago and I had used the language in the real world, as much as I knew, in my most current work as an over-the-road truck driver.

To really know any language, you have to use it in the real world. I’m working on that.