“S.T.O.M.P.” (“Satirical Tales of a Moody Photographer”) is a series for La Vue Atypique which shares anecdotes from my career as a professional photographer. Aside from my family and a few close friends, questions about my experiences have never been posed by anybody. After 13 years of being in this business, I have decided to be proactive and tell some of these stories myself. The content of this series is 90% autobiographical and based on events that actually occurred. The remaining 10% is provided by my affinity for creative writing. All characters are real people whose names have been changed for the narrative. The stories featured in this series are snippets from my career with an objective to amuse, entertain and, occasionally, enlighten the reader. Enjoy.
City of Brotherly Security
The night air was very chilly while T.J. Muddywater was exploring Philadelphia during the holiday season. As usual, he had set many expectations for himself to capture several cityscapes and urban landscapes to add to his portfolio.
Fortunately, he had arrived from Seattle properly prepared for the cold temperatures. Since T.J. used to live in the East Coast of the United States for many ears, he was not unfamiliar with how mercilessly frigid the winters were in contrast to the Pacific Northwest, where winters were typically very wet and soggy. (Needless to say, he didn’t really miss the East Coast in winter…or any season, for that matter. Maybe autumn. Yes, he missed the charming, colorful landscapes of the East Coast in autumn).
During his previous visits to the City of Brotherly Love, T.J. had always been fascinated with the architecture and location of Philadelphia’s City Hall. It stood boldly as an historic landmark and relic of American colonial history against the modern skyscrapers surrounding it — and still boldly visible in spite of its towering neighbors.
Determined to obtain some new shots of City Hall that night, T.J. discovered a parking garage along Broad Street that had several levels. T.J. predicted that the added elevation from street level would offer some exquisite views of Philly’s city center and surrounding landscape.
Since it was night time in America’s sixth largest city, T.J. gingerly approached the parking garage, which appeared to serve a hospital campus. With a slight stir of excitement brewing over what he was prepared to capture, he located an elevator that took him to the top floor of the garage. Enthusiasm coursing through his soul, T.J. proceeded to set up his camera and tripod to do what he loved to do most in life.
The photographer was partially correct in his prediction about the view. It was satisfactory, but not as brilliant as his imagination led him to envision. It didn’t really matter. T.J. knew he didn’t visit Philadelphia every day. He had to capture whatever was available. He didn’t have the time to be finicky like he could be in Seattle (since he was a resident of Seattle). Besides, he was in the business of presenting atypical views of cities — which could come in the form of vantages that weren’t the most aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
For several minutes, he caught the urban landscapes surrounding him while listening to pop music on his iPod. He was so engaged in this particular activity — which was typically how T.J. conducted his photography at night — that he initially ignored the fact that there was another individual approaching him from the garage’s stairwell. When the stranger stood next to him, the moody photographer let out a stifled sigh and made eye contact with the individual.
The stranger was a young, Black man, perhaps in his late 20s. He was wearing a uniform, an officer’s hat with a visor, and what were — probably — some weapons around his waist. The man was talking to T.J., but because either Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Lady Gaga, or Diana Ross and the Supremes were singing something into the depths of his cranium, T.J. couldn’t hear him. All he could see was the man’s mouth forming various shapes and sizes, which prompted T.J. to restrain a chuckle.
Well, I managed to get some shots, T.J. thought to himself. Switching off his iPod with the utmost reluctance, he gave the stranger a half smile before saying, “Sorry, I couldn’t hear you. How can I help you?”
Somewhat apprehensively, the stranger introduced himself as a security guard for the parking garage. He said that security cameras captured “suspicious activity” coming from the top floor of the garage. (Mentally, T.J. decided to give him the moniker of “Mr. Brotherly Security #1”).
“Oh! That activity isn’t suspicious at all. It’s just me taking pictures. I’m a photographer,” T.J. responded, rather dispassionately because he already knew where this was going.
The security guard shook his head vehemently, clearly in opposition to the photographer’s “what-is-the-big-deal” attitude. “No. You can’t be up here, unless…well, you just can’t be here. It’s suspicious activity and we can’t permit that.”
All T.J. heard in that statement was “unless”. Unless what? Why couldn’t Mr. Brotherly Security #1 recall? He also noticed the guard look around at the vehicles parked around them after he said the word.
The photographer packed up his equipment and was escorted to the entrance of the parking garage, in which there was an adjacent office with another security guard, a White fellow, perhaps in his late 20s or early 30s. This guard was deeply engaged in something at his desk behind a wooden counter in the small office. His eyes were wide and he was perspiring profusely for some reason. (Aaah, “Mr. Brotherly Security #2.”)
Upon entry, Mr. BS #1 told Mr. BS #2 that T.J. was the individual who they had seen on their security cameras. T.J. stood in front of the counter of which Mr. BS #2 sat on a chair behind the counter. T.J. could not see beyond the table top of the counter. A peculiar conversation ensued. It went something along the lines of the following:
T.J.: So guys, is photography from the garage not allowed?
MR. BS #1: Oh, it is.
MR. BS #2: Yes, of course it is.
T.J. (perplexed): So why are you kicking me out?
MR. BS #1 (leering at something on the desk behind the counter): Because you didn’t park here.
MR. BS #2 (staring at the same something on the desk behind the counter): Yeah, we didn’t see any footage of you driving into the garage and paying for parking. Did you?
T.J.: No. I parked across the street.
MR. BS #1: And that’s why you can’t photograph here. You didn’t pay for a parking spot.
MR. BS #2: Yeah. We are going to have to ask you to vacate the premises.
T.J.: Okay, I’ll be on my way.
MR. BS #2: You were just taking pictures?
T.J.: Yes, I am a photographer visiting Philly for the holidays.
MR. BS #1: Oh really? Where are you visiting from?
T.J.: From Seattle.
MR. BS #2 (looking up from behind the counter at T.J. for the first time): Oh, you came some ways. You a professional?
T.J.: Yep. Visiting family and friends. I own a small photography business in Seattle.
MR. BS #2 (now more interested in the guy who he and Mr. BS #1 were about to kick out): Cool! Do you have a card? What do you photograph?
T.J. (after handing business cards to both security guards): I capture a lot of cityscapes and do a lot of night photography.
MR. BS #2: What? Is there not enough city in Seattle to photograph?
MR. BS #2: That was just a little joke. Don’t Seattle people tell jokes?
T.J.: Oh! I see. Yes. We tell a lot of jokes out West. All the time. Our jokes usually end with a punchline that evokes laughter, though.
MR. BS #1: Our humor out East is on the rougher edges. Not always understood by all.
Mr. BS #2, still sweating, suddenly swiveled in his rotating chair and flashed an extremely overt glance of annoyance at Mr. BS #1 to which Mr. BS #1 shrugged sheepishly.
MR. BS #2: Anyway, let me check out your website for a second to see what you’ve got.
MR. BS #2: Oh wow! These photos are awesome. Yo, Nightshade! Check these out. He’s actually really good.
A minute or two of silence followed while Mr. BS #2 started clicking his mouse furiously behind the counter. T.J. knew he should have left the two guards, but now that they showed interest in his work, he thought he could use this detour to his advantage.
MR. BS #1 (joining MR. BS #2 behind the counter): Oh, shoot. You’re right, Oleander. These are fire!
T.J. stood still as he quietly registered the real (and ironic) names of the two security guards for the first time that evening.
MR. BS #2: Oh wait. Where is this?
MR. BS #1: I have no idea.
MR. BS #2: Mr. Muddywater. Where is this in this picture?
Mr. BS #2 motioned T.J. to join the two guards behind the counter. Even though T.J. always made sure to caption his photographs with a description, he could see that these individuals had ignored the text printed on the right of the image. T.J. pointed to the caption in silence.
MR. BS #1 and MR. BS #2 (in unison): Oohhhhhhhh! Cool!
At that moment, T.J. noticed three pornographic magazines on the desk surrounding a computer keyboard, each spread opened with images of subject matter…that one would see in such magazines. T.J. deduced that this may have partially explained Mr. BS #2’s profuse perspiration upon meeting him a few minutes ago. Interestingly, this unexpected revelation — unlike the security footage in which they first spotted T.J. — completely escaped the cognizance of both security guards. Neither even tried to conceal the magazines. Now that the situation had become officially awkward, T.J. returned to the front of the counter.
MR. BS #2: I guess you have two more fans. Thanks for providing your business card. If you can do this stuff with other cities, you’re going to make Philly look awesome, man! Our city is not the prettiest.
MR. BS #1: No doubt about it.
T.J. (thinking he had buttered them up with camaraderie): Thanks guys. Since you know what I’m about now, that means I can go back up and get some more shots, right?
MR. BS #1 and MR. BS #2 (in unison with words and body language): ABSOLUTELY NOT. YOU NEED TO PAY TO PARK.
T.J. shrugged and proceeded to leave. He already got the shots he wanted before this dynamic duo caught him anyway.
MR. BS #2 (sweat dripping from the visor of his officer hat): Happy Holidays, Mr. Muddywater! Enjoy Philly!
Anime avatar of T.J. Muddywater courtesy of: DollDivine.com