I was at a coworker’s party once where a photographer was holding court in the kitchen with some guests telling us stories about their recent trip to Paris. She talked about how her husband absolutely loved the time-honored French way to wander among the bouquinistes along both banks of the River Seine. So, to allow him to browse the used and antiquarian booksellers, just as Thomas Jefferson and others have done for centuries, my photo colleague said she would kill time by taking pictures on the Île de la Cite.
Meanwhile, in the living room, her spouse, already identified as antique-book loving, was regaling us with his own Parisian experiences. How knowing his partner fancied herself a street photographer, he would look at old books and people-watch so his better half could enjoy expressing her inner-Henri Cartier-Bresson or Robert Doisneau as a Parisian street photographer.
They ended up divorced.
I often think of the couple’s almost Gift of the Magi-esque selfless love when I am out taking pictures — with someone else in tow. I learned long ago while out with my family not to make them sit in the car or on a bench while I’m waiting for just the “right light.”
But this is not unique to newspaper photographers. Taking pictures is just another popular interest and hobby, so chances are if you are into gardening, sometimes you go to the flower shows by yourself. Numismatists don’t drag their loved ones to every coin collectors convention, and I’ll bet many Trekkies cosplay individually at Comic-Con.
The pandemic has reminded me of my feelings on going it solo. In the Old Normal, reporters and photographers went out together on stories and talked with people, often intimately in their homes and workplaces, or in school. Except for news events and sports, for the past year writers have been doing interviews virtually, and then photographers go out and make pictures later, posing people on porches, stoops, front and back yards and driveways.
As things have loosened up a bit recently and I am working alongside colleagues again, that thought of inconveniencing others has reentered my psyche.
At Philadelphia International Airport recently, I had to be escorted through TSA security and then accompanied as I walked around trying to illustrate a current airline business story, as well as make airport pictures for future stories. It was hard to not think my chaperone was wondering, “Why can’t this guy just take a picture and move on?” as I waited, not just for someone to walk through my frame, for that someone to be pulling a suitcase!
Or while on a story visiting a few remote towns where the elk almost outnumber the human residents. The wildlife expert was driving the reporter and me around looking for elk. After about an hour we found some, but I couldn’t help feeling they were both thinking, “Okay, got ‘em. Now let’s go get something to eat.” But I didn’t want just an elk in a field! I was hoping for getting them in yards, near houses, or at least on the road. So I got up early the next morning and went back on my own.
On the way home from that assignment, I was able to make a stop in Breezewood, Pa. a wonderfully wacky interstate traffic chokepoint that I had always wanted to spend a few hours in just wandering around. But I never could, because, you know, that family and/or loved ones thing.
Since 1998, a black-and-white photo has appeared every Monday in staff photographer Tom Gralish’s photo column in The Inquirer’s local news section. Here are the most recent, in color: