WARNING: This is a more serious blog post than normal. Leave now if you prefer photos of kittens, sunsets and old cars!
Newly arrived in Canuckistan in the summer of 2013, I visited a lake with friends one perfectly sunny Saturday. As usual, I packed both my camera and bathing suit for the day, and happily snapped both those I went with and others just doing what so many Canuckis do in summer – life at the lake.
At one point I stopped to chat to the children selling snacks and cold drinks from the “Yum-Yum Shoppe” at the entrance, as well as the old man who had run the resort for several decades, who was keeping an eye on them. One of my friends told me the old guy was negative about life. On the contrary, he had me in stitches …
He talked about how his children used to run the snack shack but that once they stopped coming to the lake he would get kids who came to the resort throughout summer to do it.
“They eat all the profit, but that’s okay, it gives them something to do,” he explained between puffs on his cigarette. “I actually hate the thing’s name. So pretentious,” he went on.
The mother of two of the children asked me why I was taking photos, to which I explained that I was a blogger doing a series about life in Canuckistan. She seemed genuinely interested and more than happy for me to photograph her children for my blog.
But it turns out she was not as genuine as I had thought. A month later I got a call from the police telling me they had received a complaint and to please remove the photos from my blog. As a result of that one complaint I had a record of having been investigated by the RCMP – something that would stay against my name for several years. The incident also had a huge impact on my photo-taking until recently. Where previously I had been comfortable photographing people, it got to the point where I trusted no one, and was actually scared to take the photos I was so good at – candid shots of people.
A few weeks ago I visited the same lake for the weekend (this time) with different friends. Fortunately I drove down a few days beforehand to book our campsites and got talking to the elderly woman who owned the resort. I told her who I was and that I had taken photos there a few years earlier.
“Oh yes, I remember hearing about you,” she told me. I shared what had happened with the RCMP, and then she set everything straight – helping remove a weight I’d carried for three years.
Apparently the mother I had spoken to had seen me taking photos earlier in the day and didn’t like the fact that I had my camera out in such a public place, where children were swimming and playing. She told other parents and campers to watch out for me because I was “taking photos of children in their bikinis without permission.” I’d hate to believe that she consciously hatched a plan to report me to the police, but that’s the way it turned out.
Strangely enough, I did a really cool series of photos of her daughter, capturing all the emotion and nostalgia of lakeside family vacations, because she was the one parent who had actually given me permission. I had always wondered why she didn’t contact me directly to ask me to remove the photos,
when if she subsequently changed her mind. Now I know.
Apparently their family had caused trouble completely unrelated to me at the resort too, and had been asked never to come back. Very sad, but it did bring me a measure of closure.
If you were hoping for an even more positive twist to this story this is it: I then told the resort’s owner how I had taken a few photos of her husband too. As we chatted about him, she recalled that 2013 had been his last summer – that he had died in autumn that year. On arriving home, I went in search of the photos on my hard drive, found a couple, had them printed and gave them to her on the weekend. The word “grateful” does not describe how happy she was. I was in tears, she was in tears. And for the rest of the weekend I kept hearing from my friends and random people at the lake about how much my photos meant to her.
The incident subsequent to my visit to Blue Lake in 2013 was difficult, but the restoration now, and response to two black and white photos more than made up for it. I resolve to keep shooting people because of the joy it brings to them and their loved ones.
I know that people may judge me based on the times we live in, but I choose not to take it personally. I, unlike some middle-aged men with cameras, am not a sick, lecherous, weirdo (contrary to societal belief). I get great pleasure from what I do, which, for me, is blessing people with portraits. Just look at the maternity shoot I did two weekends ago! 🙂
P.S. Whenever I do a series featuring people, I get their permission first. The thing that was so shocking to me about being reported to the police was that I believed I had permission and that the person who reported me did not think about the consequences, in terms of how her report would affect me. I am posting these “Yum-Yum Shoppe” photos here now because it is three years later. At no point have I mentioned where this lake is, and there is no “danger” to these children, who are now three years older and somewhere else entirely. I don’t believe that the photos violate their dignity in any way either. Rather, perhaps one day they will serendipitously stumble across this post and, on seeing their photos, will be reminded of the Yum-Yum Shoppe and their happy holiday at the lake.