On my way home up an undisclosed street in Boyle Heights at 11pm on a Monday night, I saw a news van parked in front of a food stand.* The food stand were run by a familiar Breed Street family. Since I had my digital point-and-shoot handy, I stopped and took a few photos (without the flash). I was immediately approached by one of the individuals with the food team and her male sidekick. They asked me in Spanish what I was taking the photos for. I responded in my poor Spanish that the photos were just for me, that I lived in the neighborhood and that I was also a regular customer. They proceeded to explain that they’ve been getting harassed by the cops and that all the Breed Street vendors were kicked out because of all the media hype. Then the news reporter for the [undisclosed] news station approached me and explained that they were there doing the story to publicize the negative repercussions the Councilman’s office has had on the livelihoods of the Breed Street family businesses.
For a moment, I felt like a criminal for carrying a handheld camera. Granted, from where I was standing and my lack of professionalism not having approached anyone for their consent, I did look like a suspicious onlooker with a possible ulterior motive. But I’m just an ordinary girl living in an ordinary world with an affordable digital camera made for the consumer. Why was I looked at as a threat?
Everyone has a camera these days, whether it’s a feature on their phone, a point-and-shoot within arm’s reach of their breast pocket, or an SLR slung around their shoulder. In a time where communication is excitingly instant via the phone and internet, however, it is easy to overlook the flipside of all the hype. People communicating and sharing information with each other on their own volition has become nearly detrimental to the livelihoods of the people we talk about on blogs like this. We’ve become LA Times’ enablers. We’ve even become, I dare say, enablers of gentrification. It’s become quite apparent that anything “underground” is considered “cool” and “hip.” Once it spreads word-of-mouth, we’ll see the information and all its details on a blog somewhere. Then it becomes officially popular and the official news media go after their hot story secretly using the local blogs as their direct source of information. Then it becomes a matter of control. City councilmen suddenly become the faces of everything that’s been going on in their very own community that they didn’t know about before the LA Times article appeared.
Lesson learned: use caution when taking photos.
Solution: Should I just take pictures of landscape and candids at family barbeques to avoid any possible controversy?
*names will not be named