[Jimbaux is experiencing a train of consequences.]
This Needs To End
Actually, I’m as sick of typing these long blog posts on the subject of threats to photography as you are of reading them. I finally told the January story of Reed St. Pierre’s judgments, lies, and threats, and the story of the police encounter in March in Mississippi because of an incident that happened on Friday 1 June, which we will see here.
Anyway, yes, these posts have been long, but the reason for that is that I’m anticipating various criticisms and essentially arguing against them before they are even posted. Then again, despite all of that, people still make those judgments and those unwarranted assumptions when I just explained it all. A friend who commented on the length of the St. Pierre cane burning post said this:
Obviously there are still plenty of people that don’t get it. I guess no matter how well you explain it, plenty of the general public – including some of your readers – are too stupid to get it. That is part of your “problem” – and not just with this article. Most people are too stupid to get what you are saying, or at the very least (tying in with your taking the world literally) many people are assumers and it’s easier and lazier to assume, and lump things to together, or jump to conclusions – just like how you “should have” translated his ‘who you wit’ question.
I guess so, and, since posting that, I’ve gotten an e-mail from a young Louisiana railroad photographer who said that he recently got the “who are you with?” question from a police officer even as he was standing alone near the track. I’m hoping that he’ll tell his story in the comments section here.
Please keep in mind, also, that I write what I write here as a guide for others, because, as most of you know, other photographers have faced the same kind of harassment that I have faced, and we can persevere through support.
Anyway, my friend who made the above quoted comment told me on the phone that he had to get up a few times from reading the St. Pierre cane burning post because it was so long, though he knew the reasons for its length (the aforementioned explanation of several arguments against criticisms that would come), but was then appalled when he read the comments section to see that people still didn’t understand. Since he’s been through some of the same harassment and false judgment that I have experienced, he understands.
Now You’re Just Somebody That I Used To Know
On those notes, speaking of both the tendency of people to make unwarranted assumptions and of feedback from friends, according to what is written in the comments section of the previous post, I’ve lost a reader who was a friend – and someone of whom I knew before I met him – for challenging his onslaught of unwarranted assumptions and his suggestions to bow to intimidation. For some reason, he decided to do this publicly rather than privately, and I do not at all like to censor comments. (You have to read all of the comments, two from him, at least three from me mostly in response to him, and compare his comments to much more sober and rational comments, even if they are critical of my actions, from Tom Beckett. It’s a real eye-opener.) Then again, in situations such as these, one would think that he wasn’t much of a friend in the first place, and, even among railroad enthusiasts, I generally don’t associate myself with people who chose to spread around jokes (via those mass e-mail forwards that could go anywhere after you send them out to dozens of people) implying that the current First Lady “knows what the inside of a whorehouse smells like” and who see protesters on a Saturday morning and think that they probably don’t have jobs. (Again, see the comments on the previous post to see what I mean.)
Have you read those comments? Isn’t that nuts? You might wonder why I even care. This Facebook post explains why. Here’s what’s funny too; a week after he told me to stop sending him the links to the blog posts as I do with several friends, I get a “forward” e-mail in my inbox from him! Irony, in addition to variety, is the spice of life.
Some also would wonder why I would approve comments such as his on my site. Ultimately, his comments say far more about him than they do about me.
I believe it was Napoleon who once observed that “celebrated people” lose their dignity upon a closer view, and so it is true here with the New Orleans area man who is old enough to have a son older than I am (because he indeed does have a son older than I am.) As a youngster who had yet to meet anyone else who liked trains, I would see Sires’s photo credit in Trains magazine on pictures taken locally. To my impressionable mind at that time, that alone made him somewhat virtuous – or at least “cool” – in my mind.
That “cool” veneer wears off quite quickly after unwarranted assumption after unwarranted assumption and unwarranted assumption, and after misstatement of fact (in some cases, a gentle way of saying a “lie”) after misstatement of fact after misstatement of fact; oh, and after mass e-mail forward after mass e-mail forward after mass e-mail forward about xenophobic stuff and the one Michelle Obama being a whore (stuff I’d be highly ashamed to have my name at the top of the e-mail, especially when it’s essentially public due to it being a mass-email forward.) Of course, he’s not the only one, even if you judge only by the comments section of this stie. As my friend remarked above, it’s just easier for people to assume, even if it’s the wrong and dangerous and unfair thing to do.
It’s a bit like your dog barking at every single person who passes in front of your house. He just assumes that they’re all threats because he doesn’t know any better and because he’s a freakin’ dog; so, he just barks at all of them. I guess, unfortunately, plenty of human beings are the same way; am I foolish to expect better of people who act foolish?
Inter-Parish Photographic Man Of Mystery
Moving right along, before we get to the story of the police encounter that caused me to make the previous two posts about incidents that happened months before, we do indeed have an interesting set of images for you today, taken mostly on June 1. I present photographs taken in six Louisiana parishes on that afternoon, and, to complete the circuit, a few taken in Orleans Parish on the Saturday.
We start our day just after dawn in the swamps of northern Terrebonne Parish near the village of Chacahoula.
Before we get to our police encounter de jour (not really, as it only happens once in a great while), let me remind you of something that I told you in December.
I’m definitely not anti-military at all, and I was even honored and humbled to greet a friend returning from Afghanistan the night after Thanksgiving, but when we say that our military is “fighting for our freedom,” while that might in a few regards be true (they’re really protecting our security far more than our freedom), we seem to forget that the Bill of Rights exists to protect us from government, and what are the enforcers of government other than police and military? It is from this misunderstanding that too many Americans fall into the pernicious trap of thinking that allegiance to military and police constitutes patriotism, when, sadly, in some cases, it constitutes submission to terrorism and becoming a terrorist oneself, the seemingly innocuous opposite of true patriotism!
Nor am I anti-law-enforcement. I respect greatly most of those officers, as their jobs are often thankless, and I actually have far more police encounters than those about which I write because most of them just stop to check on me to see if I’m okay or ask what I am doing, and there’s no reason to write a thousand words about that, but that doesn’t mean that their actions are always beyond reproach, which means that just because you draw the attention of the police doesn’t mean that you’ve done something wrong or that you even deserve it.
The “if you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing of which to worry from the police” mentality to which I myself once subscribed is very dangerous. Sometimes, it takes being on the receiving end of such abuse for a person to fully realize the fallacy of that mentality. Honestly, I might not have ever realized it had I never been on the receiving end of such abuse, which means maybe it’s true that the critics will never be convinced otherwise.
A friend recently opined to me that the people who criticize me for nearly finding myself in these confrontations through no fault of my own “should not be allowed to look at pictures.” That’s an interesting observation, and he went on to say that some of these same people who criticize me for being in these confrontations probably very often search the internet for pictures of various subjects with essentially complete ignorance of the risks in obtaining them. This brings us back to my earlier point that Freedom Of The Press is for everyone, not just professional journalists, and not even just anyone who takes pictures, since if a private citizen (i.e., you) is threatened because of taking pictures, then all of us lose.
Ponder that as you gaze upon this swampy scene from Gibson.
Getting back to the “if you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry from the police” mentality, which is the negation of the pernicious “if you get attention from the police, you must have deserved it and done something wrong” mentality, remember that for many years, I really didn’t talk much about these incidents. There were those elements of “shame” and even “guilt” and surely “embarrassment” in having attention from the police. I didn’t want people to know that I had gotten police attention! This is probably what Sires meant when he wrote in the comment section last time, “You are a legit freelance photographer and then write about all your encounters with the law.” Umm, yeah, and??? What I gather from that (and he’s not talking to me anymore, and I therefore can’t ask) is that he thinks it is somehow unbecoming for me to publicize my experiences with the law. That’s a common mentality, but I’ve never done anything wrong nor have I ever been charged with any crime, so why the guilt, shame, and embarrassment?
Part of why I write all of this stuff is so that it will hopefully inspire others in similar situations to stand up for themselves, or to even get out and take pictures at all, as I know several people who no longer take pictures because of fear of unwanted attention; I just wish that they realize that they’re hurting us all by cowing to the fear like that. It’s possible that the youngster who wrote to me this weekend about his police encounter might not have written to me at all – because of those “guilt” and “shame” and “embarrassment” reasons – had he not read what I have written here over the last year.
Appallingly, someone on one of the forums said that I seem to carry a hip on my shoulder, and that that leads to harassment. First, just like I don’t want other people to assume things about me when seeing me taking pictures, I don’t assume things about them. How did a chip on my shoulder cause me to suddenly be angrily accosted by overzealous undercover officers who jumped to conclusions upon seeing a loudly dressed person standing on a bridge taking pictures of something plainly visible to the public in April 2008 when I wasn’t even looking at the road from which the police snuck up on me? and how did a chip on my shoulder lead a trainman to tell me that what I was doing was “illegal” when I was standing in a public street (on the side, where people park) in October 2011 in an area where I had photographed without incident for five years? and how did a chip on my shoulder cause a farmer to yell at, accost, lie to, and try to intimidate me when I was photographing something plainly visible to the hundreds of people passing on the federal highway on which I was standing when I wasn’t even trying to engage him? and why do I not have problems most other times when I’m out taking pictures in various places?
I’ll Probably Be Heavily Criticized For This
Here we go. It was mid-day Friday. I was in Morgan City. I stopped at the Quizno’s for lunch, and I looked to the north and noticed several officers-of-the-law under the US Highway 90 overpass. One of them looked to be pointing a radar gun down the street. There’s no problem with that there as that is part of their job, keeping the streets safe, and speeding, for all of the ‘benefits’ that it may have, is unsafe, hence illegal.
Let’s Do An Experiment
Where I’m parked at the Quizno’s, I’m at least 100’ away from these officers. I thought that this might be a good chance to do an experiment, but I had to prepare myself for whatever unfair consequences would befall me. I wondered what would happen if I photographed them in a manner that was both conspicuous but that was non-interfering because I was so far away.
However, the reason why I am here is to eat, and, also, if I do take their pictures, I’d like to at least know if they go to look at my truck, which I won’t be able to know if I’m inside and eating. So, inside I went and ordered my sandwich. About 20 or so minutes later, after I had finished my meal, I went back outside, and the police were still there. Since I was already here and since this would take almost no effort, I decided to pull out the camera, take some pictures, and see what happened.
For those of you who have accused me of going out and looking for confrontations, a foolish charge that I steadfastly deny up to this point, well, yes, this actually is the first time I ever take a picture in which the making of the image was less important than seeing what happened as a result. So, for all of you critics who have been waiting to catch me in such a moment, I play right into your hands (well, only a little bit) and give you this:
Now, does anyone find anything wrong – like, literally, “wrong” – with the contents of this picture? Here we see police officers doing their job, doing what police officers do, and I don’t see anything wrong here. What I can tell you, though, is that I stood in such places for such time (a few minutes) taking pictures so that there was no way that at least one of them could have not seen me.
Remember, again, especially you critics, that this was foremost an experiment. Being confronted by the police was not the “desired result,” as some of you probably think. The “desired result” was anything that could have happened. Even had nothing happened as a result, the experiment would have been a success, as I would have learned something. An experiment cannot “fail” if you learn from the results regardless of what they are.
Why This Matters
Now, an interesting confrontation did take place, and I will tell you about it shortly, but first let me remind you (more than I already have) why this matters.
They are out in public. They are public employees. They have the power of arrest, and it is a power that can be – and sometimes is – abused.
Rodney King certainly deserved to be punished. There’s no doubt about that. He was speeding and drinking and driving while on probation. There’s no question in my mind right there that he deserved to go back to jail for that. He did not deserve, however, to be beaten nearly to death, and had someone not had a camera at the right time, we may never have known of the abuse that he received. If that isn’t enough for you, what about this incident in Rhode Island?
There is some hope. I recently read about a police department somewhere in Virginia (maybe Norfolk or Richmond) where the chief there now tells his deputies not only that they should not harass anyone with a camera, but that they should actually always expect to be photographed. I tried to search Google for the article but could not find it. If someone finds it, please send it to me.
There are indeed threats to photography from law enforcement, as seen here.
Then, there’s the person facing 10 years in prison after recording the arrest of another, but read what I have to say here about how it might be a problem.
In my case, I was plenty far enough away from these deputies of the St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Before I go on, some of you have criticized the way that I responded to inquisitors, as if I was somehow showing what my legal rights are while “being an ass” toward the inquisitors. Actually, not only is that not true, but if it was, I’d actually say nothing at all (and I’ve seen video of some photographers doing this just because they could), since the Fifth Amendment protects all of us from self-incrimination by securing for us the right to remain silent.
Thomas Jefferson once said that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants.”
That’s all good and true, but isn’t it better – aren’t we all better off – if the blood can be merely metaphorical? Such is what we have here. After I finished shooting, I went to my truck and stood there. I was actually taken by surprise when I heard from behind, “What’s up?”
It was one of the officers in the picture. He came over and wanted to know why I was taking pictures of the “students.”
Here, again, we have the expectation that I know something that I can’t really know from the distance. All I could tell – and all that I think that I could be expected to tell – from that distance was that I was photographing police. Did he think that I was somehow supposed to know that some of them were students? Or was that just merely the way that he phrased his question?
“Interesting subject matter,” I said to him as I shrugged my shoulders, and I may have mentioned something about already being stopped there for lunch anyway.
The officer extended his hand to me, told me his name, and shook hands with me as I told him my name. It was the next thing that emerged from his mouth that was surprising, and it’s really the reason why this experiment is more of a success than it was in just seeing what would happen.
“Just wanted to make sure you don’t work for the newspaper,” he said.
Whoah. That’s weird on plenty of levels.
First, like some of you probably have experienced yourselves when taking pictures, I’ve been told many times, usually implied more than told, that unless I actually work for a newspaper, I don’t have a “legitimate” reason to be photographing whatever I’m photographing. In fact, Reed St. Pierre condescending “who you wit’?” question is just such an example. So, it’s ironic and somewhat funny to be told that it was okay so long as I do not work for the newspaper.
Second, I actually do work for the newspaper (sometimes), but I was at that location on my own time using my own equipment out of my own desire (in other words, a self-assignment.) He didn’t outright ask me if I did or did not work for the newspaper anyway.
Third, as one of the reporters at the newspaper said when I told this story, why would he want to make sure I didn’t work for the newspaper? What does he not want the newspaper to know? To see? And what does that really matter when in this modern digital and internet era that any picture that anyone like me takes can be posted online for the whole world – including anyone who works at a newspaper – to see?
Why Does It Matter If I Work For The Newspaper Or Not?
That is what I asked him. He didn’t have an answer for this, and his response seemed to suggest a “don’t worry about it, never mind, it’s okay” feeling to it. Perhaps he realized that it really didn’t matter, that it shouldn’t matter. In this case, I have to give him plenty of benefit of the doubt, and that’s why I am not publishing his name here. (I definitely would have had his actions constituted “harassment,” and I may have even called his boss.) Not only did he not really do anything wrong, but he may have realized on-the-spot the questionable nature of his response. I’m a believer in redemption, and in this case, I don’t want to cause a shred of grief for someone who was just doing his job, and, remember, merely questioning you is their job. Those who do not retract from and apologize for their own harassment are the worst of all, and I’ll do everything I can to expose their actions; such is not the case here.
The deputy walked away, perhaps with a harmless and refreshing reminder that he and his fellow deputies could be photographed any time – and that their actions should therefore be beyond reproach. I walked away too, and then I drove away. Since then, through my professional work, I’ve communicated with his boss about matters unrelated to this, including off-the-record information. That’s all irrelevant, though, since any of YOU have the right to photograph them too, but it’s a reminder of the delicacies of these things. Don’t wait to affirm this right until some tense situation happens. Rather, exercise that right now, so that a tense situation later will not have to be so tense. Don’t wait until your rights are under assault to stand up for them.
Still, despite all of the factors I’ve gone through great lengths explaining, I know that plenty of you will have some not-so-good things to say about my actions. Go ahead and comment. You don’t realize it, but you’re part of the problem. It would be nice if you would prove it to the rest of us. Thanks.
Eastbound To Woadieville
Finally, it’s time to head east back to Woadieville. It’s Friday, afterall, the day in which I’m usually in multiple Louisiana parishes. You’ve already seen pictures in two parishes, and now it’s time to cross over into a third. After we cross Bayou Boeuf into Assumption Parish, but before we shoot the train, let’s get some more swamp pictures!
I’m not that great of a swamp photographer. There are better Louisiana swamp photographers out there.
A New Shot
Here’s a Jimbaux original, one I had never done before, and one that would have looked far better about an hour after this image was taken. Here’s the Union Pacific’s MCXEW at Boeuf, which is in Assumption Parish. (Are you keeping score?)
It’s better than a decade ago when UP had such an abundance of filthy locomotives. Anyway, let’s keep going east and see what we find.
Friday Afternoon Happy Hour In Raceland!
That’s right, young lads and ladies! It’s Friday afternoon at Kraemer Road in Raceland, and you know what that means! You get two trains for the price of one! That’s right, just park your truck on the side of the road between the sugarcane fields, and for that price, you’ll actually get two trains!
Here we are waiting for the westbound, the view from the top of the truck, right about the time some passers-by stopped their car to ask if I was okay.
Ah, life is good, isn’t it? Does it get any better than this? Why, as a matter of fact, it does:
Ah, the sweetness of the sugarcane with a westbound BNSF train passing on these former Southern Pacific Railway rails.
This westbound train was to meet an eastbound at the siding which begins a mile west of here; so, I just pointed myself and the camera in the other direction, waited, and popped off a shot like so:
There was a block of new CSX coil cars on this train. By the way, we’re now in Lafourche Parish for these pictures, which is parish #4 for the day for pictures, in case you are keeping score.
That’s enough of that, as it’s essentially sunset now. Now it’s time to get out of here, but maybe I can get ahead of him and get one more shot? But where?
Another Jimbaux Original
Wow! Two new shots in one day? I’m getting good! Just when I think I know the eastern end of the Lafayette Subdivision so well that I find it boring, I find a new shot at a location where the Cajun Porkchop has expressed his talent.
That’s not great, but it’s not terrible either. We’re in St. Charles Parish, in case you’re keeping score.
That train had to go into the siding at Salix, which I presumed was due to a westbound on its way out of Avondale. Once again, just like at Raceland, I was pretty sure the day was done photographically, but I wondered if I could get a shot of this phantom westbound.
Almost Another New Shot
I went to Live Oak Junction, which is in Jefferson Parish, by the way, the sixth parish of the day, in case you are keeping score; I was looking for a place to shoot this non-existent westbound train, but I looked to the west and saw the headlights of an eastbound train. What’s this?
Wow! What a way to end the day, right? That’s the eastbound Sunset Limited, which apparently scooped the M-DYTCSX that you’ve already seen at Salix.
I actually have done that shot once before, back in March if you look at the archives, but not lit like that!
That really is the end of the day, but since we haven’t seen any Orleans Parish pictures (the sun obviously set before I could get there), let’s take a brief look at what happened the next day to round out our Fridayly seven-parish tour!
Saturday With Saint Jude
I got together for lunch with Saint Jude on Saturday, and we went grab a burger on St. Charles Avenue. Here’s the eastbound view down Prytania Street, a place where I spent plenty of time working a little bit more than five years ago.
That’s cool. Here we are waiting on our burgers while we commiserate.
And now, my friends, it’s burger time.
Well, as is stated at the end of some French film, fin, and it’s about damned time too, don’t you think? Since this trilogy of police encounters and threats to photography is now concluded, we’ll resume our regularly scheduled foamy stupidity soon.