Fear, Fire, And Ignorance In A Field

by Jim on 2012/06/10

[Jimbaux sees your ignorance and senses your fear and can’t wait to burn it down.]

The Cycle Repeated

Another case of a threat to photography, and, therefore, a threat to freedom of information, something far more important that photography, this is really a case of not only ignorance and fear, but also threats to information in general and the disturbing idea that information should only be processed via the processes and prejudices of established news media outlets.

This event happened early in January, and I have meant since to publish the pictures and the story, but am finally doing so now after a more recent event reminded me that I really need to get this out.  What is shown here needs to be shown, and what is said here needs to be said.

Freedom Of The Press In The Information Age

Let’s review a few things.  Some digression is in order.  Please bear with me here.

The idea of Freedom Of The Press, as outlined in the First Amendment to the US Constitution, is not solely reserved for professional journalists.  It exists for you, for your benefit.  If you’d say, “My neighbor Steve works for the local TV station, but I work as an operator at the paper mill, and Freedom Of The Press affects him but does not concern me,” you’d be sorely mistaken.

Furthermore, in this modern world of the internet, blogging, online discussion forums, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, really, everyone is a journalist, all generally independent of one another (even if reliant on free platforms such as the social media sites.)  You can – and, really, you should – report on many things that happen that are visible from public property where there is not a reasonable expectation of privacy so long as your actions do not impede the work of others or constitute an obvious form of harassment.  The only thing different from what you can do (even if you don’t do it) and what a professional journalist who works for an established media outlet can do is that he or she has the resources and often the training to dig deeper into things and the wisdom to know which questions to ask and generally understands the difference between fact and interpretation (to the degree that such a difference exists), hence the justification for the person receiving a salary, as there is indeed some skill involved in doing it and doing it properly. Remember, though, that despite lofty claims of the integrity of the press, most media outlets are businesses, and, often, fear of “offending” enough advertisers can and does limit the lengths to which a journalist will go to get information.

Do we really have a free press when this happens?  Actually, now, thanks to the internet, despite all of the garbage that is on it, we essentially do.  (The fact that it often is used in ways that it should not be is a separate matter.)  So, now, even if your local newspaper is scared to investigate claims of your local chemical plant dumping toxins into the river or your local sheriff’s office embezzling money or the judge setting unfair bond rates for arrestees who have been incarcerated on shaky charges, once some YouTube video pops up about this, at least the local professional journalist can say, “hey, this is now out there; so, we have to ask you about it.”

Just as the Media are supposed to serve as a check on government and corporations – hence the “Fourth Estate” moniker – thanks to the internet, social media and independent media now serve as both a check on and an augmentation of traditional media.

A Desire To Know Precedes A Desire To Persuade Or Even To Inform

Before any picture can be printed in a newspaper, magazine, or website, someone had to care enough to get the image in the first place.  Most people don’t have the time or the resources – or, in the case of Jimbaux and some of the other photographers who visit this site, the burning desire – to go out and get information on their own.  That’s why we have television, news, books, newspapers, and magazines.  Much of what’s out there, though, stems from the curiosity of the photographer himself, as I said before.  That’s why, if you see a photographer taking pictures somewhere of something, if you’re inclined to assume a motive (a risky proposition itself, as will be discussed with the incident below), you should at least first assume that he’s doing it for his own curiosity before jumping to the conclusion that larger forces might be at play.  To not do so would be condescending to both the photographer and anyone who might view his work.

What has prompted me to say much of what I’ve just said is the disturbing response I got from two professional journalist when I described the below incident to them, a response that suggested that the transference of information should pass through the filter of traditional media outlets.  For now, though, I’ve written enough about that; so, let’s just get right to the pictures, shall we?

Being A Host To A Visitor

I had met VT JaWo and talked with him briefly at a couple of parties in Washington, DC, last year.  Like Jimbaux, VT JaWo is a photographer himself (and, you are one if you say you are one, like calling yourself a “Christian”), and when he just happened to mention on the all-important Twitter in late December that he’d be in New Orleans cheering on his Hokies for the Sugar Bowl, I offered to spend a few hours showing him around.  I love to show visitors around, to be an ambassador for what I know and love, and it’s also a good excuse for me to get out and take some pictures.

These pictures were taken on the afternoon of 4 January 2012, five years to the day after I had a photographically glorious day in northern Mexico.  The plan was to head up the Mississippi River on the West Bank, cross at Luling-Destrehan, see the Bonnet Carré Spillway and some nearby communities, and then drop VT JaWo at MSY for his afternoon flight back home.

Our first catch, and this is not a great picture, is Amtrak’s westbound Sunset Limited shortly after leaving Avondale on former Missouri Pacific (nee Texas & Pacific) trackage, and you can see VT JaWo down below.

I wanted to see with my own eyes the #1 going over this non-ex-SP trackage, did that, and learned that it is indeed possible to beat him from this shot to CTC Live Oak where he’ll cross over onto the former Southern Pacific line of its name, like so:

We crossed the river at Luling and did visited the spillway where VT JaWo took some pictures but I didn’t, especially as I already had such pictures.


That’s the name of a little town where there is a small yard along the former Illinois Central Railway “Valley Line” between New Orleans and Memphis via Baton Rouge and Vicksburg and where a Canadian National Railway job is based.  The ‘super local’ train L516 stops and does work here on its way between Geismar and Metairie, and we stopped here and saw him doing some work.

As I recall (it’s been a few months), both a pickup and setout were made, with the below image showing the pickup being made.

With the cut pulled from the storage track, the train prepares to back up, and the conductor closes switches and walks to the crossing to protect it.

Below, the conductor protects the crossing while who appears to be the trainmaster watches.

That yellow tape is really disgusting, but it’s still great to see a solid set of black IC SD70s on the point of a train in 2012.

After this, VT JaWo said that it was time to get to the airport, and that’s what we did.

A Fiery Diversion

That’s not quite how it went.  As we were coming through LaPlace eastbound toward the airport, we saw smoke on the horizon.  That fact that we might be seeing the results of field-burning was not immediately obvious to me for two reasons.  First, we were in town, and I didn’t really remember that there was indeed this one area of sugar cane field east of town and west of the spillway.  Second, it’s January, and grinding of sugar cane usually is wrapped up around Christmas.  When we got east of town, we stopped to see what was happening, thinking we did indeed have time for a few pictures.

Here’s Something You Don’t See Every Day

That’s especially true if you don’t live in southern Louisiana, but it’s a common enough practice that had I not had an out-of-town visitor with me who was keenly interested in this scene, I may not have stopped to photograph it; I usually don’t photograph it when I see it, which is often enough.  VT JaWo had, like many of you, never seen this before, and he found this to be most interesting.

Until the last few decades, harvested sugarcane was stacked up upon the rows from which it had just been harvested so that the leaves could be burned right off of the stalks.  Now, however, machines remove the leaves, but the leaves are left in the fields, and the fields are now set ablaze to get rid of the leaves.

Despite the aforementioned relative apathy I claimed to have to the subject matter, documentation of the upcoming sugarcane harvest was a goal of mine last fall.  Unfortunately, I really didn’t have time for it; so, the closest I got to it was a few shots I took while waiting for some trains one August afternoon.

As you look at these photos, I’d like you to be thinking about something.  Please think about what value the information that you are imbibing by looking at these photos has to you, and please don’t include any idea of money when you read that I’m asking you about “value.”  (There are more reasons why I ask you the following questions than you probably yet realize, but we’ll get to that after our ‘terror’ incident.)

What do you learn by seeing these images?  What new questions do you have now that you see these pictures?  Most likely, you are a sugar user, whether you put it in your coffee or tea, eat a candy bar, or even eat beef from a cow that fed on molasses.  In this modern world of comfort and convenience in which we in the industrialized world are so out-of-touch with where our food originates and how it gets to us, does looking at these pictures – does the information that you gain by looking at them – make you feel slightly more in-touch with your food and slightly more appreciative of the effort and means that it takes to get to you?

The inclusion of the highway lanes in the above image is deliberate (I’d normally crop them out if I showed the picture at all), as it shows that we started where we were parked, on the southbound lanes of the highway on our way to the airport.  The above image was made in one of the brief instances of no traffic in either direction on this busy four-lane federal highway, a mention of which is deliberate for reasons beyond the difficulty of obtaining photos from this side of the highway.  Yes, the greater point, not to get ahead of myself, is that not only are we photographing this spectacle, but hundreds if not thousands of people passing on Airline Highway can see it too.

At the time, I could only guess that the farmer had the common courtesy to pick a day when the wind was coming away from the highway to light the field ablaze.

Let’s Get A Better View

Realizing that we did have a few more minutes to spare, we waited for a break in traffic and crossed the highway to stand on the opposite shoulder to get a less obstructed view.

Normally, you’d be able to see trees off in the distance of this view.  As Forrest Becht, the former general manager of the Louisiana & Delta Railway once wrote in Trains magazine, a southern Louisiana sugarcane harvest is “something to behold.”

Let’s turn to the left and look in the other direction.

This is interesting, but we really have to leave.  We need to get to the airport.

Hey, look!  The farmer’s truck is coming around the other side.  I guess he’s just driven completely around the field from when you saw his truck earlier above.  Maybe he’ll see us and wave at us?

Well, that’s interesting.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera still pointed toward him for what happened next.

Oh, He Doesn’t Look Very Happy

Please keep in mind, again, that not only were we standing on public property on the shoulder of a highway, complete with a big ditch between the sugarcane field and the highway, an obvious way of being able to tell where we can stand and where we would be trespassing (if we crossed the ditch), but there are plenty of automobiles passing behind us who are seeing – and, for all we know, could be inconspicuously photographing – what we are photographing.

He pulls up even with us and starts yelling something at us.  There were the sounds of automobiles blazing along the highway right behind us, the engine is on in the farmer’s truck, and he is yelling at us through the passenger-side window.  I can ascertain an occasional word from his tirade, but this isn’t the way that I really like to communicate with people.  I’m not a yeller and don’t respond to yelling, even when its only purpose is the practical matter of overcoming distractions like those I’ve just described.  There is so much that can go wrong when communicating like this.

So, I raise my hands up and nod my head side-to-side and turn my hands so that my palms are facing behind me (to show that it’s the highway noise right behind us that’s the problem) to show that although I acknowledged that he was talking to us that we were not receiving his message.  My expectation was that what would happen next was that he’d realize it was a lost cause trying to tell us anything, forget about us, and that he’d go about his farming business.  Well, that’s not what happened.

Oh, Damn, He’s Coming Here, And He Looks Mad!

Immediately after seeing my hand signals, the farmer quickly puts his truck into park, gets out, and starts angrily power-walking toward us, and I wondered how he’d get through that ditch.

Let Me Do The Talking

That’s what I said to VT-JaWo as the farmer was making his way toward us.

The short and stocky farmer dressed in his jump suit managed to power-walk his way through that weed-choked ditch up to the shoulder of the highway where we were standing.  Out of VT-JaWo and me, I guess I appeared to be the one ‘in charge,’ since the farmer approached me, which is fine by me, since I wanted VT-JaWo to keep quiet for reasons I’ll explain more later, but you can understand that it has plenty to do with my own experience with issues like this and how a lack of that experience can yield to not standing up for one’s self.

Farmer St. Pierre extended his hand out to mine to shake it and tell me his name, and I reciprocated, of course.  Unfortunately, this was the best thing that he did in this encounter; it was all downhill from here, as evidenced by the next thing that came out of his mouth.

Who You Wit’?

What?  Is this Master P talking to me?

I had just told him my name, the only words I had ever spoken to him, and the only other thing that he knew about me was that I was taking pictures of his land, and he’s asking me “who you wit’?”??? That is apparently what he had been saying to us from the truck.

I was confused by the supposed question, and I made sure that my body language indicated the confusion.

“Who you with?” Farmer St. Pierre again said.

I answered the only way I could, by pointing to VT JaWo and saying, “him,” in a tone that indicated that this is an obvious answer to a question that need not be asked.  Since I pointed at VT JaWo, I was afraid that Farmer St. Pierre would now turn to him and ask him the same question, but I was confident that VT JaWo would give the farmer the same reply that I gave him.  Yes, he’s with me, and I’m with him!

“Who you with?”


I might have turned around and looked behind me at this point.  Let me slightly digress here.  What happened on this day was the rare circumstance that I’m shooting pictures with someone else.  I’m usually alone, and in those cases, I have been asked something like this; much like I do when train crewmen benignly ask me “what do y’all do with those pictures?,” I look around behind me, because I’m suddenly confused by this “y’all” stuff and am started to be told that maybe I was not alone when I thought I was the only person around.  I mean, what do I know what other people do with train pictures, and how does what they do affect what I do anyway?  Aren’t I the one who decides what I do with my own pictures?

So, when someone asks something like this, I occasionally look around behind me to try to figure out who this other person(s) that the inquisitor means.

“What do you mean, ‘who you with?,'” I asked Farmer St. Pierre.

He started spouting off names of local newspapers and media outlets, specifically The Times-Picayune.

“Do I have to be with one of those organizations?,” I asked him.  That was a stupid question to ask, but it resulted in a revealing response of “yes” from Farmer St. Pierre, but I also again pointed to VT JaWo and said that I was with him.

“I’m with myself,” I think I also said.

“This is my property,” Farmer St. Pierre said, as he pointed to the ground of the highway shoulder on which the three of us were standing.

He said that all of those news organizations get his permission before publishing pictures of his property, and that I didn’t have permission to publish pictures of his property.

“This is my property,” he again said, as he pointed to the ground beneath us.

“No, this is not your property.  This is public property,” I said to him as I looked wide-eyed into his eyes.

That’s your property,” I said to him as I pointed across the ditch to the burning sugarcane field.  (VT JaWo had a good laugh about that when we finally got out of there.)

I think maybe he went on again about how those news organizations get his permission first before publishing stuff.  First and foremost, I suspect that that’s completely bogus.  Secondly, he may be confusing permission to enter – to set foot on – his property with permission to photograph it from somewhere not on it, a distinction that’s very important since it makes the difference of whether or not the photographer goes to jail.  Thirdly, to whatever degree that what he said might be true, it shows how most of our media is controlled by advertising dollars, and the corporations fear offending advertisers, meaning that we really do not have true Freedom Of The Press.

Now, the other thing that’s so hilarious about this is that this is right alongside Airline Highway.  In the amount of time he was out there burning that field (which doesn’t take very long), probably more than 1,000 motorists passed and saw it.  Yeah, they can see it plainly!  Anyone of them could have photographed from the moving car.

Several people criticized my recent self-reference as a “journalist” in the “NOGC Terrorism” episode, which stemmed from me being told by a railroad crewman that taking photos of his train was “illegal,” but those who make those criticisms – like asking me what journalism school I attended, etc. – are misinterpreting the use of the word, either reading too much into it or, perhaps simultaneously, not enough into it.  Although I have worked in different capacities for a few established media publications (that actually print things and send reporters out to ask questions), the truth is that in this modern world of Facebook, Twitter, and digital photography, everybody is a journalist.  Anyone could take a picture of that moving sugarcane field from a moving vehicle, post in on Twitter (with a note that it’s a sugarcane field in LaPlace, Louisiana) immediately thereafter, and before the person has even rolled away from the cane field, people in India and Egypt and other places can see the picture.  I’m just more conspicuous about it because I care more about getting a good shot, and I have no reason to not seem conspicuous.

Anyway, I don’t remember all the words that were exchanged, but I’m pretty sure that I did tell Farmer St. Pierre rather bluntly that neither I nor anyone else (i.e., you) needed his permission to photograph his field from public property, nor do any of us need his permission to publish the pictures.

While all of this is happening – and keep in mind that we had just stopped briefly since we had to get to the airport so that VT JaWo would not miss his flight – Farmer St. Pierre’s cell phone rings.  He takes the call.  To his credit, it wasn’t a needless call, as it seemed to be about the work that he was doing, but whatever the case, we stood there and listened for awhile, but, at some point after about a couple of minutes, with the impending flight in mind, I signaled to him (he had turned his eyes away from us) as he was talking on the phone that we had to get going.  I think I said, “We’ve got to go.”

About the only thing that I should have done differently here was hand him my business card.  I did not do it.  That still doesn’t excuse what happened next, which is what really warrants the length of this post, and what really makes me think that this is an issue that needs attention, and really made me think about filing harassment charges against Farmer St. Pierre who needs, at the very least, an education on these matters, on rights.  I won’t do that, though, as it’s old news now.

VT JaWo and I begin walking back across the highway to my truck, and, keep in mind, we’re walking across four lanes of busy US highway, and Farmer St. Pierre is following us!  Actually, he’s not following us so much as paralleling us.  Keep in mind that his truck is parked in the sugar cane field, and he’s already walked out of his field, off of his property, through a weed-chocked ditch to confront us, and now he’s walking across four lanes of US highway.  He went behind my truck and looked at the back of it!


I can think of only two reasons why he would do that.  The first is blatantly obvious.  The second is the reason that you’ve read this long post.

1.) He wanted to take down my license plate number.  (Duh!)

2.) He wanted me to know that he was taking down my license plate number.

If the answer is #1, then he’s really merely very ignorant, and that needs to be addressed too.  However, I have difficulty thinking that he actually thinks that calling the police on me (using my license plate number) is going to solve anything for him. (Again, if he does think that, he’s extremely ignorant.)  Actually, five months later, I’ve heard nothing about this.

Rather, I’m thinking answer #2 is the correct answer, which is really sinister, because it means that he’s trying to scare me!  He’s trying to intimidate me into not publishing the pictures that I took.  Obviously, that did not work, but part of the reason I’m making a big deal out of this is that for most people, unfortunately, that probably would have worked, or, more likely, they’d have backed down to the “this is my property” and “you need my permission” stuff coming from him

It makes me wonder several things.  As most people know, my faith in law enforcement has steadily decreased over the years, and for good reason.  It’s entirely possible that Farmer St. Pierre personally knows some law enforcement officer whom he already had in mind to contact about this.  It is, unfortunately, entirely possible that said LEO is the type (the thug-with-a-badge type) that will do something – anything – less professional than tell St. Pierre that he has no leg on which to stand here and, furthermore, was wrong to tell me what he told me (and he may have indeed called the police on me to tell them that, but I doubt it.)  The fear that I might be contacted by the St. John The Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office made my drive home not nearly as pleasant as it should have been.

Oh, and speaking of license plates, when I checked my photos once I downloaded them, I noticed this, which is an additionally-cropped actual-pixel (or close to it) version of an image that you’ve already seen.

That information might come in handy for anyone with the law who reads on with some more information from what I found below.  First, though, there is one more dynamic to discuss.

Am I The First Person He Encounters Who Stands Up For Himself?

Why would Farmer St. Pierre think that that was an acceptable way to talk to anyone photographing his field from public property?  Could it be that his doing that in the past got him the response he wanted from photographers who were not aware of their rights? and now thinks I’m a huge troublemaker because I dare stand up for myself?

Not only does he need to know that that’s unacceptable, but judging by what he did at the very end, assuming that this isn’t the first time he confronts someone about this, I may be the first person to ever stand up for himself.  People accused me of making way too big of a deal out of the ‘NOGC Terrorism’ stuff, but there are plenty of people out there who would have cowed to this, who would have agreed to not publish this stuff, who would have bent to his intimidation.  That kind of response just makes things far more difficult on those of us who chose to stand our ground.

Why Does He Care?

Now, why would Farmer St. Pierre not want the burning cane field photographed?  (Hint: “this is my property” is not an acceptable answer, and had we not been in a hurry to get to the airport, I’d have asked that question and told him that “this is my property” is not an acceptable answer.)

Subsequent research that I did a few days later is hinting that Farmer St. Pierre may have been breaking the law even before I showed up on the scene, and I’ll explain and show you my evidence shortly, but my point, though, is that both he and law enforcement in this area – as well as anyone else who might go about gathering information photographically like I do and who might be subject to lies and intimidation for the same thing – need to know that what he told me and what he did to me is completely unacceptable, and a far greater offense than the burning law he might have been breaking.

That’s why I feel the need to “report” this situation, beyond the reporting I’m doing on Jimbaux’s Journal, to authorities, who themselves need to be educated on this matter (though that, like making this post, requires time and effort.  So, if you know any powers-that-be in the LaPlace area, please pass this on to them.)  The factors that some of my friends mentioned right after this happened, that St. Pierre might be well-connected, that the “general tone of law enforcement in the area” might not be agreeable to my position, are all the more reasons to make a big stink out of it!

However, there’s something else that someone wrote, in which he encapsulated a certain dynamic better than I could have done in words:

I’m guessing he’s probably had run ins with media when he’s burned — the media can turn what is a common, but slightly less than environmentally sound, practice into a circus. The environuts then make his life miserable for doing what he’s been doing as long as he can remember. I can understand his apprehension.

Yes, that’s exactly what I was thinking!  (I would not have used the “environuts” label, however.)

Furthermore, since farming is almost always a familial thing, his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather probably did it too!  A big theme of my photography and writing is to try to develop an understanding and appreciation among people about how our food and other things come to us.  In other words, I’m almost trying to do the guy a favor by photographing his field.  Throughout my work, I try to get past the “shut up and consume” mentality.

It’s still not an excuse to act the way that he did, though.  However, this could be a chance to simultaneously criticize threats to Freedom Of The Press as well as criticize the sensationalism of the press itself, which may seem paradoxical, but, now that I think about it, Sensationalism of The Press is just as big of a problem and just as big of a threat to Freedom Of The Press, evidence of which is here in his actions.

I call myself a journalist but I, paradoxically, despise many journalists!  I could go on and on with examples of this.

Here’s what I found.

Check this out, and see what it says for Louisiana:

For Louisiana, it says:

“Farmers can burn during the daytime and are required to have certified Burn Managers at the burn (LSU Ag Center, 2000).”

Look at one picture again.  As far as I remember, the two men seen in these pictures were the only men on the scene.  The man in the distance setting the fires appears to be a farm employee, as best as I can tell, and I don’t know anything more about him than that which can be gleaned from these pictures.  Yeah, I’m surely being judgmental, but judging by the way he’s dressed, and the fact that he’s doing the burning himself, he doesn’t appear to be some college-trained regulator.  Here’s a cropped version of the earlier picture:

So, perhaps although the burning of the field was legal, maybe the fact that no “Burn Manager” was present on the scene makes it illegal.

According to the website for LSU’s training program for Burn Managers, a Burn Manager must be on-site during the burn:

Interestingly, the site above also gives some justifications for burning, the fact that our sugar industry can’t compete worldwide without it.  This is the kind of reporting that I do!

We Can Understand His Concerns Even If His Actions Were Wrong

Farmer St. Pierre tried to intimidate us (and would have succeeded with many other photographers, and would have also succeeded with a much-younger Jimbaux), and he lied to us too.  Had he merely come up to us and, “look, guys, I’d appreciate you not publishing these pictures, or not showing the location or people in them,” I’d have been inclined to comply (I’d have probably still published the pictures but kept their locations a mystery), but he not only lied to us but tried to intimidate us.

He never bothered to ask us why we were taking the pictures, just skipped past that and told me that we couldn’t, and when I realized he was walking across the four lanes of highway, which you see in the pictures, to take down my plate number as we were leaving, I made sure to just sit and loaf-around for about a half-minute (enough time to record the plate number) with the door open and my foot hanging out of the door so as to show that we were not trying to escape and didn’t have any guilt or fear.

So, now, I turn the tables, going from criticizing those who threaten photographers, rights to information, and Freedom Of The Press, to criticizing the mass media itself and all of its efforts to try to make us angry and fearful.  Afterall, when do people buy stuff?  When they’re afraid or angry!  Advertisers know this, and traditional media cannot survive without advertising.  Remember that your local TV station and newspapers are businesses.

Given media sensationalism (I think that Napoleon Bonaparte said that “four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets”), I can understand his concern for having this activity photographed, and that’s another issue I should probably address more (though it also has as much to do with the stupidity of the people who consume the sensationalism as those who purvey it), but that’s still no excuse for lying and attempting to intimidate us as he did.  That’s the “War On Information” part of this.  I honestly do not really care that he may have broken the burn law, especially as the quote above from one of you says, he’s done this as long as he can remember; a far greater offense is what he did to us.  The Constitution and the rights in it are far more important than the laws they must not violate.

Now, turning the tables yet again, this time back onto the consumer, i.e., you, I remind you that traditional mass media only exploit your fear and anger with your permission.  They do what they do because you respond to it!  Just look at what they’ve done with the Trayvon Martin case.  None of us are in a position to make a judgment on what happened on the case, yet it dominates the airwaves because of the fear and anger that it generates.  Just read what my pal Grumpy wrote on the matter in April (below the picture.)

What Value Do The Images Have To You?

The “War On Information” that I mention here, the “shut up and consume” message from corporations and governments, and the dynamic of being out-of-touch with where our food originates and how it gets to us is part of the reason I asked you earlier as you were looking at the field-burning pictures what value they had.  What have you learned from looking at them?

This discovery of possible law violation just goes to show like with the NOGC Terrorism incident that, as I wrote in the follow-up piece to that incident, these threats to photography have essentially nothing to do with security – or even privacy – and everything to do with covering up what might be either wrongdoing or less-than-flattering activity, which is where the “hey, buddy, you know that’s illegal” comment from the train crewman in October came.  That’s the purpose of Freedom Of The Press, and it is always under assault.  It has plenty to do with limiting information about a company or business or organization.  Tom Beckett, a frequent commenter on my site wrote a comment on this page about an incident in which he and others were told by a local police officer that CSX didn’t want anyone “near” the property!  That desire is not itself a sin, but the problem is when law-enforcement officers are enforcing the will of these corporations beyond their authority.

That’s the problem here.

I publish these pictures and this story not to expose some violation of a burning law but, rather, to expose the far more pernicious threats to Freedom Of The Press and just natural harmless human curiosity.  The burn law just gives the background to his motive for his actions, but his actions – lying and attempted intimidation – are not justified.

See, I totally get that with the sensationalism in our media.  He had reason to be concerned, and I personally don’t care if he broke the law by his burning of the cane field.  However, that doesn’t change that fact that what he did was completely unacceptable.  I talked to two friends on the phone that night (Wednesday), and they both agreed that the only reason why he walked behind my truck was to make me think he was getting my plate numbers, not that he was actually getting them (though he probably was just in case), that he was trying to intimidate me.

This, furthermore, shows the true danger of corporations and governments using “terrorism” (the idea that you might be one, as opposed to the terrorism that I have received from others like Farmer St. Pierre and the New Orleans Police Department, among others) to try to prohibit and limit photography when it’s really that they don’t want something less-than-flattering to be photographed.

The Chip Local

Before I continue with discussion of what this event means, let me just show the last image of the day, and my favorite image of the day, this image of the Union Pacific local on the eastern part of Lafayette Subdivision just before dusk in front of, oh my goodness, a sugarcane field!

That’s carbon black going eastbound, and buried back in the trees is a boxcar loaded with bagged rice coming from Abbeville.

The Proper Way To Respond?

To begin the conversation with a “who you wit’?” is kind of condescending because it suggests that nobody should or would have any interest in the subject matter beyond a job.  (“Work” and “a job” are often the same but can be two very different things.)  It’s that “shut up and consume” mentality.

I say this because I was appalled to have two local professional journalists tell me that I was “being an ass” with the way that I talked to Farmer St. Pierre, particularly with the fact that I didn’t respond to “who you wit’?” by telling him why I was there.  He didn’t ask me that!

By the way that farmer St. Pierre was talking to me, particularly by virtue of the fact that his first and only question to me was “Who you wit’?”, the “why” of my presence there and my interest in his sugarcane field was irrelevant to him.  This was evidenced further in his “you need my permission to photograph regardless of who you are or why you’re here” attitude.  So, why should I even tell him why I’m there?  He doesn’t seem to care, afterall.  If he’d have only asked, I’d have surely told him.  He did not ask.

The reason that anyone photographs anything is that he (or, at least, someone else) finds the subject matter to be interesting, but even for for-hire photographers, why do they go into that field of work anyway?

Therefore, to think that I was “being an ass” for not interpreting “who you wit’?” as “why are you photographing the field” is kind of condescending to both me and to Farmer St. Pierre.  I’ll explain in the below to paragraphs.

First, it’s condescending to me because neither my clothes nor my vehicle bear any kind of insignia for any news outlet, and it suggests that I wouldn’t have any reason to gather this information just out of my own curiosity.  If you’re going to make assumptions about the motive of a photographer who is performing his work in plain-clothes and in plain sight, why not first assume that he’s doing it for his own purposes?  Better yet, instead of assuming, why not just simply ask him why he’s taking pictures?  That’s what those East Jefferson Levee District police did a few weeks ago to Jimbaux, and that’s why they got the satisfactory response that they got.

Second, it’s condescending to Farmer St. Pierre because it implies that I should assume that he’s incapable of asking a simple question. I’m paying him a compliment, which is my general way of doing things in these situations.  It’s also condescending to St. Pierre because it suggests that he’s that ignorant to believe that I need to be “wit'” some organization.  He is, but my way of dealing with things like that – like dealing with racism, xenophobia, homophobia, etc. – is to let people reveal their prejudices rather than for me to assume that they exist, which would be my own form of unfair judgment to him.

Does this make sense?  I mean, do you agree or disagree that I was “being an ass” to the farmer, or do you understand that my response to his “who you wit’?” question was a way of telling him that that was a foolish and somewhat condescending question (meaning, really, that he was “being an ass,” even as we were trying to not treat him as such) in the first place?  Remember, he never asked us why we were taking pictures.

Also, what do you think is the worse of the two evils?  That Farmer St. Pierre tried to threaten us?  Or that he assumed the worst in us?  Well, maybe that question isn’t answerable, since the former is dependent on the latter.

Specialization Leads To Compartmentalization

A few days later, I realized that I shouldn’t be all that terribly surprised that a couple of local professional journalists thought that I was “being an ass” for responding to Farmer St. Pierre the way that I did, a way that assumed the best in him.  In this modern world of comfort and convenience, not only have people become out of touch with where their food originates and how it gets to them, but people also often fail to see the world beyond the narrow confines of their routines and specialized professions.

So many people in this modern world get so entrenched in their jobs and professions that they are unable to see other things.  I spent plenty of time as a school teacher, and I’m proud of it and the work that I did there.  What grated me – and still grates me – for a long time, though, is the practice that so many of them have of publicizing to the point of bragging about their work schedules, particularly of the amount of time they have off.  How many of you have Facebook friends who are teachers?  and how many of you can’t stand it in May when they post stuff like “10 days left!” and then “8 days left!” followed in June by “I love having summer off!” and other such stupidity?  and how many of those are the same people who complain (and rightly so) that educators are underappreciated, face hostile working conditions, etc.?  and does the bragging about the time off really help (them) when they try to get you to be more sympathetic about the problems that they do indeed face (I surely know) as school teachers?

Independent Media – The “Fifth Estate”

I have often said that one of the reasons that I became a school teacher is that I can’t stand so many school teachers (I’ve worked with plenty of really good ones too), and the same is true for my being a journalist.  Those who have done it professionally for nearly their whole adult lives might rather wrongly think that the default assumption for seeing someone in plainclothes on public property with a telephoto lens is that he works for some publication larger than himself.  I think that that’s silly, and I’ve already explained why, but it makes sense that people who get entrenched with their jobs – are owned by their jobs – might slip into that way of thinking.

You don’t have to be associated with some organization to have a “legitimate reason” or interest to be out taking pictures of something.  That’s just foolish.  Major news organizations do indeed play a vital role in a free society, but that doesn’t mean that they should be the only information gatherers, information processors, and information dispensers.  One of the goals of a school-teacher is to create life-long-learners (indeed, to make himself unnecessary.)  Get out there and take your own pictures!  The world is a beautiful classroom indeed.

So, just as the established media provides a check on the government and corporations, independent media – which I’ve just dubbed the “Fifth Estate” – serves as an indirect check on established media by bucking the idea that they are the only ones who can gather, process, and publish stories.

I don’t like that someone like VT JaWo has met only one sugarcane farmer in his life – and only seen one sugarcane field in his life – and has returned to the DC area with a pretty unfavorable impression of sugarcane farmers.  I’m actually kind of embarrassed that this happened with a visitor I was showing around.  This is totally unacceptable.

Since this post was incredibly long, I’ll end it here and save more on this topic for later, but I’m curious to hear what you think, and please don’t hold back in describing your assessment of my actions here.  You can post a comment, and please put your name, but please also put “who you wit'” as well!  🙂



{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

1 trainshooter June 10, 2012 at 16:15


I’ve had similar episodes here in MS. One thought I might have been the damn Taliban and the other thought I was gonna steal some of his junk cars. The sumbitches haven’t run for 20 years….all this while on a public crossing. One of em while talking to RR employee. Ignorance is a bitch ain’t it!


2 Ryan S June 10, 2012 at 20:53

Have you written about this incident before? This story sounds very much familiar.

Anyhow, I think you did a heck of a job. Having had to stand up for my own rights as a photographer before, it always makes me glad to see others standing up for our rights.

Also, Go Hokies! (class of 2001 here)


3 EDITOR - Jimbaux June 11, 2012 at 11:34

Ryan, you were among the recipients of e-mails I sent to a few people back in January shortly after this incident happened. That’s why it seems familiar, and I copied and pasted much of those e-mails to this post, changing them a little bit for publication and clarity, but that’s also why this post might seem redundant in parts (for which I apologize.)

You mentioned that you’ve had issues likethis before. I would like for you to describe them for us here if you don’t mind.



4 Ryan S June 11, 2012 at 16:08

Thanks for confirming that I wasn’t going crazy (and no apology needed).

My incident happened up here in DC at the Navy Yard Metro Station – I look a combination of WMATA, MARC and walking to and from work, and would often carry my camera to take pictures of the interesting things that I happened across in my travels.

The short version of my story is that a ATC worker (automated track control) observed me on CCTV taking pictures on the platform while I was waiting for my train. He came out and asked me for my permit, and was none to pleased when I told him that I didn’t have one, as no permit was required to take pictures in the Metro system. After a brief conversation where I refused to give my ground (and refusing to go with him back into the tunnel to his office), he got on the radio and told the station manager that I was refusing to come upstairs and talk to her. I quickly interrupted him and told him that I would be happy to go upstairs and talk to the station manager. We did, she agreed that I probably shouldn’t be taking pictures, and asked me to hang around until the cops showed up. I did, the cops showed up and agreed with me that I had done nothing wrong and was free to go.

I posted my story online at a couple of forums, and filed a complaint with WMATA – eventually I got an apology, including a phone call from the superintendent of the Green Line, saying that he was sorry and would ensure that the station managers and workers under his control) would receive proper training in WMATA’s photo policies (which basically say “No commercial photography, no tripods, no crazy light setups, everything is good to go”.

The slightly longer version of the story can be found here (It’s a Chevy SUV forum, but it’s a good community of folks that share a lot more than discussions about our trucks):


5 Jerry June 10, 2012 at 22:12

Again you get into a confratation – why? You are always having problems and I think from your description of the events you enjoy it. All you had to do was just give the farmer an answer of what you were doing. You know where he was coming from. I do not live in the area but I know for a fact that the farms were there before all the people have move around him. Cane burning has been going on forever and now with all his new neighbors I am sure there are some who complain about the smoke. Just like people who move next to an airport and complain about the noise. I am sure people have called the newspaper and I am sure negative stories have been published about burning the fields. All you had to do is introduce your guest and tell him you are both photographers and you were just showing him how they prepare the fields before planting and saw the beauty of the smoke and burning. You decide to play games with the guy who was already agrivated by |another| photographer trying to show him doing something wrong. Come on James, you want to be a freelance photographer then learn to communicate with your subjects and people who own property. I have been photographing all kinds of stuff for the pas 50 years, yep I started actually younger than that, and I can only remember two occassions in my travels literally around the world of having a small problem and never anything like you seem to run into quite frequently.

Sorry if this offends you but this is my opinion.


6 EDITOR - Jimbaux June 11, 2012 at 09:29

WHOAH! Jerry, there are PLENTY of problems with what you’ve just said, and I find what you said to be quite appalling. Let’s take it line-by-line.

“Again you get into a confratation – why?”

Who confronted whom here? In all of my incedents like this one, how many of the confrontations have been initiated by me? Here’s a hint: you can’t divide by that number.

“You are always having problems.”

ALWAYS? Really? This event took place in January on the edge of a federal highway in which a thousand people probably passed while the field was burning. The last event that I described here (that you seem to be implicitly referencing) took place in early October in a public area where I have photographed for years. Do you think that I didn’t take any pictures in the three months between them? The archives of this site has plenty of pictures I took between those incidents, but there are plenty more that I did not publish from that time too! There is another incident on March 14 that I’ll soon describe, and, like what I just mentioned in the first two full-length sentences of this paragraph, it was a situation in which I should not have expected any problems.

“and I think from your description of the events you enjoy it. ”

I go out there to take pictures because I’m curious about this beautiful world and like taking pictures and sharing them. What happened was Farmer St. Pierre’s decision, not mine. Do I enjoy it? I don’t enjoy the fact that he’s that ignorant, fearful, and threatening, but if he is that way at all, then I should do what I can to change that, or at the very least, not be negatively affected by it. So, again, do I enjoy it? Well, people’s ignorance and fear can be quite comical. Still, do you think I enjoyed myself the next few days fearing I’d get a visit from the sheriff’s office? taking up even more of my time? That’s really messed up.

“All you had to do was just give the farmer an answer of what you were doing.”

HE DIDN’T ASK!!! HE DID NOT ASK ME WHAT I WAS DOING, OR WHY I WAS DOING IT! How many damned times do I have to say that? He obviously didn’t care why I was doing it, only THAT I was doing it. I’ve photographed burning sugar cane fields before (it’s legal and harmless, by the way, and it also allows viewers of the pictures who are not from here to see the spectacle) and had not had problems before. Therefore, why am I to expect one now? It’s HIS problem. If he wanted to know, all he had to do was ask. You’re suggesting that I was being disrespectful to him, but what do you have to say about his erronesouly assuming the worst in me? That’s not MY problem!

I just don’t think you (and many others) realize how condescending it is – to both me and to Farmer St. Pierre – to suggest that I’m supposed to interpret “who you wit’?” as “why are you taking pictures?” You are, first of all, suggesting that a grown man who appears to be twice my age is not capable of asking a simple question. You are also suggesting that he’s that stupid that he thinks that a person cannot or will not take pictures for his own interest on his own gumption. That is insulting to me as well.

So, in response, again, to your statement that “All you had to do was just give the farmer an answer of what you were doing,” I’ll just say that ALL HE HAD TO DO WAS ASK, especially since he is the one initiating the confrontation with someone standing on the shoulder of a public highway with dozens of automobiles passing by. He did not ask me that. For me to assume that “who you wit’?” meant that, then I’d have been insulting him, and accusing him of insulting me. Again, in these situations, I don’t try to assume stupidity among other people. I’m conspicuous about my picture taking, and it’s a sign that I have no stated reason to mistrust anyone who sees me.

The “who you wit’?” question is very similar to the “whom are you doing that for?” question that I so often get. It’s equally condescending because it automatically disregards any possibility of individuality on the part of the photographer.

If you’re at the grocery store putting produce in your shopping cart, wouldn’t you be confused – and feel slightly insulted – if the manager walked up to you and asked, “who are you doing that for?” It’s possible that you’re buying for a group home or for your disabled aunt, but if he’s going to assume anything, shouldn’t he first assume that you’re doing it for yourself?

“You know where he was coming from.”

No, I don’t – at least not at that time – and neither do you. We can only guess, and that’s what I did with my subsequent research with the laws he probably broke, but am I expected to know all that BEFORE I take the pictures? If so, what else am I expected to know before I take pictures?

“I do not live in the area but I know for a fact that the farms were there before all the people have move around him.”

Yes, I totally agree.

“Cane burning has been going on forever and now with all his new neighbors I am sure there are some who complain about the smoke.”

You are “sure” of that? It’s possible, but how can either of us know that? or, more specifically, be expected to know that – or, like I just said, anything else – before we take the pictures?

Regardless, all of that is irrelevant. I was taking pictures of a field (in other words, not someone’s back yard) from public property. At a basic level, that’s really all there is to it. How can you expect the weight of the prejudices, problems, and sins of all others in the area to be on my shoulders?

” All you had to do is introduce your guest and tell him you are both photographers and you were just showing him how they prepare the fields before planting and saw the beauty of the smoke and burning.”

Maybe I did introduce them; I don’t remember. Tell him that we’re both photographers? I think he can see that. Again, though, he didn’t ask why we were there. Furthermore, you’re trying to assign permanent purpose to the pictures before they are even taken. That doesn’t make sense.

“You decide to play games with the guy ”

Me? Are you KIDDING? Remember, he initiated the confrontation, something that surprised me given the physical distance and the ditch between us combined with the very public nature of the burning. How many times do I have to say that what I photographed was seen by hundreds if not thousands? What relevance do my efforts really have beyond me in this situation?

Farmer St. Pierre assumed the worst in me, didn’t bother to extend the courtesy of asking me why I was doing what I was doing, and then walked across four lanes of busy federal highway while his truck was left in the burning field so that he could try to intimidate me, and you’re telling me that I’m playing games with HIM? That’s appalling, Jerry!

If there’s any truth to the idea that I “play[ed] games” with the guy, it’s that I’m trying to teach him and anyone else involved that it’s not a crime, it’s not wrong, that ALL of us have the right to do it, that he should not take his fears out on other people who have not wronged him and who he doesn’t know have any intention of harming him, and that he should not assume the worst in people. If you call that “play[ing] games,” then, by gosh, I stand by the charge, but it’s a foolish charge.

” who was already agrivated by |another| photographer trying to show him doing something wrong.”

Again, first, we don’t know this, second, we shouldn’t be expected to know this, and, third, even if it is true, it’s not our problem anyway! You’re asking me to make assumptions on the man, which is weird. When you or I go to photograph something, we can’t be expected to say, “well, heck, maybe seven years ago, someone did this who had ill intent beyond the taking of pictures; so, maybe I just won’t take the pictures.” With that attitude, I’d never take any pictures, and neither would YOU!

That’s like the girlfriend who puts the sins of all other men that preceded you on your shoulders. It’s not your problem.

“Come on James, you want to be a freelance photographer then learn to communicate with your subjects and people who own property. ”

When I’m interested in entering the property (which is rare), I make a phone call or e-mail first. I had no interest in this, and there’s no expectation that anyone needs to contact a property owner before photographing the property. If that were the case, plenty of the pictures that I have would not exist now, especially as many pictures show multiple properties in one picture.

“I have been photographing all kinds of stuff for the pas 50 years, yep I started actually younger than that, and I can only remember two occassions in my travels literally around the world of having a small problem and never anything like you seem to run into quite frequently.”

Jerry, I’ve seen your photographs over the years, and judging only by what I have seen (which, I’m sure, is only a limited sample of what you have actually photographed, as I said earlier with my photos), you take mostly roster pictures of locomotives and fire trucks and other such equipment. From your work, I see very little action shots of trains, the type in which you’d often have to position yourself on the scene five or 10 (or even much more than that) early to get the shot, and I see very few candid shots of industrial archaeology or industry in action, especially from a distance. I don’t recall any images that I’ve seen from you taken with a telephoto lens either. Even for those more inclined to judge you and your motives when taking pictures, they’d be less inclined to harass and threaten – and say generally stupid stuff – to you if the subject matter is already on the scene when you arrive there, as they are for roster shots.

I do remember an incident that involved you – which may or may not be among the two that you said that you had – nearly a decade ago. I heard about it from other parties other than you, but it was obvious even from what I was told that the confrontation was not only initiated by the other person but stemmed from his own fears and from pressure from above. This is generally what we have here in this incident that I’ve described here, the incident in October, a March incident that I have yet to describe, and the 2008 incident with the NOPD. In each case, it was someone else’s problem that led to a confrontation, not my problem.

“Sorry if this offends you but this is my opinion.”

While I vehemently disagree with what you have to say, as I have described, I am very pleased that you at least expressed it. I’d rather you disagree and express it than disagree and not express it. I mean, I’d rather you agree, of course, but if everyone agreed with this position, there would not be the need to make this post!

So, thanks.

And, in all this, you seem to have neglected that he lied to me and tried to intimidate me. Don’t you have anything to say about that? Seriously, Jerry!

It all boils down to the fact that Farmer St. Pierre was probably breaking the law, assumed that I had the worst intentions, lied to me, treated me like I was stupid, and attempted to threaten me. Others would have backed down. That some may already have and that some in the future would is the reason for this post.


7 Fotaugrafee June 13, 2012 at 11:51

I think he SHOULD not only enjoy, but revel in the ignorance of the stupid American people with whom we share space in this country!! I’m not saying that he does, but he should.

People like you, Jerry, seem to think there’s a problem with raising a little Cain when Cain NEEDS to be risen. Go hide in your bunker & everything will be OK, sunshine.

Farmer St. Pierre didn’t ask for his motives or reasons, he essentially asked in his own slang way for credentials. Credentials which Jimbaux probably didn’t have, or at least any deemed acceptable to the cane farmer. Oh well…whatcha goin’ do?

If you care to bend over backwards for such incidents, Jerry, have at it. If you’re one of the journalists he speaks of, you’re a slug & should either quit the industry or go back to school. Because one thing you’re obviously lacking is ANY aspect of investigative journalism; or anything that reeks of controversy.


8 EDITOR - Jimbaux June 13, 2012 at 12:32

Interesting, Fautografee, that you characterize the “who you wit’?” question as Farmer St. Pierre asking me for “credentials.” I’m sure you agree that my whole point in the way I responded to him was that no credentials are needed! However, from the way he talked, he seem to say that the newspaper still gets his permission to photograph his property. That’s bunk, of course.

Also, Jerry is not one of the journalists of which I speak, but his arguments seem to be the same.


9 Armand Richardson June 11, 2012 at 10:13

Hello all,

I recently met James at a MS event in Audubon Park and have been following his photo journey ever since. I have been a Professional for 43 years , have been a Licensed Private Investigator and am qualified as an expert in Forensic Photographic evidence since 1976 in Federal Court. I have dealt with these issues for a very long time , including Lawyers and Corporations who believe that they own the copyright to images I take related to Cases in which they usually are the Defendants.

Everything James says is directly related to a correct interpertation of the Copyright Laws that have been in effect since the Act was revised decades ago. What has happened is that there is an intrusion into what used to be called Constitutional Rights, which of course includes the First Amendment guaranteeing a Free Press.

Yes, we are all now essentially members of the Press, the technology has made this possible in ways never available before. The Laws remain the same however, there is no stipulation that one must be employed by a News Agency in the Law, and I do not think that James is seeking confrontation. From the facts as presented it seems like this Farmer was doing an illegal burn without proper supervision, and that was the root of the bullying that he attempted to do. In the course of my Forensic, PI and Security experiences I have had many such incidents, usually once I find the evidence and began documenting it. This ranges all the way from being shot at, to attempted assaults upon me or my cameras. To date no one has succeeded in doing either.

What is needed now is to find out what these (I think) unconstitutional laws (patriot act, NDAA) have done to the long standing freedom of the press (which includes free lance photojournalists as well) and know what one’s rights are at this time.

In the past few years street performers have taken up the same tactics, ie demanding money when their photos are taken on public streets and property. Again the Copyright Law is very clear on this and similar points. YOU own the copyright, and unless the image is being used for Commercial Use there is no obligation to pay anyone. Some will call it a “photo tax” to which I say, “Fine, my bill for my services will be forthcoming and once that is paid, I will pay you”.
It always ends right there.

Lastly, if we do not defend the right to a free press which includes things like photographing from public land or highways we very soon will find that there will be ONLY one voice, that of the corporations who own, control and slant the news to suit their wishes.

A single photograph ended the Vietnam War…that of a young girl burned by napalm running from a village, along with other “unauthorized” photos taken at Mei Lai. Today we have the pictures from the various prisons around the world where our Governent is using torture and calling it “enhanced interrogation”. Much is on the line, and we are the front line soldiers. (Something I know about from my service in the Marines and Navy).

Popular Speech (and photos) need no defending, unpopular speech (and photos) DO.

My suggestion is that everyone research the Laws and find out what precisely is legal. The day photographers stop shooting anything and everything under the sun, is the day we can put on our orange coveralls and become slaves.


10 Fotaugrafee June 13, 2012 at 18:57

It’s somewhat disturbing, is it not Armand?

My own sister & I had that very disagreement (not an argument, b/c I stopped it early knowing she wasn’t going to change her mind), in that if I were to take pictures of SOMEONE…ANYONE…on a public sidewalk, that I need to pay them for use of their likeness – and not necessarily for a commercial nature either. Something like, for the sake of argument, the bikers that were featured in James’ blog revolving around the levee cops. The mere idea that those bikers were entitled to payment or royalties, because they are featured in his photographs!!!

Similarly, as a fellow rail buff, I have been read the Riot Act by at least one coworker in the past month, telling me that NDAA stops me from taking photos of “whatever I want” (within reason). I argued the point with him, and told him that NDAA supposedly does not apply to American citizens, something which I will gladly learn the hard way in order to test the waters. What are they going to do, ‘Men in Black’ me (that is, blank my memory) when escorting me out of the lockup to prevent me from remembering any of the events that transpired post-incarceration? Good luck with that. Any attempt to hinder my photographic will be met with raining negative publicity on the parties who are most guilty. There’s a lot more at stake when that party is a corporation trying to hide from something. 🙂

As James has highlighted in the past, one of my FAVORITE past times is aiming my camera at AND photographing those supposed “Department of Energy” oil refineries & chemical plants who post on their fencing & perimeter that “photography is prohibited”. I’ll fight that one to the death, because either someone is going to shoot me over an innocent photograph; or I’ll be dead of natural causes before my fight is over.


11 Anon Y. Mous June 11, 2012 at 10:33

I love when non-experts on the legality of issues decide to launch into a diatribe on why what they were doing was perfectly fine. I wouldn’t begin to instruct you on how to take pictures, so don’t pretend that a couple Google searches suddenly makes you an expert on the 1st Amendment. You blew this WAY out of proportion and your commentary on the farmer, the associate burning the field, and their behavior illustrates that ignorance is a two-sided issue.

For instance, your repeated mentioning of “who you wit” is obviously your attempt to degrade the farmer and demonstrate your assumed superiority. I’ll also assume you weren’t being racist when you mentioned that the man setting fire to the fields couldn’t possibly be college-educated.

You also seem to have a problem with anyone challenging you on the fact that you might have been in the wrong.


12 Ryan S June 11, 2012 at 10:46

You seem to be implying that Jimbaux’s interpretation of the 1st amendment (an interpretation that I share) is incorrect.

Care to educate us, or are you just mouthing off for the heck of it?


13 EDITOR - Jimbaux June 11, 2012 at 15:41

“I love when non-experts on the legality of issues decide to launch into a diatribe on why what they were doing was perfectly fine.”

And I “love,” then, when someone thinks that only an “expert” (I guess that must be you) has the ability to discern that simply taking a picture of a well-viewed field – or anything that isn’t someone’s back yard or the inside of his house – from public property is legal. I guess you think that only people with law degrees should be allowed to take pictures. Good luck with that. You’ve just essentially said that anyone reading this who does not have a law degree is incapable of determining when he or she is within his rights. That’s not the kind of world in which I want to live; that’s not a free society.

I’ve done more than just “a couple of Google searches,” thank you, but I also don’t claim to be an expert on the 1st Amendment. I just know what I need to know for my own purposes.

Blew it way out of proportion? Farmer St. Pierre probably did what he did with me – was probably surprised by my not bowing down to his threats – because he’s gotten away with this before. He tried to threaten me, I’ve nearly been hauled off to jail and had my gear confiscated (at least twice) for taking pictures. So, I think that making this the big deal that it is is not out-of-line so that it doesn’t happen to others, including YOU. The bigger the stink we raise about this now, the lesser the chance of something like this happening to someone else. That’s the point, but it was apparently lost on you.

I did not criticize the “associate” burning the field. I’m not sure why you get that impression. It seems to me that he was doing his job and that he wasn’t doing anything wrong.

“For instance, your repeated mentioning of “who you wit” is obviously your attempt to degrade the farmer and demonstrate your assumed superiority.”

What? That’s what the man said to me, and repeatedly! Furthermore, as this issue goes far beyond this particular incident, which is the greater point of this post, that’s what plenty of people, unfortunately, would have said and have indeed said. It’s not the first time I get that, or its twin brother “who are you doing that for?” – both of which are quite condescending for reasons I’ve already mentioned.
What “assumed superiority” do you mean? And does your opening “non expert” moniker for me not speak of an assumed superiority as well? What he said was just dumb and condescending, period. If you have a problem with me calling that out, especially as he threatened me, then it says plenty about you.

“I’ll also assume you weren’t being racist when you mentioned that the man setting fire to the fields couldn’t possibly be college-educated.”

Who said anything about race? Oh, wait, YOU did! I mentioned that he probably wasn’t the burn-manager probably because of his clothing and, more importantly, that he was the one setting the fire himself. Had the man been Cajun like most farmers here, I’d have assumed the same thing. Had I seen a black man in the field with a clean-pressed button-down shirt and slacks with a clipboard in his hand, I’d have assumed he was the burn manager.
You yourself noticed his racial identity, meaning that while you point the useless “racist” finger at me, you have three pointing right back at you!

“You also seem to have a problem with anyone challenging you on the fact that you might have been in the wrong.”

I’d rather them “challenge” me than say nothing at all (as I told my old pal Jerry), but what, pray tell, did I do wrong?


14 EDITOR - Jimbaux June 11, 2012 at 19:17

One more thing, Mr. Anon Y. Mous, whoever you are . . . .

You wrote, “I wouldn’t begin to instruct you on how to take pictures,”

Go ahead. We can all learn from each other. Nobody is an “expert” at this. That’s partly the point of this site, and that’s often why explain how I compose images. Feel free to critique them in any way. I’ll never know if any photo suggestion you make will work to my liking if I don’t try, but I won’t know to try it if you don’t tell me. I welcome critiques of my images along with everything else here. Thank you.


15 Fotaugrafee June 13, 2012 at 19:01

First, you’re a stooge or a sheep. Take your pick.

Learn the rights behind photography regarding other’s property FROM public property before rambling in the future about something which you appear to know little or nothing. One of the pieces in there is “reasonable expectation of privacy”.

If all they have is a chain link fence between you & the object of your desire, Mr. Stooge, there is no expectation of privacy. The fence acts as a barrier to show you that the property you’re photographing is NOT public. That is all. If they want privacy, put up an 8’ high concrete slab. That will give them all the privacy they could ever want.


16 John Farnor June 11, 2012 at 11:40

In my opinion Jimbeaux, you should have taken time, at first, to put the farmer at ease about your being there taking photos of his burning crops. Second an immediate assurance that you and your friend mean no harm and wish him well. One shouldn’t begin a conversation with an agitated stranger with such witty banter as you seem so proud to recount. What you did was show him that, by golly, you were standing on public property and could care less to know why he might be concerned. What a pleasant conversation you were initiating. Perhaps you fellows might have learned something positive from each other or even enjoyed the unplanned parley. But alas, thanks to your approach, that outcome was not in the offing. I hope you don’t come by to photograph my place just to prove you can. Best Wishes.


17 EDITOR - Jimbaux June 11, 2012 at 12:25

John, first, thank you for commenting, and for the good wishes too.

Is your place a “farm” too? If it is, I’d love to photograph it! I hope that you’re not equating me photographing an open field that’s cearly visible for a busy four-lane highway with me pointing my lens toward your bedroom window. What “reasonable expectation of privacy” is there for an open field that’s so easily visible? and when there’s a fire there with smoke that’s visible from the other side of a large town?

You also seem to forget that we were in a bit of a hurry here. You wrote that I “should have taken time” to put him at ease. We didn’t have much time! Honestly, I’d have loved to have stayed and chatted, and I have in other such occasions, but I’m not going to have my friend miss his flight because of a nasty confrontation that we did not even initiate.

“Witty banter”? That’s your characterization, pal. I wasn’t trying to be witty at all. I was, as I’ve repeatedly described here, trying to be respectful to both of us and stand up for myself.

There’s the other matter that there are fast-moving vehicles right behind us while we’re actually in a hurry to get out of there with an irate farmer before us. What’s the right thing to do in retrospect with the time of retrospect as well is not always easy to do in the moment.

Furthermore, as some other commenters seem to have suggested, you seem to think that I knew on the scene that a law was being violated. It wasn’t until we drove away from the scene that the real reason (and, again, that’s still an assumption, one of many) began to dawn on me. The idea that we were witnessing (as the hundreds of other people driving by were) something illegal did not dawn on me at the time.

He didn’t give me much room to assure him that we meant no harm, especially when, as I’ve said, the possible illegality of the event didn’t dawn on me at the time. I was just trying to make sure we weren’t being bullied too much.


18 EDITOR - Jimbaux June 11, 2012 at 12:38

And tell me, John (and anyone else reading this), what harm did my presence there and the fact that I was taking pictures do?


19 Fotaugrafee June 13, 2012 at 19:08

Give me an address, I’ll do it…when I have the time.

What are you going to do about it? Point a shotgun at me & tell me to “Move along, son”?

Cell phones & 9-1-1 are a beautiful thing in this day & age. I think you’ll find yourself on the ugly end of a confrontation you don’t want. If I chose to do so, I would take every possible photo of YOUR PROPERTY from a public location that I want, and legally BUBBA, there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it. How’s THAT for attitude? 🙂


20 magnolia June 11, 2012 at 12:06

Ugh. Sorry you had to deal with jerks. You are correct in that you’re 100% within your rights to take pictures of fields without trespassing. There is a fundamental misunderstanding of the First Amendment in this country. It shows here.


21 EDITOR - Jimbaux June 11, 2012 at 19:46

I need to address something just in case it is not clear from my earlier comments here in the comments section and my writings in the post.

Most of the criticism of my actions here is apparently about how I talked to Farmer St. Pierre once he angrily confronted me with one very specific and narrow question. If I was “playing games” or trying to be “witty” with him, it’s because I didn’t want to acknowledge the idea that he might be both that ignorant and that condescending to me. In other words, my responses to him were my ways of paying him a compliment, treating him with the most amount of respect that he could get – that he even deserved – based on the manner that he chose to speak to me.

“Who you wit’?” is a completely BS question – quite condescending and ignorant – when he didn’t even know why I was there or know any facts beyond that I was taking pictures and what my name was. I’ve already explained that the idea that anyone taking pictures of his burning field could only be in the service of someone else is both condescending to anyone who takes pictures based on his own gumption and desire and is just ignorant. It all fits into this problem of modern society in which we are not individuals but are expected to be agents of other forces.

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”
Oscar Wilde, De Profundis, 1905

How stupid it is to walk up to someone taking pictures and ask about the “other people” before even bothering to learn about the motivations of the photographer in question, to automatically assume that there’s no way that he’s taking pictures of his own free will and desire.

That’s why I paid Farmer St. Pierre the best compliment that I could give him by responding to his question – his only question – in the most literal manner possible all while offerring puzzlement in the form of body language about why the question was even being asked of me in the first place. Hello!?!?!?! You’re talking to ME! Why not ask me why I’m taking pictures before you ask me what organization is behind me? If you’d simply ask me why I am here, you’d probably have most of the answer to “who you wit’?” and would realize that it was a BS question in the first place.

I’m an adult, and I graduated from college about a decade ago and have worked in three professions and have traveled around North America and western Europe taking tens of thousands of pictures in the process; asking me “who you wit’?” or “who are you doing that for?” is basically like asking me if I have permission from my parents to be outside and taking pictures. Bunk, pure bunk. I’m a grown man. I don’t need to be “with” anybody to be taking pictures. Asking me “who you wit’?” before you’ve asked me anything else is treating me like I’m 12 years old. You don’t think I’m old enough or energetic enough or curious enough to decide on my own to take some pictures?

It’s also quite clear, though, that once Farmer St. Pierre figured out that I was on my own, he figured he’d have an easier time of intimidating me. I had nobody to call to give me backup for being there. I don’t need it, but that’s not the point.

I’ll share something else with you guys right here. I have in my possession a PRESS pass issued by the Louisiana Press Association. It has my picture on it and name on it with big PRESS letters. The only time I wear it is in when I’m in the service of some publication so that those with whom I interact in that capacity can know with whom they are dealing. It’s more useful when I have to access government buildings or private property. However, if I’m doing my own photo work on public property, there is no reason why I should use it, specifically because it conveys the fallacious notion that I somehow have more of a right to take pictures with it than does someone who does not have a press pass. Again, Freedom Of The Press is for everyone.


22 nitro June 11, 2012 at 20:19

The term ” who you wit ” shows me that maybe , just maybe he might have been doing something wrong . He thought jimbaux was someone in an position of authority and wanted to challenge him . But sadly the farmer was mistaken ( no offence jimbaux). And now this has turned into a furball . This is just my opinion which I see that everyone has one . Anyways good point about the 1st amendment . I choose to ride a harley I get dirty looks from almost everyone , they THINK I’m a badass but I’m a nice guy . 99% of US Harley riders are , foamly Nitro


23 EDITOR - Jimbaux June 11, 2012 at 20:48

Thanks, Brother Nitro.
That’s all true. The point of my most recent comment, though, is that leading with a “who you wit’?” question when no other questions have been asked is not only disrespectful to the individuality of the person being asked it but is also disrespectful of human individuality in general, since the person asking the “who you wit’?” or “who are you doing that for?” usually doesn’t know the person he’s asking nearly well enough to be asking that question. It’s sickening because it assumes that everyone who isn’t walking a dog or walking with their children is serving the wishes of some master.

Heck, next time you see someone going fishing, go ask him, “who are you doing that for?” 🙂


24 Mama B June 11, 2012 at 21:25

I’m with Jerry on this situation. Pretending to be ignorant of the farmer’s intent through his questions is condescending. You are legally correct that you had the right to stand by the highway and take photographs; socially, you were wrong, wrong, wrong. Courtesy goes a long way, Jimbaux, but you came up short. Why intentionally irritate people? Why not respond with courtesy and deference to his age and experience, then ask questions about his farming: how many generations of his family have worked in sugar cane, are there other ways to prepare the field? Both of you would have had a better day.

You are fortunate that farmer did not become enraged, pull out a handgun, and kill you. You could be telling St. Peter you had every right to stand next to the highway and take those pictures.


25 EDITOR - Jimbaux June 11, 2012 at 21:30

Have you not read what I wrote between Jerry’s comment and yours? I don’t think that I can explain it any better than that. Please read it if you have not already done so. I was paying the farmer a compliment, and you do not seem to get that. The farmer was being quite condescending, and you do not seem to get that. I was assuming the best in him.

Check this out: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=386258251431399&id=145765538814006&notif_t=feed_comment

It’s unsettling to read this from you (and from others too.) You are telling me that I was condescending to him, but that’s not true, since the way that you say that I should have instead spoken to him is actually quite condescending.


26 EDITOR - Jimbaux June 11, 2012 at 21:43

And, furthermore, you talk about how he could have pulled a gun on me and that I’m lucky that he didn’t, and yet you don’t say anything about the wrongness of his statements, lies, and his attempted threats on us. It’s nice to learn that you really think that might makes right. Thanks for everything. Standing up for yourself and your rights and your dignity is a damned difficult and lonely proposition.


27 EDITOR - Jimbaux June 12, 2012 at 16:05

In other words, “who you wit’?” is a question that he should NOT have asked me at that point because it was loaded with unwarranted assumptions and judgment. What you call “pretending to be ignorant” was my way of assuming the best in him once he backed me in a corner with his question and of letting him know how idiotic of a question it was.

As someone wrote on the Facebook fan page, “It seems most of the people that thought you went to far or may not know the law are the type that have been “conditioned” that only “professionals” may make such judgements, all other sheeple will fall in line and do as you’re told please.”


28 EDITOR - Jimbaux September 1, 2012 at 08:33

Here’s another thing. You wrote: “You are fortunate that farmer did not become enraged, pull out a handgun, and kill you.”

I’ve already commented on your statment in my above comments, but now I’ll ask you something else. Reed St. Pierre yelled loudly at two adults standing with cameras on the side of a busy highway as cars passed by seeing what he was doing, he lied to us, approached from at least 50′ as we were motionless, assumed things of us, and then he attempted to threaten us. So why are we the ones fortunate that he didn’t pull out a handgun and kill us? After he did all of that stupid obnoxious stuff, why is it not he who was fortunate that we didn’t pull out guns and kill him?

And, for you to say that we’re fortunate that he didn’t pull out a handgun and kill us . . . what kind of belligerent lowlife dirtbag do you take St. Pierre to be?

Please read this article, how one is not responsible for how others react to him:

I actually used to be one of those people, which means I used to be a lot like you and Jerry, thinking that I shouldn’t either speak the truth or stand up for myself or what’s right because other people might have a problem with it and that their problem(s) was(were) my responsibility. Nope. Hindsight seems to suggest that Reed St. Pierre had plenty of problems (again, we can neither know this nor be expected to know this as we stand alongside a busy highway), but are those problems our problems? If so, doesn’t that breed the society of victimhood that the above-linked article mentions?


29 PPA (Mid City Marine June 11, 2012 at 22:53

As we discussed after this happened, I totally agree that it is obvious you were not in the wrong by doing what you were doing. And no, the farmer should not have assumed you were with some news-gathering organization or that you were spying on him.

But… I think several people who have commented here seem to be telling you that while you were not in the wrong, you could have used a little more insight and tact. Maybe you should have taken a different step and volunteered more about yourself and the situation at hand in order to diffuse the potential confrontation and calm the farmer’s anxiety about why you were there taking photos. You are correct (and I agree) that you should not HAVE to do something like this, as you were not doing anything you were not allowed to or should not have been doing. But people are an emotional lot, and while your point was rational and correct, this farmer obviously was not on the same rational wavelength at that moment. and would probably not truly heard the point you were making, even if it was typed out on paper and handed to him. Sometimes it takes irrational empathy to defend the literal, rational truth.

I’m just sayin’ that brushing up on your warm & fuzzy people skills might come in handy again sometime.


30 EDITOR - Jimbaux June 11, 2012 at 23:00

Given what PPA, Mama B, and a few others commented this evening about how it could have gone better, I’ll offer this for now. Remember three things. First, we were in a rush, and we needed to get out of there; it would have likely ended much differently had we had time to stick around and allow St. Pierre to be the one to walk away (and I usually let the other person leave the encounter in situations like these), but he’s still the one who initiated the confrontation and took out his anger on us. Second, because of its rushed nature, this event happened faster than probably most of you think that it did; it probably took you far longer to read about what happened (partly due to all of the background information and commentary that I add) than it actually happened, just a couple of minutes. Third, when getting approached in situations like this, I never know what the person will say, what mood he’ll be in, what questions he’ll have, or what approach he’ll take. There’s no template for it; so, I just have to do what I do.

Remember, again, the farmer’s anxiety was neither my creation nor my responsibility to address, especially since it wasn’t until after I left the scene that I realized what most likely caused it. I cannot be expected to anticipate every last concern that someone might have, which will be a theme of the next post.


31 nitro June 12, 2012 at 00:04

As I always say and will always , treat others as you want to be treated, so basically he came at jimbaux stupid and jimbaux acted accordingly , this what I see . When I’m in a place and I go up to someone I don’t not know I act as nicely as I can and I almost always get that in return . Jimbaux has always be courteous and proper to me even when I first met him , Hell I didn’t know who he was . Yes I know that I’m one of a million in this case , but I truly believe that if EVERYONE acted this way the country nay the world would and should gave been a better place , food for thought for all that read this , think about before you shoot your mind or mouth off to someone , how would I liked to be talked to ???? Hmmm ?????


32 No One June 12, 2012 at 11:15


I can’t criticize your experience in this situation. But in this case empathy
And treating others as you want to be treated is key. Photography is emotional and the law may be on your side but you intimidated someone that day with it. Tact and diplomacy and a understanding not everyone translates the world as literally as you do.

I can see if it were truly a burning topic, this would have been posted when it occurred.

The photos are good though, and really it is about getting the shot, and even if it puts you in an awkward situation sometimes the thrill of a great moment is overwhelming.


33 EDITOR - Jimbaux June 12, 2012 at 11:56

I did treat others as I want to be treated. If I was yelling madly, I’d want the person on the other end of it to be calm and deliberate in manner and factual and unemotional with responses. If I was telling lies to someone, I’d want to be called out on it. If I was threatening someone, I would not want the person to bow down to me, as I think that would discourage me from doing it again.

I’ve photographed burning sugarcane fields before without incident. That plus the fact that the spectacle is distinctly visible to any of the hundreds of people on the higway just a few feet away and knowable to thousands of people who can see the smoke – any of whom could have been photographing it while the farmer concerned himself with me – makes the reaction really silly but also frightening.

This is a case of “it is what it is,” or, at least, that you should not assume that something is more than what it is without any additional evidence. Two guys taking pictures of a field is just two guys taking pictures of a field. To assume otherwise is to not give us very much credit, and is basically tantamount to saying, “little boy, who are your parents?”

To say that he was intimidated by my presence says something about him, something that I can’t really know and can’t really be expected to know, and not much about me. I was surely intimidated about the prospect of having the sheriff’s office pay me a visit, as, for all I know, his brother-in-law could be the sheriff, and there are enough thug-with-badge types out there; I’ve nearly spent a weekend in jail because of someone else’s problem before. So, I’m surely sensitive to these issues, and I’ve learned to stand up not only for myself but for the right of ANYONE to legally and harmlessly gather such information on his own, which is a necessary supplement to having information fed to us by mass media, government, and corporations.

Yes, it really is about getting the shot. The shots that other people, like you, sit back, enjoy, and, hopefully, learn from, are not gotten without risk. That’s why the mindset exhibited by St. Pierre is harmful to you too, just probably not as harmful as it is to me.

Thank you. I appreciate it. I do.


34 No One June 12, 2012 at 12:29

People do pass judgements and make assumptions. Good gear is expensive and
Like art for arts sake photography for photography’s sake is not the norm of a hobby in this society.

But people often view the subject of a photograph as they are the “owners” of that image –
You take a photo of “me or my land” And that image is me or what I own, while the photographer sees that scene as a good shot or art or hobby or journalism- the subject feels ownership of what is occurring also.

Perhaps it is a sense of possession that is taking place— subconsciously – where two people feel ownership over an event. While the farmer created the situation he felt he owned it – your desire to photograph it was natural.

Yes people assume you are the media because perhaps that is their self importance playing a role.


35 EDITOR - Jimbaux June 12, 2012 at 13:57

Photography for its own sake with people who own good gear as personal property may not be “the norm,” but any photography – or any other kind of work, even if it’s in the form of a “job” – is ultimately performed by individuals. If it’s not clear due to things like apparel, ID tags, or labeling on a vehicle, it still should be first assumed that the individual is performing his own actions if assumptions are to be made at all.

Furthermore, the price of the gear is about the same as two years of Saints season tickets (and lasts much longer than that) and a couple of visits to strip clubs, but, wait, yes, those are things that people are expected to do. Ah, yes, shut up and consume; the government and corporations sedate the populace with alcohol and television, and anyone who doesn’t take the pill is judged.

That’s an interesting point that you raise about a subject of the photo having a feeling of ownership of the image. I have plenty of more friendly ‘confrontations’ involving my photography about which I do not need to raise as big of an issue, and many of them are people asking to see the pictures that I took of them. I, of course, oblige (notwithstanding the time and effort that it takes to process and post images); that’s just common courtesy.

Still, my ownership of my image does not in any way diminish the ownership that the property owner has over his property. He still owns his property even if a thousand people photograph it every day.


36 EDITOR - Jimbaux June 12, 2012 at 16:20

I should add that a simple question – a yes-or-no – question of “do you work for a newspaper?” would have been more direct than a “why are you taking those pictures?” question and still be appropriate since it doesn’t come with unwarranted assumptions and judgments like “who you wit’?” does. “Do you work for a newspaper?” is a question that should be answerable by just about any photographer (notwithstanding that the photographer might actually work for the newspaper but still be taking pictures for his own purposes on his own time), whereas “who you wit’?” is a question that many of us are unable to answer simply because there is no answer for it, such as what we have here.


37 Nobody June 15, 2012 at 01:39

But isn’t fear fueled by ignorance and fear of
Punishment.. Or fear of being punished by the ignorant. The act of photography to people who love it is driven by passion for the art, while the people who perceive the photographer as a threat to their way of life.

So one side is fearful of someone who knows that what they are doing is out of the exact opposite motivations. Photographing out of love, so it’s an insult to injury to be mislabeled by society or the ignorant in society as a criminal or potentially a terrorist for doing something that YOU know is harmless and you know you’re doing out of passion—- not to create fear.

38 PPA (Mid City Marine) June 12, 2012 at 12:01

I’ve got it! Now I know what you should have done:

In your best Obi-wan Jedi hand wave, without blinking, “We are not the photographers you are looking for. We should go about our business. Move along.”

You would never have problems with this guy again.


39 EDITOR - Jimbaux June 12, 2012 at 12:08

That’s hilarious!!!!!
Actually, seriously, there’s a bit of truth to that, as I had thought that one of the things that maybe I should have done differently was that I should have said, “I think that you have us confused for someone else.” I think that I might have actually said that once in a similar encounter.


40 Trish Landry June 12, 2012 at 17:34

Hey! I’m “wit” myself. So, I just read your “novel” and I don’t think that you were acting like an ass. Hope all is well!:)


41 Fotaugrafee June 13, 2012 at 11:21

Lots I could say here, some of which you may not agree with whatsoever.

The familial thing is a HUGE problem, b/c it means that generations of ignorance are perpetuated through one’s value system. In this scenario, publicity of one’s private property. Unfortunately, too many people in this country are 99.9% ignorant to the law, constitutional or otherwise, surrounding the RIGHTS of photographers (or journalists) to view and/or document their private property. In other words, “I’m doing it legally, if you don’t like it, tough s**t. Educate yourself on the matter.” 🙂

I would not in any way believe, however, that a “certified burn manager” needs to have some kind of costume to appear professional or “certified”, much less that he need be college educated. That’s like saying that all locomotive engineers need to wear bib overalls & a striped hat – when in fact all they need is semi-torn jeans or Dickies, a raggity-ass t-shirt & a little card in their wallet that says they’re OK to run the choo-choo. Maybe St. Pierre himself was indeed the burn manager.

As for Tom Beckett’s problems with CSX in a previous blog, that’s just tough titty for the Chessie Cat. CSX has only the right to keep people OFF IT’S OWN property, not away from or “not NEAR” it. I guess next they’ll be claiming Eminent Domain over all property within 1000’ feet of their rails in the name of Homeland Security next?

I haven’t yet got to the comments section, so I’ll take the time to address the ignorance later (because there’s bound to be an ample volume of it based on skimming).


42 Fotaugrafee June 13, 2012 at 11:41

“He is, but my way of dealing with things like that – like dealing with racism, xenophobia, homophobia, etc. – is to let people reveal their prejudices rather than for me to assume that they exist, which would be my own form of unfair judgment to him.”

I agree with your mindset here, and people can “think I’m an ass” for whatever reason as a result. The saying, originated from Abraham Lincoln I do believe, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt” comes to mind here. The lesson here is to let St. Pierre show you how educated he is on the matter, because raising your own blood pressure dealing with mental midgets. You passed. 🙂


43 Thomas Beckett June 14, 2012 at 17:07


I have been holding off on offering comments here, partly because I needed to chew over some of the statements made, and partly because I’m often reading these posts from work, where, at least some of the time, they want me to actually do something constructive-imagine!!

First, a couple of comments on remarks I have been quoted on, and photography, First Amendment rights, law enforcement, and journalism as it relates. I agree, CSX does not have the right to dictate to people who are not on their property, what they can and can’t do. Related to the general topic, photography of private property is generally allowed, if the subject is in public view. This would surely apply to railroads, as most of their operations are out where anyone can see them. As Fotaugrafee notes, “tough titty on the Chessie Cat.” Unfortunately, I was not able to impress that notion on the East Syracuse cop sufficiently well to get him to leave us alone. My situation at the time was single father of 4 teens, so I was not in a position to tell him to piss off and risk arrest, essentially for “contempt of cop.” Had I not had that responsibility, I might have pushed it. Let them take me in, and see if they can make the trespass charge stick. For what it’s worth, it became a cottage industry at CSX to call in railfans all over the northeast. I don’t know if that policy(if it was one, or just sport for engine crews) was in effect elsewhere, but my situation is not unique in the northeast, perhaps due to everyone being on edge after 9/11, and being in relatively close proximity to Ground Zero. Someone up there commented on corporate control of media. Apparently CSX, despite not being a media outlet, wants to control what people see of their organization, and how. It may be that the threat to journalists is not only from the likes of Fox or NBC or the Wall Street Journal, but also from any corporate entity that wishes to restrict information, and makes an attempt to extend its influence beyond its legitimate scope. I doubt this is a stated goal of CSX-I think they are just being buttheads-but how long til someone in an office somewhere gets the idea. As it is, much of broadcast media is a hoax, at least in commercial radio. They feed you what they want you to see and hear, and spin it to their backers slant. Most of the viewers/listeners don’t have enough interest to do their own research, and too many people are content to accept what they see as truth, because it fits their particular mindset, and not question it too hard. People who watch Fox or MSNBC are not watching because they are critical, but often because what they get from those outlets agrees with their point of view. In all but the largest markets, is there any independent radio any more?? When was the last time you heard a local newscast on the rock or country station in your town?? It’s a slippery slope, and getting steeper. The gadfly with a camera or a website is a threat, however small, to these organizations, because he refuses to follow the party line, and get in line. Armand Richardson has that point exactly right.

I know NJ Transit had a policy that operators were to call in anyone they saw taking pictures to dispatch. This led to some interesting interactions, which is well documented in Railpace, among other places. They had a regular column called Boberwatch-named for the NJ Transit police chief-that reported incidents, and efforts by various parties to force them to realize they were violating everyone’s First Amendment rights by implementing that policy. NJ Transit finally relented, but it took the efforts of many to get there. There is still an attitude in some parts of the NY/NJ area officialdom that they can prohibit photography in certain areas-there are “photography prohibited” signs on the George Washington Bridge and other such facilities. The really sad part is that the law enforcement people who are supposed to be “protecting and serving” to ensure our rights are preserved, are often not only ignorant of the law they enforce, but seem to be so willingly; or the wantonly disregard it in the name of “national security”, or just expediency. I suspect in a lot of cases, they got a phone call from someone-God save us from busybodies with cell phones-and there is the need to be seen as “doing something” either in public, or for their superiors, to address a concern, however misplaced-and no one wants to be the guy who has to explain that he blew off the call if it turns out it involved someone perpetrating the next attack. Still, in the paranoid frenzy over national security, they seem to have forgotten, or are willing to disregard the fact that those who are engaged in a legal activity in a public place should be left alone.

Speaking of 9/11, in a much earlier post, Jimbaux asked us to post photos taken on 9/11 last year. I had the good fortune of a visit from a friend, John Stanovich, an NS engineer from Chicago, whom I have known since 1984. John is also an accomplished photographer, and has had work in the NS company calendar. We bagged some good stuff that day, Sep 11, 2011, with power from all the players:




That was not the only run in I have had taking photos. Back in 1984(ironic, eh??) I stopped to take a photo of an Alco S 2 over a fence at the GE plant in Pittsfield Mass. As I was stepping off the hood of my car, a guy in a white car pulls up, asks what I’m doing. I told him, he said something about not being able to take pictures of the defense part of the plant. I waved at him and moved on. We didn’t get into any kind of discussion, but I would have surely challenged him had he wanted to take my film.

I have been occasionally asked what I was doing or why I was sitting where I was by cops. For the most part, these have been friendly encounters, and usually they leave me alone once they have an understanding of what I’m doing. My style tends to be “gun and run”. I’ll latch onto a train and chase it for miles, shooting it at a number of locations-a look at my CP on the D&H, or Conrail in the Southern Tier albums will bear this out-that greatly reduces the likelihood of being questioned by anyone, as I’m usually not around long enough to attract attention. But I have come to realize that when I do sit, it’s often someplace that most people don’t go, and the ones who do are usually up to something. Since cops are by their nature suspicious-and to be so is part of their job description, I’m not surprised when one stops by in those circumstances.

Anyway, the point of all of that is, we don’t have to have a law degree to understand and apply the Constitution, and we don’t need to work for CBS or the Washington Post to be journalists. Most of us are bright enough to read and understand it on our own, as well as read any pertinent commentary. The concepts are pretty basic. Believe it or not, a Google search will probably turn up enough GOOD info to get that understanding. The same applies to efforts to understand and apply legal principles regarding photograpghers’ rights, property owners rights, and other related legal issues. Most of this is not so complicated the average person cannot comprehend it. So, the comment from Anon Y Mous is completely off base. I don’t need a lawyer to tell me robbing banks is illegal. I also don’t need one to tell me what my rights are under the Constitution, or for that matter, what is essentially an outgrowth of English common law.

As for the jounalism side of it, as I said, we don’t have to work for a well known, established media organization to be journalists. Tom Paine was a journalist; what made him famous was not work he did for the New York Times of his era, it was a series of pamphlets he put out independently. In today’s world, all you need is a Facebook page or a blog. The internet has made it possible for the wide dissemination of all kinds of information. All you need is a laptop and a connection to the web, and you’re a journalist. In that regard, anything we can report on, whether by word or pictures, can be considered journalism, and therefore protected-and often covers subjects that need the exposure. We who can do that service, need to do it, if for no other reason than to “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable”. In sum, I think Armand said it all, and it appears he has the credentials to back up what he’s saying, by training and experience.

More tomorrow……


44 EDITOR - Jimbaux June 15, 2012 at 16:10

Almost a week later, I have a few more comments here as we hopefully close this out.

Reed St. Pierre made several unwarranted assumptions, and because of his unwarranted assumptions, anyone could have been harmed, just as what happened in April 2008 when some unwarranted assumptions of the NOPD officers nearly landed me in jail for doing something that was safe, legal, and harmless, and that would contribute to knowledge of whoever would have wanted it and benefited from it.

Worse, though, many of the comments here are full of assumptions themselves as well as many of what can at least be described as misinterpretations – and misstatement of facts – that I posted here on this very page. I’ll try to list them here.

1.) There was hardly a sentence in Jerry’s comment that did not have unwarranted assumptions and misstatement of facts; so, I’ll refer you back up to my lengthy reply under his comment in which I replied sentence-by-sentence to his comment.

2.) Anon Y. Mous wrote, “I’ll also assume you weren’t being racist when you mentioned that the man setting fire to the fields couldn’t possibly be college-educated.” I already replied to his comment above, but I didn’t address the point about how he said that I said the man setting fire “couldn’t possibly” be college-educated, when, of course, I would not write with that kind of certainty. A quick scroll up reveals that I wrote that “he doesn’t appear to be some college-trained regulator.” This, unfortunately, is how discourse works with the assuming populace: “doesn’t appear to be” somehow gets changed to “couldn’t possibly be,” something that is very different. My guess is that the guy isn’t the regulator, but, as I said in the piece, it’s just a guess; I don’t know, and neither do you. Anyone who cares to prove otherwise is welcome to investigate, but you probably won’t. You can, though, as all of you are journalists. As I said, though, I don’t particularly care if this was an illegal burn; that particular sin ranks a distant third to the threats made to people gathering information safely, harmlessly, and legally, and of assuming the worst intentions in people (the former being a function of the latter.)

3.) John Farnor writes, “I hope you don’t come by to photograph my place just to prove you can.” This statement not only compares an open field by a highway to a residence that, for all we know, could be in some secluded cul-de-sac, but Farnor SEEMS (I’m not totally sure of this, hence the “seems” word) to be suggesting that I showed up to take pictures of that field just because I wanted to prove that I could. He either didn’t read the article well enough to see why we stopped before he commented, assumes the worst in me too, or both. Did it ever occur to him that there may be a value in pictures and in taking them?

4.) There are many commenters who are stating that I either knew, should have known, or both, before I started taking pictures that either I was photographing an illegal act or that the farmer had reason to be concerned. That suggests that either I should assume everyone is paranoid – which means I should treat everyone like the ignorant – or, worse, should never take any pictures. How could I ever take pictures if I am charged with someone assuming every possible concern that a person might have? even if the images show an illegal act being committed? These are the same people – those criticizing me for NOT knowing, in other words, not ASSUMING – who seem to assume it’s only the job of established media to gather information, seem to take whatever the media give them as the established narrative of things. They are, furthermore, not the type to gather or even verify information on their own. It reminds me of the saying that “those who do not move do not notice their chains.” It looks like many readers to this site are enslaved to Nietszche’s idea of “slave morality.”

5.) Mama B writes, “Why intentionally irritate people?” I’ve already addressed her comments before (scroll up to see), but I’ll further say that I definitely was not irritating anyone, ESPECIALLY not intentionally, especially as I was being lied to, assumed of, yelled at, and threatened! Who is the one who was being irritated here? I was not even the one who initiated the confrontation, and the fact that there were human beings present in the field was not a factor in my decision to photograph it. The idea that “might makes right” from the rest of her statement is bothersome too, like saying that we had better not do X behavior (fly planes, travel on the anniversary of 9.11) because Al-Qaeda might get us. When we take that attitude – even when we’re scared to get confronted by police – we have lost. Just because we’ve put a bullet in Osama bin Laden’s face doesn’t mean that he has not defeated us. He won.

6.) No One wrote, “you intimidated someone that day.” I’ve already replied to No One’s comments above, but I didn’t address this issue of “intimidation.” This is a case in which passive voice should really have been used in this sentence. “He was intimidated by you,” would have been a far better way to say it, since the intimidation was his choice, not mine. To say that I intimidated him suggests that the responsibility – and, therefore, possibly even the intent – of the intimidation is mine. I take tens of thousands of pictures; NEVER is the intent to intimidate anyone, especially when the people are not even the subjects of the pictures (I don’t think that St. Pierre noticed us until after we were done taking pictures of him and the associate but were still photographing the field.) So, to say that I intimidated him is to unfairly put the weight of his problems on the shoulders of someone who does not even know him. That’s not right for me nor for any other private citizen taking pictures.

7.) There seems to also be a perception among the commenters that I thought it wrong for St. Pierre to even ask why I was taking the pictures. That is not at all true. I was just surprised that he’d leave a burning field and walk through a weed-choked ditch to confront us about it. I’m not surprised or offended that he wanted to make contact with us; it’s just rare – and weird – that someone – especially someone not in law enforcement (whose job it is to investigate such “suspicious behavior”) – goes through that amount of effort to make the contact. I’ve been asked many times before what I’m doing when I’m taking pictures, and I think that it’s totally fair to ask me why I’m taking pictures or, at the very least, ask me who I am, which is why I carry around business cards with my websites, even though I’m under no obligation to give name or even reason to people. It’s just a matter of common courtesy to tell people why you are taking pictures when they ask, and I always answer that question when it is asked, but that’s not what we have here, nor is it what we have had in other incidents.


As I point out the unwarranted assumptions that some commenters here made regarding my response to St. Pierre’s actions based upon his unwarranted assumptions, which further show why this issue needs to be exposed, I want to remind you that unwarranted assumptions kill. Wars start because of unwarranted assumptions. I am loathe to even touch the Trayvon Martin case, but a small part of the maddening discourse surrounding his death was on his wearing of a “hoodie” type garment. A hoodie is merely a type of clothing, and I don’t need to describe the purposes of clothing. Although I don’t own a hoodie and don’t care to wear one (because I generally don’t like sweaters in the first place, and I live in an area that doesn’t get terribly cold for very long), and even though the assuming part of my brain (despite my preachings about the problems associated with it, I do, like all human beings, have one) might associate a hoodie with other behaviors, the logical part of my brain tells me that that’s only in MY head. A hoodie may indeed be associated with certain types of behaviors, but who is doing that associating? YOU! Those associations are not the problems of the wearers.

There is one more issue I want to address, and that is the issue raised by “No One” of the feeling of ownership that a subject might have over a picture, whether it be a person or property. This gets really tricky and ultimately unsolvable once you realize that there can be numerous properties in one picture. A picture of a train with fields in the front and houses in the back illustrates this “problem” very well.

I hope that this makes sense, and I am grateful to EVERYONE who has commented. I hope that we have all learned something from this. I surely have. Thank you.


45 EDITOR - Jimbaux June 15, 2012 at 16:19

Actually, I need to say something else about unwarranted assumptions, this time in defense of St. Pierre. There is someone who is highly supportive of both my position and my actions in this case who repeatedly tells me that St. Pierre was “clearly breaking the law.” First, we don’t know that for sure. We have evidence that he was breaking the law, but evidence and proof are two different things, and we do not have proof that he was breaking the law.

Second, we cannot assume that even if he was breaking the law that his breaking of it was callous disregard. Notice that in the post, I mentioned that even as I was on the scene, I noted that the wind was blowing away from the highway (toward the north.) I also mentioned that it was late in cane season. For all we know, St. Pierre may have made several efforts to have a burn manager on site, but maybe the burn manager couldn’t come on that particular day and did not have an opportunity to come until a much later date, by which time both rain and wind would have fouled things. We did have an unusually warm and wet winter.

Having grown up in southern Louisiana, though, I do know the problems created by cane burning. I did construction work starting at age 17 and put myself through college doing it; I remember one afternoon painting some cabinets or exterior trim, we had to stop because of the ashes floating through the air.

St. Pierre may indeed have callously disregard the law; like many things, though, we just don’t know that, and, like many things, including his intentions, we cannot presume to know. Remember, assumptions kill


46 Nathan June 18, 2012 at 20:23

Wow, that was a ton of reading. My comment actually refers to your “hoodie” response in one of your comments.

You said, “Although I don’t own a hoodie and don’t care to wear one,” when commenting about one of the focuses of the Trayvon Martin case.

My response is that I wear hoodies at times, and back when I had a fancy DSLR with fancy lenses to fancily change while shooting, the large, double-sided front pocket was a great place to put the lens I was not using. My camera bag was a backpack style bag (at least before the entire kit was stolen) and didn’t make for good, quick lens swaps.

I know the content you discussed is much more serious, but I hoped this may lighten the mood a little.



47 Thomas Beckett June 19, 2012 at 16:26

“I’m guessing he’s probably had run ins with media when he’s burned — the media can turn what is a common, but slightly less than environmentally sound, practice into a circus. The environuts then make his life miserable for doing what he’s been doing as long as he can remember. I can understand his apprehension.”

I have to admit that while I read the story here, and also read the original account when it was first posted, I’m still at a disadvantage…….after all, I was not there, did not observe farmer St Pierre, Jimbaux, his companion, and while I have a PRETTY good idea from the post, I can’t really get the tone of voice, etc. That said, it’s easy to see the misunderstanding.

“who you wit??”

Put yourself in his place: here’s a cane farmer, doing what his family has been doing for generations, and is a standard practice in his industry. Yet, he, or people he knows, have been the subject of scrutiny, much of it unwanted, because now this is somehow an unacceptable practice. I’m sure every time he sees someone with a camera, he gets a little edgy, because they usually are “wit” some organization that will cause him grief-and I’m betting they don’t always come in a car that has the Times Picayune, or a TV station emblazoned on the side. Can you blame him?? Add into this mix the fact that he may be conducting and illegal burn-he knows it, but is not aware that Jimbaux does not, and has probably had more than enough grief from unidentified people with cameras in unmarked cars (the “environuts” I alluded to. I realize all who have an interest in living in a clean world are not “nuts”, but a lot of them tend to go overboard)-so he’s a little testy. Hence the question.

I’m guessing(please tell me if I’m off base here) Jimbaux is not aware of all this going on in our intrepid farmer’s head, and probably also not aware of what he has endured so far in the press and at the hands of others for engaging in what is a (mostly) legal, traditional practice, and so is likely not cognizant of the unspoken meaning. He’s just a guy out taking pictures of stuff he finds interesting, and now has the chance to show an “outlander” one of the practices that are unique to the region.

And therein lies the key to conflict. Time obviously was an issue, preventing a more in depth conversation about who was ‘wit’ whom, and what their intent was. I’m sure had the two gents had another 15 minutes to talk to each other, they might have gained an understanding.

Bottom line, no, you don’t have to be ‘wit’ someone or some organization if you’re walking around sporting a camera. My dad did it for 65 years, mostly because he had eye for an interesting image, and could see the potential in things others did not. Nor do you have to be ‘wit’ the Times Picayune or CNN to be a journalist.

Just some thoughts…..hopefully I have fostered some understanding today!!


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