“There’s no one here.”
(scroll down for photo gallery)
A woman in a nice jacket approached me while I was out photographing on Main Street at Sundance Film Festival and asked, “Have you seen anyone?” Before I could react she added, “I haven’t seen anyone. There’s no one here!”
There were people all around us, in every direction. When I gave her a silent, bewildered look she continued, “That’s what you’re doing, right? Paparazzi? Do you work for Getty or someone, or freelance?”
She thought I was loitering with my camera in order to stalk celebrities!
I pulled out my phone and showed her my Instagram posts from the previous night’s shoot. Nary a recognizable face among them, much less any celebrities.
The woman in the nice coat went on her way. I retired to the pizza place for a beer before calling it a night. The encounter left an icky, distracting residue of self-consciousness that I was unable to shake whenever someone looked my way. Having anyone, even random strangers, think I was a creepy camera stalker blew my mojo. Nothing looked very interesting anymore. Besides, I was tired.
* * *
My original intention for the evening photo stroll was rather prosaic: to test the logistics of shooting in low light and falling snow. I used a cheap rain cover to keep the camera dry and a pocketful of micro-fiber cloths to constantly wipe floating snow crystals off of the lens. Each shot required quickly looking through the fogged-up, snow-splattered plastic cover into the viewfinder, framing and pressing the button in the one or two seconds before wind-driven snow defiled the lens. I relied entirely on auto-focus and auto-exposure and hoped for the best.
I had little idea of what I’d captured until I got back. It was only then I realized that, in a milieu saturated with celebrity, I had been subconsciously drawn to anonymity: a woman hidden by a large umbrella, a silhouette through a window, figures backlit by headlights, a traffic cop masked against the cold and snow. The few shots that contained easily identifiable people were uninteresting and got deleted in the first edit pass.
The irony of being perceived as paparazzi in this case is rich. And, while the encounter above involved only one person, I suspect that her assessment of my behavior was widely shared by anyone who noticed. Despite the festival’s best attempts to emphasize the art of film, celebrity worship is unavoidable baggage along for the ride.
And that’s all the more reason to find ways to visually explore the festival experience through an unconventional lens. The woman in the nice coat was right: there’s no one here. Luckily, no one can be quite interesting.
The paparazzo himself.