23 January 2007

Unethical photos

Parthenon StatuePaul Butzi has an interesting post over at Photo Musings on when not to take a photo -- when it would involve illegal trespassing, when somebody doesn't want you to take it, etc.

I agree with Paul for the most part. But I have a great story about this photo of mine that does involve doing something which at the time I was unaware was illegal. I've told lots of friends this story, but have never shared it more publicly in all these years -- partly due to never having had the platform before blogging came around. Now that I have a blog, I still considered whether it might not be a good idea to post this -- out of fear that I might be tracked down, and out of respect for the people whose rule I accidentally violated. But it's such a great story!

In 1993, I was on an organized tour which made a stop in Athens. At the Parthenon, I handed my camera to a fellow traveler to take my picture while I picked up a rock and posed as a discus thrower on an old statue pedestal (I'd just seen someone else do it, and it looked like a fun photo op). All of a sudden I heard a whistle blow and saw a guard running towards me shouting at me in Greek. He went for my camera and grabbed it out of my friend's hand. (Fortunately my friend had just snapped the photo a second before this happened. If you click to enlarge the photo, you can see the expression of shock on my face as my friend was releasing the shutter.)

The guard kept yelling in Greek and motioned to me to follow him (which of course I wanted to do anyway, because I wanted my camera back). I had no idea what I'd done wrong and didn't understand a word he was saying. I didn't know a word of Greek (well, not more than a few scattered words of ancient Greek which wasn't going to get me anywhere), so I kept saying "English, English, no Greek," hoping he'd feel sorry for me in my ignorance. He brought me back to his guard's booth and found another guard who spoke some English and was able to translate for me.

They explained that I what I had done was illegal. Standing on the statue pedestal wasn't the problem, but picking up the rock was. "All these items are archaeological finds. Didn't you see the sign saying not to take any of the 'rocks' from the site?" they said. I told them I hadn't seen the sign (which was true), and besides I wasn't planning to bring the rock home with me -- I was just having my photo taken. They were still angry and said I must give them the film from my camera. They didn't want me going back home and showing the photo to people and giving others the idea they could do this.

I told them I had other photos on that roll of film that I didn't want to lose. They said "well just tear that one off and give it to us, then." (Idiots -- didn't they know if I opened my camera to take the film out, it would ruin the whole roll?) Somehow -- I still to this day don't know how I did it under all that pressure with at least two guards breathing down my neck -- I managed to have the presence of mind to rewind the film in my camera first before opening the back, and then I fumbled around with the film roll, stalling for time, pretending I was trying to reach into it with my fingers or a paper clip or something to get the end of the film and pull it out. (Again, the idiots must have believed that the end of the film which would come out first would be the most recently shot photo.) Finally I dropped the roll of film into my camera bag (which I had somehow managed to pry open during all this fumbling around), fumbled again to retrieve it, and instead pulled out an unexposed roll. (They didn't notice that suddenly the end of film was sticking out whereas it hadn't been out when I dropped the film.) Once this was done, it was an easy task to pull out a few inches of film and tear it off and give it to them. They were happy and released me with a warning to never do anything like that again. And I have the photo to show for it.

So, folks, to assuage my conscience (which has been mostly obliterated on this matter by the years of laughter over this incident), I leave you with this disclaimer: Don't try this at home. Or at the Parthenon for that matter.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Stressful, and yet comical at the same time! I'm glad that they didn't know anything about cameras! Here's where a digital camera would have paid off! :-) Deleting, or hiding, is easy!


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