The Photographer Commandos

Photographing is one of those imperatives that deeply strikes the traveler abroad. As it usually happens in these cases, the merchants don't miss this opportunity. Hence, an entire machinery was created to satisfy the tourists. With the corresponding foreign currency reward. Thus, for those who will take pictures themselves, the ephemeral camera was invented. It lasts as long as the film inside. After developing it, you can throw it to the dustbin. For those who are not equipped with cameras, entire armies of photographers are at their disposal. At the gates of Tuileries Gardens in Paris, I spotted a group of citizens equipped with the necessary devices, spying like a commando. As soon as they smelt tourist blood, they dashed upon the new-comer, like wolves, attacking him with enticing propositions. Studying them, I realised that they were endowed with an exceptional capacity of discernment. How else should I account for the rapidity with which they could tell if the passerby was a Parisian coming back from work, or a traveller who came to Paris to gape about and to return home with an image of him against the background of the famous gates?!Taking pictures of themselves is for any tourist the crushing evidence of having been there. Usually, the place must be cultural-historical. Those of debauchery are not excluded either. At the Jubilee! show from Bally's Casino in Las Vegas, while you are tossing off the free drink to which the ticket bought for a lot of money entitles you, a young lady equipped with an impressive camera comes to the table. Possessing also a sweet voice, she asks you if you would like a picture. When you are alone, as I am, you don't feel like it. Things change when you are with your girlfriend or with your friends. Once she snatched a "yes" the young lady immediately becomes alert. She masses up the order on the table imposing her own order, propitious for the picture. If you are with your girlfriend she makes you kiss her on the cheek. If you are in a group, she will make you kneel in front of the others, so that they can be seen in the picture as well. After having made all sorts of gestures and taken all sorts of positions, as a photo-reporter does, the young lady disappears, only to come back at the end of the show with the pictures ready, in an envelope. The obsession of making money out of photographing found with Universal Studios in Los Angeles an original formula. Upon getting on the train, a few citizens are taking pictures of you zealously. If you wish, you ask them to develop the film and to give you, for money, the pictures. If you are not dying to get out with a picture on you, showing you setting foot on the first step, it's all right. The respective fellows have done their job. That of spurring you to have a picture.However strange it might seem, it is not only the necessity of being photographed, but also of photographing. I was a victim of this human drive. In Los Angeles I met John Bilco, former Ion Bâlcu of Romania, constructor of the first subway line in the Californian metropolis. Extremely proud of his achievement, the Californian John, the former Bucharest Ion, a civil servant at the Los Angeles city hall, took me to all the subway stations. I didn't feel like visiting the Los Angeles subway at all. However, I had to accept to be dragged there. Could Baiazid, locked in a cage by Tamerlane, oppose? Everywhere, the host made me stand and be photographed. Alone or with him. With or without a constructor's helmet. On the platform, near the platform, on the stairs, near the stairs, under the stairs. I didn't understand why my distinguished company was trying so hard to do this. I didn't understand him either when, upon leaving, I found him at the airport, bringing the envelope with pictures in a hurry. He had made them, and paid for them, at a shop in Los Angeles. Bizarre human things! Excerpted from:The World Seen by a Ragged Romanian. Satirical Travel Notes from Overseas, PRO, 1999

by Ion Cristoiu (b. 1948)