I don’t know if it’s a Batangueño thing; and, indeed, there are always exceptions. But over the years, and especially since at one point my work often had something to do with holding a camera, I have come to the conclusion that, as a race of people, we are either very self-conscious or extremely suspicious of cameras.
Things are different when the person behind the camera is a friend or an acquaintance, in which case we all want to be part of the frame. It is when the camera is in the hands of a stranger when everyone becomes self-conscious.
Try pointing a camera at a sidewalk filled with people, and even when it’s quite obvious that you’re trying to take a shot of the sidewalk with the people walking along over it, everyone’s instinctive reaction will be to duck out of the way and – I suppose – out of the frame.
The suspicion extends to when one is attempting to take pictures of inanimate objects.
Earlier this evening, for instance, I was at a bulaluhan in Batangas City which, apart from the flagship bulalo, also had other dishes on offer turô-turô style. Because I maintain this Facebook page called Food Batangas, I asked the lady behind the counter for permission to take pictures of the different dishes.
“Bakit pô,” was the instant question. The question itself sounded innocuous; but it was the way it was asked. There was instant wariness in the tone.
As the photographer, I often try to rationalize this behaviour in my head; and cannot find one good reason why people get wary. I mean, what harm can possibly come from having pictures taken of food trays that can be anywhere in the country?
It was not as though I was trying to include Ate behind the counter in the frame, as obviously I had my camera-phone pointed down at the food behind the glass window of the counter. And not that Ate would have made the picture any better.
But I am being mean.
I’m sure there are laws somewhere against invading other people’s privacy; but I doubt if any of these laws talk about sinaing na tulingan sitting on a food tray in a turô-turô somewhere.
I mean, what does the tulingan care?
Ate’s behaviour was by no means unique.
Once, at the Lipa City Public Market, I was overjoyed to see pilipit still being sold that I had to bring out my camera-phone to take a snapshot of it.
Mom used to bring these home from the market when I was a little boy. I did not know that they still made them. But the storekeeper’s reaction, when I asked for permission, bordered on the hostile.
“Para saan pô?” she asked; and the way she asked the question was unnerving. She definitely suspected my motive; but think about it, what’s the big deal about a picture being taken of the humble pilipit?
It was not as though I looked like an industrial spy and was taking a shot of the mother of all microchips. It was an effing pilipit, for crying out loud!
The pakwan vendor, to be fair, had a smile on his face when he asked the same question. That he still had to ask it was the issue. He could have simply told me to go ahead; and I was buying a slice, anyway.
Then there was the security guard at SM who wanted to know why I was taking a snapshot of the soon-to-be-opened grand terminal. It was a public place, I reminded him; and so huge nobody could possibly miss it.
So what was the harm in having its picture taken?
The poor guard didn’t have an answer, of course. And as he groped for one, I had my camera-phone safely inside the front pocket of my pants.
In all of the scenarios that I narrated in this article, in fact I managed to take each and every one of the pictures that I wanted to take. All I ever needed to do was to say the magic words, “Pang-Facebook…”
This evening at the bulaluhan, for instance, the moment I gave the password, Ate behind the counter immediately relaxed and the ghost of a smile even came to her lips.
“Pang-Facebook.” Damn, that explains a lot! Always puts an end to the story!
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