Thursday, May 19, 2011

Gift Horses

A Test Run for Their Derby Party Hats, 2011

I can’t count the times I’ve had good pictures present themselves right in front of me and not notice them at first. It’s really kind of embarrassing. But there you have it. The worst part is that they’re usually pictures of interesting people, a category of photography where I’m notably deficient.

Several years ago a bunch of Goth kids flashed me. Rather than take their picture and think about it later, I was caught up thinking how angry I’d be if I was one of their parents and knew they were flashing some middle aged guy with a camera.

The other day I was over on the Portsmouth waterfront. My mind was looking for pictures that emphasized the colors and lines of boats and water. As I walked out onto the pier of a marina, I saw three ladies up ahead wearing straw hats festooned with colorful flowers. They were giggling among themselves as if one of them had just told a good dirty joke.

As I approached the ladies, I noticed that one was in a wheel chair was impaired like someone who might have had a stroke. The other ladies continued to giggle as I got nearer, occasionally lifting Styrofoam cups of beer to their lips.

“Hey, camera man!” the lady wearing the Atlanta Falcons t-shirt called to me. It was a fair greeting. I had two cameras with me, one with a medium zoom lens in my hand and another with a long lens hanging by a strap from my shoulder. “Take our picture, will you?”

I’m happy to take pictures of people when they ask. I frequently do it for tourists along the oceanfront. I’ll see someone setting up a family picture and realize that the family member setting up the picture isn’t going to be able to be in the shot if I don’t hold the camera.

The lady wearing the Falcons t-shirt handed me her little point-and-click camera. She and the other standing lady kneeled down so that they were on the same level as the woman in the wheelchair. I took their picture quickly and was getting ready to walk on when it occurred to me that I really ought to photograph them for myself.

I’m less and less inclined these days to take posed pictures of people. I asked if I could photograph them and they said okay. They instinctively started to line up again for a posed picture. I didn’t want that, so I told them to “freeze right as you are!” The picture would have been better with a wider angle lens. But that lens was back in the car. I quickly lifted the camera with the medium zoom lens to my eye and took the picture above at its widest setting.

I thanked the ladies, wished them a good day and started to walk off. I don’t think I got five steps away before the Falcons lady called me again. “Hey! Don’t you want to know about our hats?”

Sure, I said. I thought they were just out for a lunch together, perhaps a birthday celebration with their wheelchair-bound friend.

“Why, you silly man,” the Falcons lady answered, stopping mid-sentence to take another drink from her cup. The other lady finished her line: “We’re getting ready for our Kentucky Derby party this afternoon.”

Sometimes you don't even notice the gift horses when they're right in front of you.


  1. Cute! I imagine that's true--great images right at hand all the time, if we're open to them. My good friends tole me last week that they went to a doctor the other day in NY state, and noticed horse images in the waiting room. When they commented on the photos, sure enough, the Doctor said he and some friends had each put $5k into the bucket and purchased a racehorse that turned out to be pretty good, and was going to wind up being a long-shot for the Kentucky Derby. Guess who won? Animal Kingdom.

  2. I can just picture my mom in one of her outrageous straw hats giggling along with them!