I thought it was just a photo

nighttime cityscape photography

The photo in question

I wasn’t expecting a lesson in male privilege. I thought I was just decorating. But one of the candidate photos was from a late night wander through September streets of Venice, complete with its ancient arches, golden light, and salt-faded nostalgia for an age that might have been greater, must have been horrific, but undeniably had flair. It’s not the most interesting photo, but I like the reminder of that unique city after dark, the quiet shifting of its sirocco air, and the sense that you’re seeing Venice itself wake up after the humans have gone to bed. The question was with human silhouette, or without?


It’s not a very romantic silhouette. If a woman in a gown had been walking home, that would have been better. Or a gentleman, paused with the yellow light on the brim of his fedora. This was some schlub with a daypack and an awkward gait. Hardly romantic, just right place right time.


So I posed the question to my lady. “What do you think of this one?” I gave her a moment to look. “And with the figure, or without?” I clicked over for comparison.


Bangkok was at its best after dark

Bangkok was at its best after dark

Normally her first response to these questions is pursed lips of consideration, but this time she flinched. “Oh no, those are creepy.” I was flabbergasted. How so? They’re sepia-textured memories, or tilting recollections, maybe boring, but not creepy.


“No, they’re definitely creepy,” she informed me. “They’re walking home alone at night through empty streets with lots of dark doorways and alleys, hoping you get home safely.”


When I walk around a city late at night, as I love to do, and pass a darkened doorway, my thought is probably “Is there a photo here?” if I notice it at all. I don’t think “Is there someone in there about to jump out and attack me?” No one wants to live in fear, but choosing not to is much easier for me, through no effort of my own. The stakes are just lower. If I’m wrong? I lose my camera. Maybe a black eye. I am not forced to confront the thought that the very sanctity and safety of my body might be taken from me, by a monster that actually exists.

Why not walk around a closed market in a shady area of a border town?

Why not walk around a closed market in a shady area of a border town?


The difference between my lady’s perspective of that midnight street and my own was a shock. But that’s the problem, the disparity is so…quotidian. Ubiquitous and insidious. I try to be aware of my privileges, in the hope that awareness is an important step towards extending them to everyone, but the manifestations are sneaky and constant.


So did I print the photo? No. I don’t need to post an image of menace in my everyday life. But I do hope I can take the lesson, repeated as often as it takes, that we have not yet reached our goal.


Step by step.


[Did I post too late on Friday? It’s here.]