Two Non-Altercations

I almost had words with a driver of a dark sedan during this morning’s bike ride through Savannah’s historic district. “Almost” is actually overstating it. I could have had words with this guy if I had a little less self-control.

I was stopping to take a picture on a small cobblestoned street, and a friend pulled her bike over to the opposite side. Along comes asshole in his dark sedan, and he doesn’t like that she’s taking up 18 to 24 inches of space in the right lane. He stops and waits for her to walk the bike entirely out his way before he proceeds. Except she doesn’t, meaning he’ll have to veer ever so lightly into the left lane to pass her. There was plenty of room, trust me.

So he starts in with the expressions. He scrunches his face up to express his contempt for her bike-riding skills. Then he does one of those head-wagging, “tsk-tsk” loud-exhale expressions that says “my God, this woman is beyond pathetic…the people I have to put up with…Jesus!,” etc.

The next “almost” happened in a touristy area near Congress Street. I raised my camera to take a picture of a couple of Clydesdale horses. A woman who was about to walk in front of my viewing path went “oh” and stopped and waited. She was being polite, of course, but I’ve said before that waiting for someone to snap a photo is a mark of middle-class cluelessness about photography. A good photographer has to roll with what happens, and sometimes you can get a better shot if somebody or something is half-obscuring what you’re shooting. You never know, and you’re better off not knowing. I never stop and wait for a picture to be taken…ever.

In any case, I said “thanks…it’s okay…it’s cool” to the woman. But I didn’t say it the right way. She took umbrage and asked if I had an attitude problem. I was just trying to get out of there but just to mess with her head I said “uh, yeah, I guess I do.” She stopped in her tracks. “What’s your problem?” People like you, I wanted to say. People who don’t understand that one of the tenets of mediocre photography is refusing to accept the natural unruliness of life and to just go with what happens when you’re shooting and stop trying to control everything. But instead I said “it’s cool, doesn’t matter” and turned away.

38 thoughts on “Two Non-Altercations

  1. JR on said:

    Jesus, Jeff. It is a wonder you haven’t had the crap beaten out of you…

  2. By a fat woman? Oh, you mean her husband. Most guys enjoy seeing their wives tear into some stranger. They get enough of it at home, and they enjoy seeing somebody else having to deal with it.

  3. Not necessarily by either of the people in your “non-altercations” today, but just in general.

    In the first story, it sounds like you and a friend were on bikes on both sides of what I assume was a narrow street. Regardless, one of you was on the wrong side of the road (bikes are subject to the same rules of the road as cars), and it sounds to me like the driver was being very cautious, and maybe your lady friend was being a little slow, or clueless?

    As for your run in #2, you have now revealed that the woman was “fat” and I think I now understand your disdain a little better…I can imagine what kind of a look you gave her when she politely avoided stepping into your shot.

  4. So, you are with someone, i often wondered if you travel all over like this alone..how about a photo of her..watch out for the locals at night after they’ve discussed you and your ‘out of town ways’…

  5. one of the tenets of mediocre photography is refusing to accept the natural unruliness of life and to just go with what happens when you’re shooting and stop trying to control everything

    Just out of curiousity, why is this tenet limited to mediocre photography?

    Wouldn’t it have applied equally in the first situation?

  6. “She was being polite, of course, but I’ve said before that waiting for someone to snap a photo is a mark of middle-class cluelessness about photography.”

    Since the middle class number the most of America outside of some Village hipster busboys, it stands to reason that most people don’t share your unique grumpster perspective on photography.

    (I agree the best photos are natural not staged, but I guarantee you that ANYONE, regardless of social class who spots a person with a camera focused WILL STOP and wait for the photo to be taken. The only people who don’t stop are the people who don’t notice you)

  7. “And that, your honor, is why I went on a mass killing spree in Savannah… because I decided that everyone I encounter there was too stupid and annoying to live.”

    Still think Michael Shannon would be good to play the protagonist in the Lifetime TV movie of “The Jeff Wells Story”

  8. You can delete my comment, Wells, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re what I said you are. You’re all talk.

  9. Someone should write a pilot for a t.v. show where a Jeff Wells-type Hollywood blogger is forced to live in some hick town. His first class sensibilities clash with that of the town folk. Comedy ensues.

  10. I too am surprised you haven’t been on the receiving end of a serious ass-whooping during your travels. The only theory that makes sense is that you’re a much older man who looks pretty harmless. Beating up old people is generally frowned upon.

    You have all these supposedly common sense rules about things like cycling and photograph. And if people don’t adhere to them then they’re the idiots. But it’s you putting yourself in these situations, acting touristy in Savannah, not knowing how the TSA works. It’s the blind leading the blind.

    Poor Sasha, she should get hazard pay for traveling with you.

  11. Remember a few weeks back, when Jeff complained about people who get into their cars in parking lots and don’t immediately pull out?

    Because the guy in this story sounds like Jeff in that one.

  12. Upon reading about Jeff’s thoughts of two utterly dull non-events, Erica Albright rolls her eyes and lectures him about writing “as if every thought that tumbles through your head was so clever it would be a crime for it not to be shared.”

    I kid, I kid.

  13. Jesus, JW, there are all kinds of photography and all kinds of reasons to take photographs. If you want people to be like you and not to express a common courtesy that is evidently not natural in your case, and to take candid fucking photographs, then make yourself invisible. It’s YOUR responsibility to make the photograph candid, but you stand there like a stump and don’t expect anyone to notice you. Cartier-Bresson knew how, and you don’t.

  14. 99% of photos these days aren’t meant to be artsy. It’s supposed to be a quick a shot of some friends, or a cool building or something like that so when you go back home, you can show other people what happened. So rather than having a pictured ruined by some asshole strolling through, you wait or walk behind the person, so they can capture the moment they wanted to capture. I thought everyone knew that.

  15. I will always avoid walking through someone’s photo op, not out of middle-class cluelessness about photography or even out of politeness, but because I don’t want to be an extra in some random person”s vacation photos.

  16. “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, – that is genius.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

    This here ain’t exactly what he was talking about.

  17. It’s a crowded planet and we all need to be kind to one another. In the first instance, yes the driver was an asshole. Agreed. In the second instance though, I think you could have handled it better Jeff. I appreciate that you have your stance on things, but try to acknowledge the sentiment of others who are trying not to inconvenience you. Maybe she was “middle class clueless” in your eyes, but maybe she has a different, equally valid way of looking at the world. Why be unnecessarily rude?

  18. Maybe she was “middle class clueless” in your eyes, but maybe she has a different, equally valid way of looking at the world. Why be unnecessarily rude?

    Because she was fat. And, apparently, not a mind reader.

  19. Like 60% or 70% of HE commenters, some of you are reacting to selected portions of my story and ingoring other portions. I wasn’t directly “rude” to anyone. The fat woman detected my feelings about the banality of waiting for someone to take a photo, etc. I tried saying “it’s cool” and “no worries”, but I didn’t deliver these sentiments with sufficient conviction, and she decided to get into it. At worst I was obliquely rude.

    It was only when provoked by her question if I had an attitude that I allowed that “okay, yeah, maybe a little one.” But she was the aggressor, and I finally managed to chill her down.

    I’m entitled to feel the way I feel about public street photography, you see. It’s allowed. I understand completely that it’s not wise to express these views in mixed company….I get that. I understand that the mainstream crowd (including some of the commenters in this thread) demands absolute compliance. And as I said, I fully understand that stopping and waiting for someone to take picture is simple politeness. I admitted in the piece that I didn’t hide my secular views and feelings sufficiently. I should have tried harder, but that’s water under the bridge. The fat woman smelled where I was coming from, and she reacted aggressively.

    But I am fundamentally a man of peace and tranquility and creative aspiration. It was my commitment to not venting anger that kept things from getting out of hand. I would say I was maybe 35% at fault, and that the fat woman was 65% at fault.

  20. I get the feeling this is all building toward some public disaster — either for Wells or for overweight people or possibly Hispanics.

    I can hear the news report now: “Before the incident, Wells often publicly blogged about his strange run-ins with people, complaints about subjects as random as whether leaving a hat was a viable way to place a hotel reservation, the length of a person’s shower and, in one case, a dispute that arose when a woman was too courteous. ‘I am fundamentally a man of peace and tranquility and creative aspiration,’ he wrote in a Halloween 2011 entry, but he added, ‘The fat woman was 65% at fault.’”

  21. What if the fat lady didn’t want you (or anyone) owning a digital copy of her likeness? I mean her reaction to you seems frankly genius, Jeff given what you do for a living. A lady avoided her image being owned by online publisher who views people like her with contempt. Who the fuck wants this cranky bastard putting you picture online and talking about your fat?

  22. “But I am fundamentally a man of peace and tranquility and creative aspiration.”

    “I’ve said before that waiting for someone to snap a photo is a mark of middle-class cluelessness about photography.”

    Hmmm, the first one says you’re drifting towards Buddhism. Great. The second part suggests you’re trying to be a Marxist. Not great. Jeff… you’re middle-class. Don’t kid yourself.

  23. My position on public street photography is to dash in front of the camera and go, “Ah-booga-booga-booga!”

    It’s a privilege of the upper classes.

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