Saturday, October 27, 2018
The Saturday Snapshot #12
When a photograph is being taken, the person in the picture usually poses, smiling.
Not in this case.
Last week I was visiting Plochman's Mustard factory in Manteno, for a future story, when the tour came to the assembly line. This worker checking newly capped mustard bottles and plucking off the jars whose caps were skewed seemed to be a process worth photographing. I took out my phone and snapped ... this.
The moment I took it, I felt bad for her. Normally, I'd ask permission, but with a worker in a factory, permission is assumed. I already had permission, from her bosses.
Bad, but not too bad. I also knew this was an arresting shot, far more than had she just acquiesced to the photo. That blue glove, like an exclamation point. The photo seemed to speak to the intrusiveness of modern life. All these cameras, the immediate worldwide attention found 24 hours a day online. Who among us doesn't shrink from that?
Is that why she's hiding her face? I didn't ask—my interest was in the production line, not her, specifically. I shouldn't speculate as to her motives, but it reminded me of about 15 years ago when I visited Lithuania. There used to be, oh, 50 synagogues in Vilnius, before World War II, but now there is just one left. The moment I arrived, with a photographer, and walked into the sanctuary, there was a single Jew there. We went to take his picture, the last Jew in the last synagogue, against the large Hebrew prayer boards they have, or had, in Eastern Europe.
"No," the man said, twisting away from the camera and shielding his face. "I don't like myself."
There seemed a bitter irony in that. We absorb the poison around us.
As I said, I don't know what her motive was and shouldn't guess: hiding from the law, not wanting a malicious ex-boyfriend to see her, concern an image would steal her soul, a variety of possible explanations. Who knows? But I have to lean toward the one offered by that lone Lithuanian Jew as explaining the motive of most people in these situations: they don't like themselves, don't like how they look, don't want pictures taken of this unattractive person who they happen to be.
She seemed to relent, after this first protest, and in other pictures of the line, her face does appear. But I didn't use those, didn't pass them along to the newspaper—trying to respect her obvious wish not to be seen. But I decided it was okay to post this one, in the smaller sphere of my blog, since you can't recognize her. I see it as a dramatic statement from those who feel this way.