Zen: What Street Photography Means To A Cop
Nathan, one of our subscribers is a cop…..I tried to ask him for a “Get out of jail free” card but instead I got a nice essay on what street photography means to him.
I am a Policeman. It’s one of those love / hate type of jobs. At times it’s very challenging work. My wife and daughter worry a lot and hate it when I’m on night shift. They know that’s when all the big jobs happen. I miss a lot of family functions and birthdays due to the shift work. The monotony and politics of ‘the job’ as it’s known can be a career killer. Most stay for the excitement. Why do I do it? Read on and perhaps I can explain.
I used to surf really big surf. Not the nice, glassy waves that brings every man and his dog out…I mean the big, scary stuff. Cyclone swell. Beach closed, no swimming swell. My big wave mate and I used to watch the weather report for approaching low pressure systems and cyclones and had big wave prediction down to a fine art. Usually we were the only ones crazy enough to paddle out.
Why? Am I some sort of adrenalin junkie? No, far from it…I was terrified, but it was a unique, addictive feeling. Kind of like a scared for your life, staring down the barrel of a gun terror that provided an incredible buzz. There is an eerie silence as you paddle to take off on a really big wave, almost like time is standing still. Although noise is all around, thousands of tons of water crashing down, there is a Zen-like silence. It’s me versus Mother Nature….
To be able to surf huge waves and stay alive requires strict training. For me that lead to an addiction to heavy, heavy weights. Bar bending, “Holy crap, look how much that guy is lifting”, crush your spine weights. As a consequence I got big. Most people lift to get big. I lifted big weights for the buzz and got big as a consequence. Why? Again, it was for the buzz.
Before a BIG lift you have to psych yourself up. I used to play heavy metal in my iPod to amp myself up. I had a pre-lift routine while listening to my music — tighten my lifting belt, apply lifting chalk and pull down on the visor of my lucky hat.Yet, at the same time my mind would go silent. I couldn’t hear anything. I didn’t notice anyone else in the gym. There could be a fire and I wouldn’t notice. The buzz from a really big lift is addictive. It’s me versus the iron…
Years on I found myself in a Police uniform, out chasing bad guys, upholding law and order and all that jazz. It’s a thankless job. You work terrible hours, often dealing with the scum of society and that leaves you with a jaded view of mankind. But it has a unique attraction for me. We call them the ‘big jobs’. Those high pressure, high risk, life on the line jobs. I love them. It’s what I’m good at and my partners trust me and my judgement. I’m first to respond and first through the door.
Why? Am I some sort of hero after fame and recognition? No way! It’s scary, high risk stuff. Often I wish I was at home, safe in bed. But it’s addictive. I can be driving to the job talking through officer safety drills with my partner, responding to the radio and taking notes. But when the ‘job’s on’ everything goes silent and I have an amazing sense of being and mental clarity. A unique zen-like clarity. I’m first through the door, everything moves in slow motion as I weigh up the scene and it’s on. It’s me versus the bad guys….
A few years ago at 41 years of age I picked up my first camera. My wife, an amazingly talented artist, was my inspiration. I did it to document our travels (another one of my addictions). While I enjoy the wildlife / sunrise / sunset / cityscape photos the attraction for me is street photography. You would think the last place I would want to be is back out on the streets. But I love the unpredictability of street photography. It’s unscripted and raw. Anything could happen or nothing could happen.
It’s a combination of paddling out in a massive swell, psyching up for a massive lift and busting through the door shouting “Armed Police don’t move”. Just like surfing there are days were the waves (photos) are plentiful and days you come home with nothing. I love walking around taking random photos, getting my eye in and warming up, waiting for the ‘decisive moment’. Then I see him…20 paces directly in front, moving towards me.
Everything goes silent. I’m stealthy, moving effortlessly through the crowd, eyes fixed on my subject. At 10 paces out my camera comes to my eye. As I pause five paces out I steady myself for the shot. I can feel my heartbeat as my breathing stops….and ‘click’, I get the shot. One shot. The shot of the day, possibly the shot of the month. It’s my peace, my refuge…my Zen. What does street photography mean to YOU?