Judgment Day

This morning I flew from Madrid to Prague.  As it happened, I got to the gate early. Being first in line,  I noticed a large brown bundle in the doorway that led to the plane. It looked like a tarpaulin left by a  worker. Then the tarpaulin moved. It moved again.  I was startled.  I got the attention of the ticket taker.  He glanced over his shoulder in the direction I was pointing, saw the bundle move, walked over and shook it.

From the deep brown folds a figure emerged, a sturdy heavyset woman in a red dress.  She had a bandana around her head. The ticket taker indicated that she couldn't sleep in the doorway because people would soon be passing through.

She gathered up what turned out to be an ample brown shawl. With her free hand she took hold of her shoes and, barefooted, moved to a ticket counter about five feet away.  The space underneath it was unobstructed.  Like a bear in a cave, she lay down under the desk, pulled her brown shawl around her and went back to sleep.

I asked the ticket taker if the woman was waiting for a flight.  He nodded. I was struck by the fact that her sleeping under a ticket counter was not a problem for him. As best as I could make out with my halting Spanish, he said that Terminal 4 was an international airport, that people from all over the world came through and that, all in all, he prefers to live and let live.

There was a lot to like about this incident. I liked its unexpectedness, an undulating, amorphous bundle in an airport doorway and its transformation into a hefty Venus rising up out of the folds.  I liked the flowing transition of the woman from the space in the doorway to the space under the desk.  I imagined that both spaces provided her with a corner and hence an enclosure and hence some sense of snug security while she slept. Three minutes, probably less, had passed between the time she got up and the time she was asleep again in her new space.

But what I liked most about the incident was the total absence of judgment on the part of the ticket taker.  That, I thought, was worth a blog.

I went over to the place where the woman was sleeping and took a photograph with my iPhone.  (My son advised me when I first started blogging that photographic accompaniment was an absolute necessity.)

No sooner had I taken the picture when a young man sitting nearby said, "You are being disrespectful to her."

"How could I?" I replied. "She is sound asleep."

"You should ask her permission before you take her picture," said the young man.

"If I do that, I will wake her up. I am not being disrespectful. I am being considerate."

"It doesn't matter," he insisted.  "You should not take her picture without her permission. It is disrespectful."

"But her back is turned to the camera.  She is wrapped in a shawl.  It is impossible to see her face.  She is completely unrecognizable."

The ticket counter 
"It is disrespectful," he repeated in the same stern tone of voice.

So my blog turns out not to be about withholding judgment after all. It is about being judged.

So much for live and let live.

Was I disrespectful?  I am not sure.  If it were true that our images unequivocally belong to us, then certainly I was. But that would mean that every airport surveillance camera is disrespectful of every person it images. Ditto your neighborhood ATM, or supermarket.  It is hard to say "yes" to that, at least, for me it is. 

What is different about my picture taking? My guess is that it comes down to what I intended to do with the image.  So here it is.

You be the judge.