On Muni, the Camera is Mightier Than…

Photo by Flickr user Jessie Johnson

When photographer and friend Julie Michelle sat next to a man who started to make her really uncomfortable, her camera became a way to stop his behavior. But as a photographer, that fact made her equally uneasy. Here’s what happened, from Julie’s blog:

I sat in the back … the middle seat was then taken by a young man with a large duffel bag. He found a way to really wedge himself between me and the other woman, touching our sides more than I am used to even on a crowded bus. He did not look at either of us. Did not apologize for sitting on my coat, the little niceties that people make when crammed together because that is the nature of public transportation.

He spread the long, flat, dirty canvas tote bag across his lap. … So I looked down, and under the duffle bag I could see that he was masturbating. That was the wiggling. That was why he flattened the bag and flattened himself against us. I don’t think the girl [next to him] knew what was going on. I looked straight ahead.

At the next stop, several people got off the bus and I moved to the seat perpendicular to him.

I took his photo.

He pretended not to see me and kept on with his activities.

I took another photo of him: zooming in on his face, his hand in his pants–and this time he looked at me.

I took another photo of him.

He got off the bus at the next stop.

When I asked Julie about the incident later, she said, “I have never pointed my camera at someone with the intent to make that person uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable doing it, just as I would have been if I would have shouted or drawn attention to him verbally. I don’t know if this person was mentally ill or what, and I am certain I didn’t stop his future behavior, but perhaps I gave him pause in turning the tables just a bit.”

We’ve documented more than a few instances of bad behavior on the bus, and technically the bus is a public space, so what Julie did didn’t seem so out of line to me. But everyone has a different opinion on photography on the bus. What would you do if you had to confront someone who’s behaving badly on the bus?

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