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?


  • Erik

    Why on earth would you not tell the bus driver to call the police?

  • Y.S.

    Once again, this is something reported on Muni Diaries that needs to be reported to police.

  • JimmyD

    ERIK: Once upon a time I would have asked the same question.
    I don’t bother mentioning anything to the drivers anymore. 9 times out of 10 they don’t care, they don’t want to hear it.
    You can’t call the police cos they’ll never come. If they did? Would he still be doing it?
    I’d rather take the guy’s picture and post in on my Facebook page as Perv of the Day or something.

  • ComingOutShy

    Time to start calling out people on their inappropriate behavior.

    Those who are playing personal music devices loud.

    Those who are using vulgar language.

    Those who are engaging in conduct that makes you uncomfortable.


    And if you don’t want to, go to the bus/train operator, ask them to stop the bus/train, and request immediate action in accordance with SFMTA policy or contact their dispatcher.

  • Pappu

    I say include the picture of his face in this post and send it to SFPD.

  • You all have some good comments. Reminds me, of teaching in an inner city school where obnoxious behavior tends to take over because administration is too overwhelmed with the big problems (like kids selling drugs and trying to kill each other). The bus drivers, who know no one will do anything, are like the teachers who decide to look the other way and try to get through their day.

    As for doing some of these things, i would be fearful of having a gun pulled and used on me. People are crazy.

  • JimmyD

    Yeah… confronting people with their bad behavior can end in tears.
    Most people just don’t care.
    There’s a woman I encounter fairly regularly on the F train in the morning who is unable to talk to someone on her phone in a low tone. And when I say “talk to” I mean whomever is on the other end isn’t saying much due to her non-stop yammering. I can hear her through my headphones. I’ve mentioned her loud voice, in a polite/friendly manner and was met with her saying, into her phone, “Some asshole is telling me to shut up.” Well dressed, professional… and a selfish, self important bitch.
    So… from the bad part of town to better parts of town… people are selfish and will not be open to any sort of criticism. A few will comply. A very few.

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