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joseph k.

6 Jul 2012

It started like this.
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I’d been taking some photos of Shannon with the Rolleicord, trying to take advantage of the remaining few minutes of light before sunset.  Then, out of nowhere, this fellow popped up in my viewfinder.  I waited a few seconds for him to wander out of the frame, but he stood there, motionless.  I snapped the photo and looked up.  He walked over to me and Shannon with a quizzical look on his face.  I’ve become somewhat accustomed to this — walk around with an old twin lens reflex camera from the 1950s, and people will sometimes give you funny looks.

The fellow asked what sort of camera it was.  I held it out so he could see.  He peered at it, then looked up at us.  “What are you doing in the middle of the street?”  “Taking photos before the sun goes down.”  “Ah.”  There was a long pause.  I figured I’d go for it, do what I almost never do with strangers.  “Mind if I take your photo?”  He stared at me for a few seconds, then shrugged.  “Sure.  Where should I stand?”

I told him to stand right where he was.  He looked down at his shirt, then started fiddling with the chains around his neck.  “Hold on,” he said.  “I’d like for you to be able to see my cross, even though” — and here he motioned to his forearm, where there was a tattoo of the Star of David — “I was born a Jew.”  He laughed.  I snapped the photo below.
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I asked him what his name was. “After you take the photo I’ll show you,” he said.  And then, chain-fiddling complete, he stood stock-still for me.  I snapped again.  When I put the camera down, he looked curiously at me.  “Can I see what you took?”  I showed him the back of the camera and explained that it wasn’t digital, so there wasn’t anything to see.  He seemed disappointed.  Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet.  Inside there was an ID/entry card for a Brooklyn area hospital.  And there his name was, “Joseph K—.”  “Hi, Joseph,” Shannon and I said.   Joseph smiled, then asked if we could spare a dollar — regretfully, we had ambled out of the local to take the photos, leaving our bags inside — and when we shook our heads, pointing out that we didn’t have our purses on us, he shrugged one last time, and went on his way.

It is a shame that in that moment, my excitement and curiosity running high, I moved ever so slightly; the final photo ended up slightly blurred.  But I’m showing it here anyway, because that’s the way he wanted to be seen: with his cross — and his tattoo — in plain view.
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Somewhere in the middle of all of this, Shannon asked if he was a Man United supporter.  “Oh.  No no.  Not at all,” he said.

You’re a good man, Joseph K.  Thanks for letting me take your photo.  I owe you one.
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 6 Jul 2012 9:05 pm

    Great story! Joseph K…I know that story.

  2. 7 Jul 2012 7:22 pm

    Loved this back story. It makes his portrait all the more layered.

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