by Penny Stine Friday, November 18, 2011
Once a year, I get to practice my espionage skills. Once a year, I’m reminded why I’m a staff writer for the advertising department of the Daily Sentinel and not a CIA operative, buried deep undercover, gathering information and leading a wildly exciting double life.
We recently published the Best of the West section, where we gathered readers’ opinions about everything from the best Italian restaurant to the best place to buy a new car. Although we do the section every year, the results are strictly hush-hush, and not to be revealed on penalty of death (or an irate scolding from our marketing manager) until the results are published in the section.
Because we don’t have any magic wands to wave and have copy and photos instantly appear the instant the section gets printed, I get to see the results long before they’re published in the paper. Here’s the tricky part: Since I’m also the special sections photographer in addition to the staff writer, I usually have to go take discreet photos of the winners to include in the section.
The winners, however, cannot be told that they won prior to publication, which means I’m wandering around various businesses with my camera, nonchalantly taking photos and pretending not to exist.
I’ve discovered that most business owners don’t like it when you take photos of their establishment. they want to know who I am and why I’m taking pictures of their business. I can’t tell them the truth or the marketing manager of the Daily Sentinel will get her knickers in a twist.
I am a truly lousy liar. I can never think of anything plausible to explain why I’m taking a photo, plus I have a moral aversion to telling an outright, blatant lie. I don’t care that I’m doing it for my job; I know that my nose will start growing or I’ll come down with hives. It’s not that I fear God will smite me dead on the spot, rather that He’ll be so disappointed in me. “I gave you my son and you invent lame excuses just so you can get a paycheck?”
This whole uncomfortable situation could be avoided if business owners and managers would just take a chill pill. Why is it such a no-no to allow someone to take photos in their store? It’s not like I’m taking photos of dirty bathrooms or sleeping employees to send to their corporate headquarters. seriously, do they think I’m engaged in industrial espionage? at Taco Bell?
This year, I didn’t have to take any Taco Bell photos, since we had one on hand from last year, but I did get kicked out of a gym for taking photos without a decent explanation. Last year, I had to skedaddle out of a supermarket when the manager saw me taking pictures in the produce aisle.
I feel like such a criminal when I’m lurking behind the displays, trying to get interior photos that show happy customers or perhaps an interior sign with the name of the business. Instead, I get scowling managers bearing down on me, alarmed that I might take a picture and then do something dastardly with it.
Even though I’m a writer with a fairly creative mind, I can’t think of any dastardly uses for photos of restaurants, stores, carpet cleaners or gyms in Grand Junction. It’s not like competitors can’t walk into the same business, pay attention to the arrangement of their goods, services, equipment or whatever and then walk out with an intent to copy it.
I can’t see any competent terrorist initiating global warfare by starting an attack at a grocery store in Grand Junction, either. perhaps business managers are afraid I’m a deranged ex-wife, stalking her husband as he goes about his business.
I try to look pleasant and harmless while snapping photos, more reminiscent of Laura Ingalls Wilder than Lara Croft, but some managers aren’t swayed by innocent looks. They’re guarding vital, important secrets at their business and aren’t about to have some stranger snapping photos of weight machines or end-cap displays like she’s enjoying the sunset at a beach in Maui.
Their paranoia about photographers is a real pain in the patootie. I could be more understanding if we printed a section called the worst in the West and I was taking photos for that. Then business owners would have a legitimate reason for fearing harmless-looking females with cameras.
Every time I get caught red-handed, I ask myself why I didn’t dream up a story before I set out on my picture-taking quest, but by then it’s too late. I’ve already got the guilty, deer-in-the-headlights look, and no matter what I say, I can’t even convince myself it’s plausible.
So if you’re a business owner whose corporate office has a strict, “don’t let middle-aged broads with cameras take photos of our pastrami” policy, I beg you, on behalf of all special sections photographers everywhere, lighten up!
Either that, or I’ll have to solicit ideas from readers for the “Best excuse for taking photos in a business” category prior to writing the section and have a little more fun with it next year.
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