Introspection, guided by ethics, can provide fodder for mental growth
In the mid-1970s, when I was in my mid-twenties, I was living in New York. I had a Minolta Autocord CDS and often used to walk around seeing if there was anything worthwhile to photograph. One fine Saturday morning in the summer I was in East Midtown. Walking eastward along a relatively quiet E 49th Street I came upon two mature ladies carrying items from their townhouse to the rear of an open station wagon. Although I had known that she lived on E 49th Street, actually running into Katharine Hepburn had been the farthest thing from my mind that pleasant morning. But there she was with her maid, loading her car for the trip to her country home in Connecticut. When Miss Hepburn saw me pointing my camera at her she asked me to please not take any pictures. I retained my pleasant smile and continued to prepare to take a picture as if nothing had been said. At that, both Katharine and her maid turned their backs toward me and proceeded to load the rear of the wagon. I obtained a picture of the back of a celebrity from head to waist and proceeded along E 49th Street feeling silently smug about my ‘accomplishment’. (After all, I had not been rude or aggressive.)
At the time, I paid no heed to her ‘foolish’ request. Her vulnerability was, for me, simply ‘opportunity’, and the fact that I had been raised by parents who instilled into me the necessity to be civil and respectful to all was ‘confirmed’ by my unwavering, kind smile towards those two innocents. After all, my proper Connecticut upbringing proved and guaranteed that I could not possibly err with my quest. Time modified that feeling of self-vindication and righteousness.
I never forgave myself for that indiscretion primarily because, at that instant of opportunity, I had refused to look at that person as a person, and, instead, because of my obsession with capturing something that I could brag about, conveniently perceived her solely as an icon, a statuette, without meaningful feelings. She was ‘separate’ from mere mortals. However, her manifest vulnerability, evinced and confirmed by her politeness and civility, stuck with me and she did end up helping me in life by continually ‘reminding’ me that we are all, in the end, flesh and blood, with weaknesses and strengths that waver within seemingly minor circumstances. She had ‘come down’ to my level and I ignorantly ignored her entreaty.
I hope to say that, at almost 63, I have by now distanced myself from such self-centeredness, but any confidence in this regard will continue to be cautiously monitored by a mind that has wisely grown with cynical life experience. I had thought that celebrities were ‘there for the taking’ because they were powerful, influential, and invulnerable. But that day I ended up re-examining my very honesty and consideration for others and came to the striking conclusion that I had clearly abused my power and had hurt someone for no necessary cause. I emphasize that I was shocked to discover that I did, indeed, have power over Miss Hepburn that day and that discovery was not pleasant. Thus, I ended up, with time, not feeling superior over that misinterpreted conquest. Even though she lived for another thirty years I never found the time to write a redaction of that episode to her.
My ‘honestly and consideration for others’ I discovered was but a sublimating truism that I had talked myself into in order to ‘cover’ for my fallible traits and, uncloaked, revealed but a crass conduit for getting what I wanted, without the discomfort or messiness of having to demonstrate ostensible guilt. If there is one thing that I wish to impart to readers it is this: Never become over-confident with your innocence and rectitude because those noble traits just might turn out to be more feigned than fact. Monitor yourselves continually. – David Lyga
Very nice bit of self reflection and evaluation, and obviously this incident stuck in your mind all these years. I agree that life's transgression are there for us to learn from and even as you did, use it as a teaching moment.
The notion of "celebrity" is a complicated one. When one seeks out fame and fortune and pays agents and publicists to built you into a legend, icon, sex symbol etc etc it becomes a bit disingenuous to then cry out for privacy and anonymity when it doesn't suit you. On the other hand everybody should have the right to be left alone when they choose to. Celebrities are often people who crave the limelight and seek out professions that offer them adoration and acclaim to make them feel whole. Unfortunately, be careful for what you wish for.
Interestingly that it's an instance you never forgot and one that she, probably forgot 10 seconds after it happened.
As for the paparazzi aspects of celebrity it's much like a general saying he hates war. Without them/it, they could not really exist. The dilemma lies in the fact that both the celebrity and the general, once they have turned on the tap, it's almost impossible to turn off.
We hear of celebrities chasing, Sean Penning, and swearing at paparazzi but early in their career they couldn't get one to look at them, and through the use of publicists they eventually get them to notice them and splash their pictures all over the media.
So in my opinion your regrets are perhaps overwrought and unnecessary, but then some people are perhaps just to decent for modern times.
I couldn't think of anything witty to say so I left this blank.
I'm not sure I would have made any ethical/personality/photographic changes even if I had personally has the same experience as did you... but I always look forward to your philosophical posts. Thanks.
In Maine, we consider Connecticut more part of New York than New England. And we consider it normal CT behavior to be sometimes crass and take opportunity too far. Obviously, we can not paint all CT residents with such a broad stroke, but it's exceedingly common, making it easy to self-justify (and I think self-justifying is often faulty). I too bet she forgot about it quickly.
I believe we should forgive ourselves (in the same manner and expediency we'd ideally desire forgiveness from others or offer forgiveness to others) but also recognize and learn from mistakes.
Well, blansky, Brian, and jp: If she had been crass, impolite, looked down upon me as trash (some do, you know) I probably would have forgotten about it. But she was not: Katharine was actually recognizing my power over her in that instance and, to be truthful, I was disturbed with how I had acted. Suddenly, it was not a celebrity vs hoi polloi. It was two humans in an elevator and one was taking advantage of the other. Suddenly, celebrity did not matter.
Connecticut is 'supposedly' an attenuated version of New York, supposedly the more refined subsector (as is the East Side of Manhattan, the 'beginnig' of Connecticut as far as I am concerned). Where I was raised was near Waterbury (Wolcott) and that is just within the so-called NYC metropolitan area (90 miles from Grand Central Terminal). Most who view 'Connecticut' as part of New York are usually referring to Fairfield County (Bridgeport is the furthest from NYC within that county at 55 miles from Grand Central). So I make no real claims to 'blue blood' here even though we were still able to get the NYC TV stations when I was growing up. It is true, jp, that Fairfield County residents consider 'New York' to be where they live. In that county everyting revolves and evolves around New York. So I understand what all of you are saying. - David Lyga
Last edited by David Lyga; 12-12-2012 at 03:31 PM. Click to view previous post history.
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I find it interesting, David, that you look at it as a "power" issue. I guess that's where we differ. I don't see those situations as a power transaction. If/when I point a camera at a stranger, celebrity or not, I yield to requests not to photograph just about as often as I don't. It is the polite thing to do and has little to do with who is more poewful. Maybe that is what you mean when you talk of just being two people in an elevator.
Where I live it is common to interact with celebrity folks. I find that these interactions ALWAYS are more pleasant when dealing with them just like any other human.. not as a high-and-mighty celeb. Some are so ego-filled that they make that impossible, but most are just regular folks most of the time.
I would only be shocked at my own behavior if I was overtly rude to a celeb who asked not to be phographed, but don't shock myself so much if I just continue to snap a photo despite such a request. I don't analysze these situations too much past that.
You know, Brian, Southern California, especially LA, where you are from, just IS that way. I am not making a value judgement here, just stating the facts and attitude. You, in LA, are USED to dealing with celebrities. Also in Las Vegas that is the attitude. Yes, I really did feel that I was overpowering Katherine Hepburn and her maid. The whole and complete CONCEPT of celebrity just evaporated in front of my eyes and they became 'people' with real feelings.
You are not ruder, kinder, saner or more or less intelligent. It's just a 'venue' situation. EVERYBODY where you live is USED to these situations and back East people are not. It, thus, becomes a somewhat more personal situation here that is amplified with our privacy needs. In LA, living in a glass house is not necessarily 'wanted' but is, nevertheless, deemed to be more inevitable. You are really more 'open' and that is both good and bad. We, in the East, are somewhat more controlled in social situations (but usually more outspoken when a point need be made, especially with regard to refutation or challenge of concept). It is interesting to dissect this but I continue maintain that if she were still living and asked to comment on this (she WOULD remember) she would agree with me, not you, on this issue. No, she did not 'forget' the incident, not because any aggression or harsh words were exchanged, but solely because I had ventured beyond her 'fence', her personality parameters, and that, in the East, is done less frequently, and is less acceptable, than in the more 'open' LA region. - David Lyga
Last edited by David Lyga; 12-12-2012 at 03:26 PM. Click to view previous post history.
Funny you should mention Las Vegas. I'm originally (and for many past generations) a New Englander but have adopted (too) many LA ways. I also feel quite at home in Las Vegas... except I don't drink much and I'm too thrifty (remember... Scotch-Canadian New England background) to gamble.
David, look at the power she exerted over you. I think that while you think her celebrity evaporated in that moment, what really happened was that you inflated it and let your defiance of it cause you to do something that you now see as rude. At the price of a few seconds of turning her back, she has for years given you a single moment to fill hours and hours of navel gazing, which after all those years has become almost self-loathing.
After years and years of contemplating my own regrets, being not much younger than you, I agree with jp498. You really need to forgive yourself for this.
Pain is fear leaving your body.
That took courage, David, to write. Those words came from your heart, and that is what it means, that contrary to the event, you have a heart.