Photographing people where I don’t belong (as per a recent Photo assignment) reflected my own expectations of State College. The first location I scouted Sunday afternoon, near dusk, was the liquor store, just before closing, hoping to get a shot through the glass of them closing up. I don’t belong in a liquor store after closing, right? The cashier in the most polite gruffness told me no, he would not be in any pictures. He shut that down pretty quickly.
Then I meandered around the Park Forest Apartments neighborhood, looking for something related to the recently removed mobile home park that disappeared last year, along with some of the last low income housing in the community. There were no people.
Finally, on my way out of Park Forest Apartments, I glanced over and saw two men, probably in their 20s, making a giant snow fort with two small children playing behind them. Perfect! Somewhere I don’t belong that has people who may be willing to let me photograph them. I pulled into a spot close by, my Volkswagon Beetle seeming conspicuously out of place next to the large, practical SUVs and pick up trucks that dotted the lot. I got out and approached the men first. They were younger than me, I think. But had the aura of the working man. The two children, one girl and one boy, probably 6 and 3 or thereabouts, where busy making giant snowballs to add to the fort. The men acquiesced to my request to photograph them, but not before letting me know: “I’m use to it, I’m from here” as I fumbled through my explanation of the project.
After taking some quick shots, I left, probably staying only about 5 minutes. Long enough to know that I was an outsider as a student, and that while my presence was tolerated, as was the entire university community, it was not altogether welcome. I wonder if that was also related to the cashiers’ hesitance at the liquor store. Photograph fatigue.
This brings up a perennial problem in my research and interest in using visual tools, how much is too much? When a population has been over-studied, such as State College year-round residents or refugees in the largest refugee complex in the world, how much is too much? My research, though ideally relevant to programming and policy, seems very uninteresting and like a nuisance to everyday people. Isn’t “I’m use to it” just a kinder way of saying “I don’t want to but you aren’t the first to ask and won’t be the last, so fine, I give up, take my picture”?