The first time happened at the Academia Gallery in Florence, Italy. We (The Bride & I) had gone there to see Michelangelo’s David. It was early in the day and there were just a few visitors and one guard on duty — presumably to enforce the “Do Not Photograph” signs.
The statue is magnificent. We admired it for a few minutes when I noticed the guard glance around with that look that a kid uses immediately before he attempts something he knows is wrong (hoping no one will see him). Except that I was looking. He pulled out his cell phone and made a shot of The David. (This was in 2003 and the camera phone had just hit the market.)
So…I figured it must be OK. After all, the guard was making pictures. Up comes the big Nikon. I leaned against a column to steady the camera (low light) and made my photo. Instantly a shout rang out: “No! Give me your camera!”
I argued, of course. “I saw you make a picture. Why can’t I?”
Guard: “You must give me your camera!”
Guard: “I will take you to my boss. He will take your camera.”
Me: “I’ll tell him you made a picture.”
Guard: “He won’t believe you. I will delete my picture.”
Me: “I will delete my picture.”
And that, Readers, is how I made a picture of The David but do not have a picture of The David. But, I still have my camera.
The other near camera loss could have been even more serious.
Transnistria is a tiny little country (population about one-half million) on the northern border of Moldova. It is a breakaway territory (from Moldova) that borders Ukraine but is very pro Russia — who maintains a military contingent there. In fact, Russia is the only country in the world that recognizes Transnistria as a country. The separation from Moldova happened around 1990. Since then the Transnistrians have formed their own government, maintain their own army, postal system and currency.
We were in Moldova and were interested in visiting Transnistria. By-the-way, Readers, it is thought by those who track such things that Transnistria may soon go the same route as Crimea.
Anyhow, we caught a bus from Chisinau, the capital city of Moldova, to Tirasol, the capital of Transnistria. At the border we were harassed but managed to get through by claiming (on the advice of a lady on our bus) that we were just passing through Transnistria on the way to Kiev, Ukraine. I should have known that unpleasant things were on the horizon.
From the bus station we walked toward the center of city activity and happened onto a large and active market. Markets are always, it seem to me, interesting places to experience a new culture. It was crowded, dusty, and buzzing with activity — actually, a venue ripe for the photographer. I climbed onto a box, held my camera above my head and grabbed a wide angle shot of the activity.
A familiar shout: “Give me your camera!” This time it came from a Russian soldier. He explained — in English — that I was not allowed to make photos in the market. We were asked to leave the market but he backed off of his demand for confiscation and I was permitted to keep my camera.
All seemed good in the world until, in the parking lot, I spotted some Russian built automobiles — one with checkered mud flaps (how cool is that?). Up comes the Nikon. Click goes the shutter release.
“Give me your camera!” The same guy had followed us out to the parking lot.
“But it’s a Lada 1600!” That’s me reading the model number on the rear of the car.
I don’t know if he was an automobile aficionado or if he just didn’t want to create an international incident over a Lada 1600 but we were suddenly friends. And, again, I was allowed to keep my camera.
Maybe it was his car.
So…is there a lesson here?
At least two. First, if there is a sign forbidding photography, it is prudent to obey — even if others are not. It was foolish of me to try. I will not do it again and I encourage you, Readers, to follow suit. And, from the Transnistria experience, a smile and positive statement go further than belligerence. In both cases I almost lost a very expensive camera. Only blind, dumb luck prevented it from happening.
I wish, however, that I had been allowed to keep my photo of The David.