What the Camera Saw

For Rich Turner, master photographer
and intrepid explorer of the Delta.
Photo: Getty Images
From the Files of the Delta Detective Agency 

There was something odd about the couple,

 something I couldn’t put my finger on,

 but something about these two partners

 gave me the unmistakable hint or scent

 of partners in crime. Or was it only

 my detective instinct working overtime?

 As a private eye, my habit is to squirrel away facts

of those I encounter, relying on my wits and instinct

to emerge with all the answers, well, most

of the answers, well, some of the answers     

some of the time. No one’s perfect, as Iris Noire

likes to remind me with a look that says it all. 

What alerted and attracted me to this little mystery 

was nothing more than the ordinary behavior

of a couple complaining their high-tech camera

wasn’t worth the money, having failed to provide

the photo they wanted of seasonal snow pines

suffused and overburdened by heavy powder.


Why they would wish to shoot the sodden,

unsightly pines was a mystery in its own right

as was their thanks-but-no thanks pass 

on my offer to inspect the camera for tech flaws

or their own human error, and if they wished,

lend them mine for quick, convenient use.  


Determined to get the shot themselves, they moved 

from pine to pine, as if relocating for a better angle

or better sunlight might solve their problem 

(or was it to leave me and my questions behind?).

Small and seemingly insignificant details such as these

can make you suspicious even if you don’t happen to be a detective.


Suspicion is the key to the fact-finding process,

which is why riddles of human nature catch my eye

even in leisure moments, such as strolling through

a park of sloppy pines bordering the manicured lawns 

and gardens of million-dollar mansions. Did my two friends

emerge from that privileged bastion to flounder as photographers? 


 The camera, I noted, was an expensive new model, 

fully up to date and easy to use, leading me to wonder

if the true fault lay with unreasonable expectations

of a camera capable of anything and everything– 

from foolproof focus to matchless perspective–

able to make magic even of snow-weighted pines.     


Never mind that any sensible photographer

would bypass those heavily-laden branches

of winter trees on the verge of collapse 

or that style-conscious photographers would seek

the artful snow sculptures of elegant old oaks since 

soggy pines are by no means “visual treasures.”

As I was pondering these facts, scanning as I did so 

the snow-trimmed mansions flanking the park and wondering

what their well-to-do inhabitants might think of this pair, 

a second photographer approached with silent stealth,

intent on capturing the visual comedy of amateurs

enchanted by the debacle of snow-crushed pines.

When other optimistic photographers appeared on the scene

hunting their own wintry images, a TV news crew pulled up

for a look-see, in pursuit of a story on the fly, 

seeking a lighthearted filler for the otherwise

fear-inducing evening newscast–a cheerful relief

from Omicron, inflation, and Russian war games.

In response, a crowd of the curious began to gather–

the same faces you see at fires, collisions,

and police sites, hoping to witness history

or anarchy in the making to enable them

to entertain friends, relations or anyone

with their own vivid, eyewitness accounts.


I struggled to resist the impulse to grab a shot

before the frenzy subsided and opportunity passed,

but succumbed to the lively, snowbound circus, 

removed my camera and began firing away,

hoping my conscience would forgive me,

but having a plan of action if it did not.

The plan: I visited a struggling local newspaper

short of staff, advertisers and subscribers,

appealing to the public for stories and photos it could use.

I donated my rapid-fire photos, confident I was rendering 

some kind of community or journalistic service

even if my quickies were wastebasket-worthy.


To my astonishment, a crowd photo made front page,

graduated statewide and up to national syndication, 

intriguing those who saw something newsworthy and trendy

in a motley bunch of ramblers, bumblers and idlers

going every which way, with or without cameras,

seeking enlightenment or exercise in the snow.


When Paris invited a blow-up of the photo

for display in the Louvre’s new exhibition 

“Habits and Habitats of Eccentric Americans,” 

champions of native photography fired back, 

declaring the work “original and exceptional,”

and insisting I be rescued from “prejudicial elitism.”


Prominent critics rallied to the cause, scolding Paris,

saluting my “sublime folk art” and “classic representation

of unpretentious Americana,” worthy of respect

for its “truth of composition,” “many-sided subjects,”

“multifaceted understanding of crowd psychology,” 

and  “multifarious angles of uncommon interest.”


Urged to explain myself by the inquiring press

and camera fans seeking clues to my method,

I had no comment, bewildered as they were by praises

such as “Putative father of a new school of photo-realism.”

“a gifted illuminator of unconscious desires,” and          

“A master of precisely interpreted chaos.”


Fleeing obsessive critics and excessive controversy, I turned my photo of the odd couple

over to police for  identification and connection to a recent rise

in park mansion  burglaries, assuming my duo might be shooting sites 

for criminal purposes and acting the role of innocent amateurs

to conceal their wrongdoing from friendly curiosity 

or, in my case, friendliness masking sleuthlike suspicion.

“Know what your problem is, Sherlock? You’re too damn suspicious!”

laughed Lieutenant Houlihan, identifying my odd couple

as undercover operatives on field assignment 

for the sake of crime prevention. I then retired

to the safety and comfort of the Delta Detective Agency 

where suspicions yield solutions and pay the rent. 

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