Last Thursday I went out to immerse myself in a new community -- the Garment District. I've been tip-toeing around the real stories for a few weeks now, figuring out how to write without being intrusive. This time I had a different motive.
As I walked along the District's streets I poked my head into at least 10 shops, chatting with shop owners selling fabrics and samples. I was kind and friendly. I joked and laughed, tried to find common ground. Instead, my conspicuous Canon and I were greeted with irritation, paranoia and hostility.
I finally found a nice Bangladeshi man to speak with. He sold spandex, liked Indians, told me about immigration. I spent hours in the store taking photos, making friends, being asked about my Facebook name. Two and a half hours later, I was asked to leave. Turns out undocumented workers are not okay with their photos taken.
The rest of the day followed suit. I climbed up many stairs to get a door shut in my face by a psychic. A Jamaican man picking trash literally ran away from me and said he didn't like "publicity". Another guy collecting recycling laughed in my face, a Yom Kippur event with no good lighting. The shoe cobbler didn't like to talk and the donut guy was too busy. Even my attempt to turn a night at a bar into a photo story revealed only a cluster of blurred, shaky snapshots.
I trudged into a bookstore the next day. I always feel at home in a bookstore, especially the ones like this one with stacks of books in every nook. I began to shoot photos happily, following the light and the frequent visitors. Half an hour later I asked to do a quick interview with the owner. The snappiness in his voice made my heart sink. I got about three questions in and ran away.
For the past two weeks I've been likening myself to an awkward guy in a bar. The rejection when you're a journalist, especially an unaffiliated one, is immense and consistent. We're told not to take it personally, be thick skinned. But if you know me, that's impossible -- my skin's about as thick as chiffon.
Maybe I lack chops, or maybe it's a cold, busy, overwritten world. I prefer my position in the corner, watching the universe spin and letting my fingers follow. Good connections, like good boyfriends, I suppose, can't always be found on a deadline. But maybe I need to be more open to the blind dates of journalism and show up every time with renewed hope and stories to be swapped.