Art or Exploitation?


Look! An authentic Chinese person! Get the camera!!!

Look! An authentic Chinese person! Get the camera!!!

I’m walking home the other night after the debates and see a not uncommon site:  white people brazenly snapping pictures of Asian residents. These hipster youngins and an old dude have their tripod set up across the street from Columbus Park, where elder folks like to kick it at all hours. Giving them the stink eye, I walk in front of the camera and this flash goes off in my face.  I stand on  the  corner and watch them move their camera closer to the park where a group of women are sitting, and their flash lights up again when these 2 old Chinese ladies walk by, which seems to startle them.  I go over to them and hence follows this pleasant exchange:

Me: Excuse me, did you ask them if it was ok before you took their picture?   

Old Dude: Huh?

Me: They’re not animals in a zoo.

Old Dude: Uh…we’re just getting pictures of some scenery.

Plaid be-donned Girl: *Glare*

Me: No, you’re taking pictures of the people here. You need to ask people’s permission before you just go and take their picture.

Old Dude: Uh huh. Yeah. Thanks. *rolls eyes*

I walked half a block away and stood there and watched them. They watched me back. I took out my cell phone. Then the plaid sack girl manning the camera starts prancing around giving me the finger, yelling “Fuck you! Fuck you!”

Me: Fuck Yourself! What are you doing here! Exploiting People!

Grizzly Girl: Eyyyy fuck you! Fuck you!

I stomp over to the precinct and talk to a cop. He said he would send a patrol car down there. I was tempted to go back to see if really did come while smirking at the bastards, but I was done for the night. Plus I was paranoid they might follow me back to my apartment cuz they seemed like entitled types who would be outraged and retaliatory that I had disturbed their “project”.

I see shit like this almost everyday around here and I’m sick of it. If those old ladies could tell them to fuck off in English, they probably would have – or Chinatown residents are so used to having their personal space invaded by gawking white people they just deal with it. 

These folks are not putting on a show here, just going about their daily business. At least with street performers , people give them money  for taking a picture with them. But tourists, “artists” and other brats come from Williamsburg, NYU Tisch, and other hipster havens to take images for free- to exhibit, to sell, to marvel at the “exotic” freaky streets of Chinatown. Because they think they have the right. I’ve seen a old homeless lady with a cart full of aluminum cans push it hurriedly down the street trying to get away from tourists rushing after her snapping pictures; people nonchalantly take close-ups of an elderly man leaning on his cane, barely able to stand upright (he musta looked “really Chinese”); a sidewalk shoe repairman try to do his work while some scruffy student adjusts his $3,000 camera an inch from the man’s face. Would they do the same to some old Jewish grandmas on the Upper West Side? To me it’s just basic respect.

I’m gonna start carrying a camera in my bag to shove in tourists faces when I see them they pull that dehumanizing bullshit. Then I could post their mugs online for everyone else to gawk at, and maybe make a buck while I’m at it.  Everyone can join in! How about naming it


3 thoughts on “Art or Exploitation?

  1. I understand what you are saying. I just want to say that not everyone with a camera is rude like that person you encounterd. I am into photography and love taking pics in Chinatown. I am not there to invade anyones privacy. As an artist I am attracted to the colors of the community. I do not profit from these pictures, and there nor “projects”. Taking photographs is a big part of me and I enjoy taking a picture so other people can see the beauty in what I have seen. I always ask before taking someones picture and give donations to whomever does give me permission. Please don’t lump us all in one bunch. To answer you question about the Jewish lady on the UE side..Yes, If I found it striking I would snap away.


  2. Pingback: Where LES Boutiques Meet Chinatown « BicoastalBitchin’s Weblog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s