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Tuesday, September 21, 2004


Trouble Over Bridges

Light Rail Overpass
Rosh Hashana morning. A tentative knock on the bathroom door...

"Dad?" It was our daughter Leah, home for the holiday. "Did you call the police?"

Standing in my dress shirt, tie, socks, and gatkes, I wasn't really prepared for such a question. "Noooooooo...." was all I managed to get out of my mouth.

"Well they're at the door right now asking for Mr. or Mrs. Rosenbach!"

"Ah...!" Suddenly it was all clear to me. "Bridges."

On went my suit trousers and down the stairs went I. I opened the screen door and stepped out into the beautiful morning with a smile and a bright, "Good morning, officers!"

There were two of them, Anne Arundel County Police. A policeman, let's call him "Officer Hodges," stood on the porch, while a woman, "Officer Parker," remained a few feet back. Officer Hodges had a concerned look on his face.

"Mr. Rosenbach, were you in taking pictures of bridges on September 2nd?"

"I have taken pictures of bridges," I said proudly, "but not on September 2nd."

"No, I think I have the date wrong," he continued, "... in Baltimore?"

I volunteered that I was in Baltimore and did take some bridge photos the day before Labor Day - "... let's see, that would be the 5th," I said.

On that trip into Baltimore, I was stopped by a University of Baltimore policeman when I was snapping photos of a light rail overpass and the Charles Street Bridge. It turned out that what I thought was a blocked ramp to the Jones Falls Expressway was in fact private property, and I was trespassing. That policeman apparently filed a report, including my license plate number, and my county police were following up.

Of course, Officer Hodges asked why I was taking those bridge photos. Now any passionate photographer would have immediately know the answer to that question, but not in terms that a "civilian" would understand. So I said something golly-gee-whiz about the bridges being painted yellow and green and making nice patterns. Well, true enough, but of course it really didn't express my true motivation behind the photos.

What I wanted to say was something like this quotation from Sam Abell:

"... taking something mundane and seeing something transcendent in it is the high ground of photography."

But who, other than another photographer, or an artist, perhaps, would understand?

So sad that it's come to that.
It reminded me of a time (pre 9/2001) that I was in a park in Cheverly watching a truly exceptional display of Leonid meteors on a blanket with a thermos of hot coffee to ward off the 2am November cold. A police car drove up and fixed its spotlight on me. "Why are you out here?" they demanded. "What's in that canister?" My night vision ruined, I stumbled over to the cruiser.
I tried to explain about the meteor shower and finally said "Just look up, will you?" They eyed me suspiciously, with a "we're not falling for *that*" expression on their faces. "One at a time, if you like." One officer rested his hand on the butt of his pistol, while the other looked up. "Let your eyes adjust," I said.
"I don't see any... Oh, wow!"
"Showers like this happen about once every fifty years." I added. By then, the other officer was taking furtive glances up, waiting for me to karate chop him or something.
They let me stay, but they did make me pour out my coffee.

Now I live in Tokyo and I was trying to get a photo of that remarkable harvest moon we had in August. The best vantage point I could find was just inside the fence at the Imperial Palace - If I could go in a few meters, I could get a nice shot of a fat yellow grapefruit moon just behind some twisted pines on the crest of the hill. I tried to explain to the guard in my fractured Japanese what I wanted to do and he wouldn't budge on the subject. Finally, I had him come out from his booth and take a look at the moon. "ah, mezurashii" he said, ("oh, wow") and he let me take my pictures.

Maybe you should have shown the officers your photos of the bridges. It could have cleared up the whole matter, unless things have gotten *truly* weird over there.
Thanks for the great photo and the story.

Jim O'Connell
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