My Friend the Camera Thief

A camera is a magnet. For children it's the positive side of the magnet and ultimately attracts them too it. For adults on the other hand, it has the opposite effect—they reject the attraction.

A camera is a magnet. For children it’s the positive side of the magnet and ultimately attracts them too it. For adults on the other hand, it has the opposite effect—they reject the attraction.

This is the case in many cultures. That is why the job of a photographer is highly relational. Building relationships with people is critical. You must diffuse the apprehension. One way I accomplish this is by absolute transparency. I not only like to create moments with the camera that can be remembered on a physical print or digital copy, but a memory in the minds of those who were photographed. One way I do this with children is by giving them the opportunity to shoot the photo, while I become their subject. It creates a moment they never forget.

I love this part of my job.

So recently in Kurdistan, northern Iraq, I gave a 14 year old boy my camera to shoot some photos. He was curious, and who knows, maybe he’s the next Ansel Adams. He shot some terrible photos and had a blast doing so. He’s no Ansel Adams but we made a memory, right?

What happened next made me flash back to grade school. Multiple people from the area we were working in came up to me and scolded me never to trust my camera to anyone else. It was like a second grade teacher shaking a big index finger in your face for cracking jokes in class. I received my correction and moved on.

The following day I was not so reckless with my camera. But I trusted the people we were with. We were nearly done for the day, debriefing in a group of five in some back room when out the window I look, to find my 14 year old friend curiously navigating the familiar controls of this highly expensive camera he knew so intimately the day before. Words crossed my mind which landed on the expression “uh-uh” –as if to say, “Oh no you don’t!”

So I rush outside yelling “Habibi, Habibi,” a very enduring term in the Middle East used among close friends, of course, trying to give him the benefit of the doubt.  And to my surprise, he was gone. The little twerp took my camera for real. I went into survival mode. That’s 3,000 or more dollars and footage I can’t get back, not to mention the principle of ownership.

I charged around the corner to the back alley to catch him at the other end before he darted around the other corner. I yelled loudly and powerfully enough to paralyze him long enough to make eye contact. He didn’t understand English so I guess my facial expressions were an angry form of Kurdish. I said, “DROP IT!” Thinking back, I am glad he didn’t understand English. He may have damaged the gear. Nevertheless, he understood his options. He set down the camera and ran off.

I wish now he would have brought it to me. That way we could have made it a Life lesson, and I could have told him about the time I stole something and how wrong it was–maybe he could have learned from this. Plus I wouldn’t have had to walk all the way to the other end of the alley

So, maybe he didn’t learn his life lesson that day.  But I did.

Simply, “Be more careful.”

I fully intend to let kids have an opportunity to use the camera and have an opportunity to make a memory with them. But I won’t be as careless as I probably was in this instance.

In retrospect, my friend the camera thief and I still accomplished what we set out to do that day. We made memories.

Kevin Bjorklund

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