Ever hear of him? Ian Thow (according to my editor) he is on the lam, scamming Canadians upwards of 40 million in bogus investments. I get a call from a magazine in Canada Globe and Mail who is doing a story on Ian and they need photos. Ian is hiding out in Seattle. So, my assistant and I staked out his apartment building for 2.5 days. We tried everything, and I can’t tell you what, to find out if he was in fact in the building and then photograph him on his way out. What I did try had an adverse effect and ‘smoked him out’.
New to this kind of assignment I chose not feel like a paparazzi. I began to wonder how many criminals I have actually photographed unknowingly. Many, I now think. So I chose to look at this like any old assignment “someone did something, and I am photographing them”, how I usually describe editorial.
Why not just talk to the guy I told Lucian, my assistant. Why not just talk to him and get the job done and then everybodies happy. We can’t leave, and Ian can’t leave till that happens anyway. Meanwhile the building is spooked by our tack ticks.
And that’s what happened. Ian must have been watching us the whole time from his apartment and snuck out during our staggered food break. He drove up from behind Lucian, tapped him on the shoulder (Lucian was watching the doors) and said “I heard you were looking for me.” Lucian said wait here, let me get Amanda.
“Hi, I’m Amanda. We need photos of you for some Magazine.” What magazine? … Not sure… never heard of it… a Canadian Magazine… never heard of it or you before… want to talk to my editor? (editor would have been thrilled, a chance for information) “No.”
Ian and I make a deal.”I need photos of you.” “OK. How about this: we drive up the street (maybe to not identify the building) and you take a few photos and then we’re done. No photos right here, and none in the car.” “OK.” “Want a ride?” “Sure.” We get in, i was cool and then I heard the power locks. Ah yes, I remembering this feeling, right before I was mugged in Cuba and various other places, the sound of footsteps getting faster, gravel kicking up, extra shadows from the street lights. I sat calmly, quickly forming a checklist of “outs”: -where is the cell phone (911) -cover the elbow to bust open the window -situate weight / heel to firmly nail the steering wheel. The checklist felt complete.
Sigh. No big deal. We are up the street, Ian gets out, we all get out. I take a few shots. “That’s it.” “Wait, the light isn’t just right… wait, the flash was screwed up…” stuff like that. We got a few more, then I could see it was time to get out of there. Ian took off, offered a ride back but we walked. It was a beautiful day in Seattle.
Thinking back, key was to balance Ian’s near range with my needs in each word of each sentence. A good exercise in clear communication, something I am eternally polishing.