Monday, December 25, 2006


A “derive” is a walk that is guided by the cues an environment contains rather than a preplanned destination. It’s a method of observing the often subtle directives the physical world contains that affect the body’s movements and decisions through space. On my second derive, I set out toward the car-dominated zone north of town. While walking, I took hundreds of quick photos of little details in the surroundings- documenting how my eye was caught by different features. Once solidly within the area where no pedestrians venture, WalMart came into sight and I drifted toward it's glowing sign like a beacon. I moved cross-country briskly stepping over structures that are impassable to automobiles: curbs, yellow lines, lawns, traffic islands, guard rails and decorative plantings.

I was quite certain that I couldn’t take photos inside Walmart but I wanted to be told that; to have the “environment” explicitly delineate any constraints. Sure enough, immediately inside the front door a manager- not a “greeter”, saw my camera and said “no photos”. I didn’t argue and walked right out. I suspect my lack of shopping cued her in that my mission really was taking pictures and she followed me out the door. I was aware of her and chose very deliberately to continue with my pictures because I wasn’t doing anything wrong.

The first picture I took in front of her was of the sign indicating that it was me that was under surveillance. I proceeded over to a fire/police family-day event 100 feet across the parking lot. The woman was joined by a tweed jacket wearing security guy; a GOP looking, crew-cut, thin-faced character. I kept taking my shots among the dozens of other people all taking photos of the police, steadily aware of the now distant gaze of the Walmart pair. I was by then on the sidewalk at the far edge of the parking lot. I entered the weird liminal place next to the road where nobody “normal’ walks despite the nice wide sidewalk. At that moment, the woman immediately left the sidewalk in front of the store and headed into the police area. I gave it a 50-50 chance that the police would actually come, and I made a decision to continue doing exactly what I was doing, knowing that when they did catch up to me I would inevitably be in some other user-unfriendly location.

Moving behind other stores, across railroad tracks, over a creek, through public housing and finally taking a picture of a dumpster. I looked up, sure enough here was “homeland security” driving up in a black SUV. The officer was very polite, said “Hi, can I ask you a question?” Then immediately spoke into the radio “I found the individual over behind…” He said the Walmart woman was concerned that I was photographing their security (which of course I had not- just a picture of the sign informing me that they were photographing me). A state trooper and then a regular cop pull up moments later. The 1st cop had asked for ID while simultaneously explaining to me that I wasn’t breaking any laws but that when someone gets suspicious… ”You know, you just can’t be too careful these days.” I'm intrigued with how WalMart as a corporate entity participates in this culture of fear mongering. Perhaps they have various security directives sent to all six bazillion of their stores. There was unmistakeable visible paranoia on the faces of those two employees. I'd argue that if Walmart "feels" like a target, it's a piece of confirmation that they should be a target. They know their own agenda better than I do. In contrast, I had earlier not just photographed the fascade of Stop&Shop but had photographed up and down the aisles without comment. It's difficult to imaging some owner of a mom&pop shop calling the police if you photograph in proximity to their building. But Walmart as a "target" reflects its proximity to, and collusion with, the state.

In dealing with the police, I knew there wasn’t anything wrong and so was very amused and enjoying myself - “Oh Boy! I got stopped by the cops during my Derive!” It was actually good practice to try and explain to them what I was doing. But a few sentences into my description, their eyes glazed and rolled back into their sculls. I was naturally animated by the struggle to get common words around the activity I had been pursuing and veins steadily bulged on temples as my diatribe seemed to risk being interminable. I could see they wanted to flee but I needed this exercise in conveying ideas. The captive had found a captive audience.


Blogger joie said...

Reminds me of walking down the street in Hartford, CT with a couple of art students and being asked by a cop if I "need help," presumably to escape from my companions. Still sketchy after all these years, eh?

12:59 PM


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