Babies and little children look at everything and everyone very closely, shamelessly. Everybody accepts that because they are little kids and they don’t know any better. When you get a bit older you stop looking so closely at other people for fear of being branded a pervert or being thought of as rude. If you stare at someone you perceive as beautiful, the person may feel uncomfortable. If you stare at someone else, that you also perceive as beautiful, but who has a small birthmark, then you might just spark off torrents of insecurity in the person that lead to your being a victim of the person’s subsequent wrath at the perceived attack on their self-confidence.
My point is, at some point in one’s development, sadly, looking at other people becomes a bit of a minefield which could potentially land you in a situation where you’re ostracised, fired, or, worst case scenario, in court facing a charge of inappropriate staring otherwise known as, possibly, sexual harassment or stalking.
In writing this I remember an occasion when my brother was ten and we were on a family holiday in Majorca. There was advertisements all over the hotel for a very popular pirate show that was on in the area. I think it was some kind of musical. Being, as a kid, fascinated by pirates, my brother was very aware of these posters. One evening, after dinner and returning to the hotel, he spotted a man with an eye patch and said, quite naturally and excitedly, “Look, mommy, it’s a pirate!” The man flew into a rage and erupted at my mother, “YOU’D WANT TO TEACH THAT CHILD SOME MANNERS!” Apparently he wasn’t actually a pirate but was blind in, or missing, an eye. It’s hardly surprising, then, with occasions such as this, that we, as adults, develop an innate fear of looking at other people.
I’ve recently, with my camera, rediscovered the joy of looking at other people unabashedly, like a child, and it’s bringing me a tremendous amount of joy. For some reason most people find it okay to be looked at through a lens, so long as you ask them first. Without a lens it could be a little bit odd. Imagine going up to someone and saying, “Hey, do you mind if I stare at you for a few seconds?” That would be rather bizarre and weird, wouldn’t it?
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