One of the more difficult things for me during my trips, as well as life in general, has been when people I like do things that hurt other beings. In keeping with the tradition of some of my favorite artists (the Ashcan School painters, Liliana Yampolsky, and Helen Levitt), I think of myself as a human first and an artist second. What this means is that if I have a chance to intervene to stop something I don’t like I take it.
I once encountered two young teens locked in combat. It was late afternoon and the glowing sun illuminated their straining bodies with only the shadowed hillsides and sky in the background. It would have made a fantastic image but I chose instead to separate the fighters and send them safely home. On another occasion, in México, I forwent an interesting documentation of activity when I opted to coax a group of boys with slingshots out of shooting birds for sport (at least until I left). While some might write off my interventions as an outsider, himself flawed, imposing personal ideals on those of different cultures, my decisions have been applauded by locals. In fact, a grown man from the barrio recently recollected how, as a child at least a decade ago, he had appreciated the calming pat on the back I gave him as I blocked him from a fight.
But for the situation occurring in this picture I was too late. A large non-venomous snake had been spotted in a tree and, despite its unthreatening state, a man had shimmied up the trunk to club it. Moments after I clicked the shutter (and realized what the people had been watching), the snake fell to the ground, writhing in distress, until it was fully dispensed with. I find the faces in the photograph reminiscent of some of the expressions that can be seen in Weegee’s crime scenes: a mixture of intrigue, repulsion, conviviality, and morbidity. Curious, how limited our repertoire of human reactions is, even across distance and time.