A lesson learned at the crosswalk
About a year ago, I was doing the First Thursday gallery hop with my sweetheart and a friend when all three of us got busted for jaywalking. Within moments of being stopped by the police, I learned two very important lessons:
1) Crossing in a crosswalk against the traffic signal is jaywalking even if there are no moving cars in the vicinity.
2) Jaywalking means a $97 fine in Portland.
A month or so later, David and I were at traffic court. We had pleaded “not guilty” even though we admittedly were, and we had shown up mostly to make the point that educating the public might have been more beneficial than fining the public (unless, of course, the city was short of funds, because, let me tell you, those fines must have really added up on a First Thursday).
Before the judging began, we were all encouraged to meet with our ticketing officers outside the courtroom in order to talk things over and possibly come to an agreement. I decided to give it a go and was rather frustrated when my cop treated me like a hardened criminal. In the end, both my partner and I changed our pleas to “guilty” in the hopes of getting our fines reduced, but neither of us were optimistic. When it was our turn in front of the judge, we were pleasantly surprised by our officers who both moved to waive our fines entirely. David and I may be convicted jaywalkers, but we kept our $194!
For months after this episode, I was paranoid. Walking downtown became a chore. At every corner, I waited for the traffic signal to change; at every corner, I was anxious. I might have learned my lesson but only in a rather superficial manner.
Then, more recently, I came to an important realization. For all my years of jumping the lights, I never got anywhere any faster. In much the same way that having a car speeds up my life unnecessarily, crossing against the lights fed a hurried frenzy in me. Stopping at every corner forces me to pace myself and to look at the city in a different way.
I was thinking on all this last month as I walked to the courthouse again—not to fight another ticket, but because I had an appointment with Judge Wilson. We had arranged for me to re-photograph the portrait I had painted of her in 2005 with my newer digital camera.
I gave the portrait to Judge Wilson after Public Faces came down at the end of 2005. At the time, I was giving my favorite subject from each series her-his portrait. Judge Wilson had some serious competition since that series was full of fascinating and lovely people, but she won out in the end because, at the time of our interview, she let me try on her robe and sit at her bench.
Judge Wilson was honored by the gift, but she wasn’t crazy about the portrait. To her it represented her very public face. Some of her friends and family felt the same, but her staff at the courthouse loved it and insisted that the painting hang in the office.
Over the years, Judge Wilson and the painting have come to a kind of peace. Somewhere along the way, the portrait even developed a voice bubble post-it which admonishes her assistant to keep working!
Portraits are a lot like crosswalks, both for me and for my subjects. The intersection between my life and my sitters’ lives means both of us have to slow down a bit and look at the world in a different way. And this visit to Judge Wilson’s chambers reminded me how true that is, even five years after the photo-session and interview when the subject and I actually met.