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The Watcher

I was going to prefix this post wildly declaring the end of my nighttime jaunts, but I don’t think that would be the truth. I already feel the urge to go out and shoot again, despite what occurred only a few days ago. The park in my neighbourhood which had become a sort of safe haven that I could depend on should I find myself struggling to find an alternative, is no more. I’ve been going out to shoot at night for a good seven or eight months; pretty much since I moved house and into another part of Manchester. I take the same precautions each time and I’ve never gotten complacent about my safety, the worst I’ve experienced is people intruding and being a nuisance – only a handful of times. People are always an inconvenience because I just want to get on with what I’m doing and without anyone watching, because contrary to perception, I’m actually quite shy and don’t like people looking at me.

Typically, I break up a roll of film into three parts when I’m shooting self-portraits at night: the first part I will use ambient light (it can add colour and atmosphere), the second part I will shoot with flash in a dark outdoor location (I like the vignette that it creates), and the third part I use natural light because by that time the sun has come up. On Wednesday night, I went out with this usual plan in mind and chose the park as my second location after I’d taken a few shots near some shops on my street. It’d been raining all day and late into the night, but it had mostly subsided by the time I ventured out and there was a nice misty air around. I have a few rules that I follow when I head to the park, typically sensible things that women instinctively do when walking alone. For example: I keep to streets that are residential, I check for anyone following me and I always let someone know that I’m going out. I even post a boring status about it on my one of my social media accounts, thinking that there’d at least be a timeline to work with should something happen to me. I make sure that nobody is around when I enter the park gates because there is a crossroad at this side of the park and cars drive past, even in the early hours. I don’t know why I’ve made this a rule, I guess I’ve always thought that if I was unfortunate enough to be spotted by someone out looking for a victim, seeing me go into a dark park alone would make me a prime target.

The more I write about this night, the more stupid I feel about having gone out on my own for months. When friends have questioned me about it, I’ve stubbornly responded with “Why should I have to curtail doing certain things that are vital to me creating new work, just because there might be weirdos around?” I feel annoyed and angry that my safety at night is more reliant on the actions of someone else, than my own. However, whilst I think my opening statement is still true and that I believe I can still go out at night to shoot, I won’t be doing so on my own again.

I’d been in the park on Wednesday night for roughly fifteen minutes, shooting near a small wood that was hidden from the various paths that wind their way in and around the area. I think this is the first time that I’ve shot nudes at night, and I was cautious of doing so despite the pitch black of my surroundings which I thought would mean nobody could see me. I took maybe, five shots and quickly threw my parka coat on. I had been wearing a long dress too but I didn’t put this back on, because my coat was long enough to cover me. Getting back up onto the path and into some semblance of light, however little, meant walking away from the woods and over muddy grass. Probably a good five minutes walk at most, and then I was back on the gravelly path and I could see the streetlights of the roads outside the park in front of me. I heard a rustle to my right a little further ahead of me on the path, and visibly jumped with fright, which I tried to hide. I could see what was clearly a man in a hooded coat who as I started getting closer to him, turned his back to me in the dark. There weren’t any benches or anything like that where he was stood and it occurred to me almost instantly that he must have spotted me shooting, possibly whilst he was making his way through the park and had stopped to watch. I was using flash for those shots so either he managed to briefly catch a glimpse of me as it went off, or he saw me going back and forth from my tripod. Most disturbing to me in that moment was the realisation that not only had he stopped to watch, he’d also watched me pack up my things and put my coat on and make my way back up to the path and towards him. My next thought was that I was naked under my coat and how incredibly vulnerable I was because of that. I can’t remember the last time that I have ever felt that terrified. A few seconds after I walked past him, I quickly turned around to check where he was and saw that he had now started to follow me, so that was when I decided to run like an absolute maniac out of the park.

I have no idea if he ran after me once I made my dash because I didn’t look back even once to check on his whereabouts. It must have been around 3:30am when I made it home. I felt pretty shaken up as I put together what may have happened in the park and what the strangers intentions were. I had planned on walking in a different direction initially, to head into another section of the park, which was why I’d only thrown my coat back on – I was going to shoot some more nudes. And I’ve played it over in my head several times thinking about what could have happened if I’d taken that other route that night instead, which would have given this person more opportunity to follow me around. The only reason I headed towards the main path was because the other path behind me was a lot darker and I didn’t feel as confident as I normally would about using it. Maybe it was gut instinct. That’s definitely what I felt when I was walking towards him on the path: that horrible feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you know that something isn’t right. I count myself very lucky and I’ve learned a huge lesson. I’m always complaining about how inconvenient it is when a passerby disturbs me during a shoot, now I know they can be more than a simple inconvenience but also a danger too. I’m confident however, that this won’t be the end of my nighttime trips, instead I’m going to adapt myself to working in a different way and have my boyfriend accompany me. He came out with me the first time I attempted shooting at night, so it seems fit to go back to having him there with me and he’s one of the few people I don’t mind watching me on a shoot.

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All of the images in this post were taken on the roll of film from that night. You can view more of them here: www.elegia.co/lionheart/alphabet.st

About elegia

I like cats and cake and tea.

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