The bystanders are the most interesting

So often what’s happening behind or alongside or accidentally photo-bombing is so much more interesting than the posed subject of my photographs.

The below picture is of my two daughters and my niece, more than a few years ago. But wait. In back of the frame are my two brothers’-in-law. My sister’s husband David is helping Veronica’s brother Vincent with his lunch. It’s a sweet picture that captures a sweet moment in our family.As John Updike might put things, such incidental photographic details give the mundane its beautiful due.

Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 10.30.01 AM

Three weeks ago, I was walking through the park, and happened to encounter a family celebrating a Quinceañera. I looked up to see the young 15-year-old posing for a studio picture. It was a sweet scene. I figured I would take a snapshot. Stage right was a proud young lady posing for her portrait, hamming it up a bit for the camera. Stage left, was the professional photographer.

But wait. Come to think of it, there’s also a man holding a baby, maybe the proud father. And there center-stage are two girls, maybe thirteen years old. One of them spotted my camera, pointed, and laughed at the moment I pulled the shutter. Bingo. (I blacked out the young women’s faces, since I didn’t have their permission to post on social media.)

Version 2

A week later, I bought a new point-and-shoot camera, and took a few snapshots with it by Daley Plaza. A Turkish fashion show was underway. I snapped the below picture. Who is that woman in the background behind the glass? She looks a little spooky. I found it reassuring that she’s carrying a large soda, probably from the nearby McDonald’s.


Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

One thought on “The bystanders are the most interesting”

Comments are closed.