THE REALLY NASTY ONES, the killers, the rapists, the child killers and child rapists; the ones who have been held in custody, denied bail, too dangerous to release, flight risk, suicide risk; they arrive in prison vans. They’re tricky, the vans. The toughened plastic windows are tinted, and we all hold up our cameras and take shot after shot anyway, but almost all of the time the results are useless. Nothing but close-ups of a black plastic window.
So why go for it at all? Because once in a while, it works. The flash somehow bests the polarised plastic, the angle is just perfect for the burst of light to get in, bounce off the bastard’s face, and out, back to the lens, and you get a picture. You get some help, because it’s always noisy, people banging on the side of the van, and they can see the flashes, so they’re often looking, at the window. But you still need luck, luck on top of luck.
It’s worth it, though. The plastic comes out like a frame of smoked glass, and you’ve got the fucker pale and haunted in the centre, like a Renaissance portrait being restored, the centuries of grime pushed back to the edges, revealing an ancient face.
The ones on foot, the lesser fuckers, they’re easier of course. They come up in a car or taxi, and walk the short distance to the main entrance of the court. And that’s where you get them, when they’re forced out into the open. We’re often held behind a metal fence put there by the police, especially for the big cases, but you still get a clear view. It’s freedom of the press, isn’t it? We’re just doing our job.
Still, they try to cover up; they try to stop you getting the shot. They shield their face with a newspaper or their court files. Mostly, though, they use their clothes – they pull up their collar and shrink down into their coats, they wear big sunglasses on sunless winter days and thick wool scarves in summer. Or they put blankets over their heads. Where do they get these blankets? Do they keep them in their cars? Do their lawyers provide them? That’s the kind of considerate thing you’d expect an expensive defence attorney to do, I suppose. Monogrammed with the name of the firm, maybe. Or they pick them out at home before the trial. Darling, which of these blankets goes best with my suit? The tartan one we use for picnics, or the one from the dog’s bed?
Whatever. It never used to make sense to me. Everyone knows they’re going to trial. Guilty or not, their name and face are out there. Why cover up, why wear the hats and the shawls? There was one guy who dragged up, tried to sneak in dressed as a woman. Didn’t work. All of this modesty doesn’t spare them any attention – it just makes them look ashamed, and if they’re ashamed, they’re guilty, right? Which isn’t a bad picture in itself, even if you don’t get the face. As one of the older photographers said to me, son, they don’t want to stop us seeing their face, they don’t really think about other people seeing their face in the papers. They don’t want to see themselves. That’s why they don’t want pictures. They see us with our cameras, and they see a mirror, and they can’t look at themselves in that mirror. It’s a theory. Made me think. I didn’t give it much credit, until…
It’s not important how I ended up in her back garden. Just wanted to get the pictures. Just doing my job, but a line might have been crossed. It’ll all come out at the trial. The trial puts me in a pickle, of course. Now I can understand why they cover up. I don’t want those other bastards getting my face. I’m not giving them the satisfaction. But sunglasses, collars, scarves, shawls – not my style at all. After all, I’m one of them, and I want to give them a shot. Be seen and not be seen, yeah? So I’ve been thinking on what the old guy said about mirrors. He was right. I’m going to get one of those disco mirror-balls, put a big hole in the bottom, a couple of little holes to see out… Should look fucking great under flashes.
Will Wiles is an architecture and design journalist, and author of Care of Wooden Floors (2012) and The Way Inn (2014).
This article was first published in Vestoj On Fashion and Shame.