It wasn’t easy getting this portrait. I was walking down Sixth Avenue last October and my ears were immediately drawn to the metallically percussive tones of the steel drums. I play several instruments and the steel drums (or steel pans) have been one of the many I have long wanted to learn – along with bag pipes, tablas, erhu, and several others.
This was near Penn Station so I was actually walking along the curb to avoid the dense crowd to catch my train. As a result, since he was set up on the sidewalk, I had to approach him from behind and to the side to take a photograph. It was not the best angle, but I thought I might be able to photograph him in profile with the pedestrians as a backdrop.
As I peered through the viewfinder, I could see that he was giving me the evil eye. He was definitely not pleased at what I was doing.
At this point, I knew it was best to stop shooting. I went over to him and apologized, explained that I was a musician too, and that I was simply making an artistic photograph because I enjoyed what he was doing. I said that I did not mean to anger him and would gladly delete the photos if it helped to make things right.
My sincere apology changed his demeanor immediately. He explained that he was upset because he saw me coming from behind. Not long ago someone made a smartphone video behind his back and uploaded the entire performance on YouTube.
As an olive branch, he said it was OK for me to photograph him from the front. I prefer candid shots but, under the circumstances, I was content to create a posed portrait. Unfortunately, I was unable to throw some money in his steel drum case as a goodwill gesture. I apologized again, asked him for his name, and inquired where I might find him in the future so that I can give him some cash.
Surprisingly, he explained that he usually plays in Times Square though I had never seen him there. For the next 10 months I kept an eye out for Dexter on both Sixth Avenue and Times Square. But I never saw him again.
There he was playing on the same corner where we had our misunderstanding. I greeted him with a smile, which he quickly returned. He remembered me, we shook hands, and was glad that I had some cash on me for a change.
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