Friday, June 18, 2010

Why do people love photos of Chilean policemen?

It seems sometimes that I have taken a million and one photos of policemen here in Santiago. Maybe it’s because I know they’ll let me, maybe it’s because it seems so strange to see so many all the time (this, a function of the fact that I live downtown, more than anything), or maybe it’s because I just can’t get enough of how their riot gear reminds me of the teenage mutant ninja turtles.

waiting for something big

Pictures of pacos (semi-derogatory word for police officer, the correct word is carabinero) are also tremendously popular on my flickr feed, to the point where I’ve created a set of paco pics for those of you who love them so. And here it is.

I am so happy to live in a democracy where police intimidation seems to not be a problem (correct me if I’m wrong), and where I’m free to take and publish pictures of police officers doing what they do without recrimination. Though admittedly, most of these photos just have them standing around. Sometimes with dogs.

pacos y sus perros/cops and dogs

This one even turned up in that article about me, and so far no one has come breaking down my door.

Have you heard of this band?

And I have to say, I believe that police officers, in their green uniforms, look particularly snazzy against a red background. Coincidentally, the Telepizza in Plaza Italia (ground zero for pretty much anything happening in Santiago) was recently painted red. I think you’ll agree they look fab here. And just so you know, although there's not usually this many, there are always police officers around here, since it's a point of conflict in the city, particularly at night on the weekends.

mas pacos

Though maybe the red background isn't as good as this rainbow one with Brazilian police officers at the gay pride parade in Sao Paulo a couple of years ago.

police, orgulho gay

It makes me want to start taking pictures of other civil servants, like the (unpaid) firemen, two of whom I’ve met recently, or of mailmen. Oh wait, I do that, too. (see the original post about the mail snafu here.

il postino

I’m not much of a rule-following, police-are-here-to-protect-you person. I view the police more as a benevolent presence than a set of people out there to fight for my rights. I actually don’t spend much time thinking about them, though I do take a boatload of pictures of them. I wonder if they’re out there taking pictures of me, too?


Anonymous said...

If you happen not to be straight or appear not to be, then there can be problems with police intimidation in Chile.

Also, I think in all my years in Chile, I have never taken a picture of a paco! Well, except when one married my sister.... but then not in uniform. How funny.

Eileen said...

Clare, I'm certain you're 100% correct. I am quite conflict-averse and run away at the slightest chance of trouble/crowds/etc., unless I'm taking pictures, but I just think it's incredible that they basically let you just take a picture of them. Compare that with all the times I've been told to put my camera away in other countries, and it all just seems so easy here. Or is this the beginning of the end?

lydia said...

When I read this post yesterday my thought was that mabye its just YOU that likes pictures of police men. I rarely take pictures of them, its kinda awkward for me. BUTTT, not true, i think youre right, and i might have the answer.

I think people like pictures of policemen for the same reason we collect coins or stamps, for the same reason we like to see pictures of the the foreign versions of starbucks or mcdonalds, for the same reason my friend amber collects nativity sets from around the world... police are something we all know well visually in our own cultures so seeing a version tailored to another culture becomes interesting. Its the same thing... yet subtly different, with some little cultural touches that tell us about the other place.
I dont remember ever seeing police in riot gear in the US. Mounted police arent common where I live, (i definately don't wasnt familiar with the ninja turtle shin guards!), they dont carry shields or wander around with dogs.

So i guess... Its the same function, but with a different outfit and accessories!

Anonymous said...

I was trying to explain to Luis what paco would be in English. I thought maybe cop'er? Spelling? Dunno. Suggestions?

I don't think I've ever taken a picture of one. Mainly because the younger ones flirt with me. Meh... And the women glower. The older ones intimidate me and well that's about it.

Fly Girl said...

I don't know Eileen, they look pretty intimidating to me. The gear and the dogs make me nervous. I think the fact that they allow you to take photos just reflects their feelings of omnnipotence.

Margaret said...

Can we make this a group post? I've got some good pictures too--including the one (you know which one) responsible for that picture you have on Flickr of the dog & cops...
And Sara- 'paco' in English would be 'cop'... although I think cops take more kindly to the term than pacos do...

MIchelle said...

I very much doubt a NYC police officer would let you take a picture of him/her. I have definitely seen them in riot gear, and it was pretty alarming.

In SF, we had a funny experience with an officer who pretended to run off with/steal our camera after he offered to take a picture of us so we could all be in it. I bet he would have been OK with being in a picture...

Anonymous said...

Hi Eileen,

Where I live, in Hanoi, taking photos of police/army is definitely frowned upon. A sign of capitalist frivolity perhaps. Which of course makes me want to take pics all the more!

Also wanted to thank you for all your informative and entertaining Chile posts. I'm moving there in a few months and as an Australia living in Asia, my in-country knowledge is zero! So thanks :)