ANIMAL’s original series I Should Have Shot That! asks photographers about that one shot that got away. This week, Charles le Brigand a.k.a. Stephane Missier talks about the first time he hesitated shooting the perfect character in the Bronx.
You can tell from my accent that I’m not from the United States. So most of my work was in Brooklyn and I was doing the same thing around and around and going to the same places and thought, “Y’know what, I never went to the Bronx, so let’s go to the Bronx.” I started to explore around Hunt’s Point where there were pieces by this French street artist JR. I shot a couple of families playing with fire hydrants. I did a photo essay about Orchard Beach in the Bronx which is the only public beach… Are you from NY?
Oh okay, so you know NY bodegas. So, you had the bodega on one side and the huge mural, like a graffiti — all destroyed and raw and gritty. All the buildings were with old house stoops and fire stairs, nice architecture, but then it was completely old school, super yellow and interesting, letter type, fonts, cold beers, and the typical bodega facade. The mural was Virgin Guadalupe, graffiti freehand — it was in a sense pure graffiti. There were two bags near the mural. There was a guy was next to the mural on the street corner. I’m pretty sure he was selling drugs, because of the two bags.
I’m thinking “Wow, super interesting face, outfit, and everything.” He was young, handsome, he had these tattoos on both arms, a New York Yankees a little bit on the side.
I said, “Wow, I really need to talk to that guy,” but what was I supposed to do — go in front of him like that? So I said “I’m gonna go through the deli and then I’m going to think about something to say.” I went to the deli and I grabbed a Gatorade or something. I was thinking about something to say, like a hook or something, and I couldn’t figure out the perfect way to approach him. He could have just been like, “What are you, crazy?”
I paid for my drink and I left the deli thinking “Oh, I’ll just go with the flow and maybe, I don’t know…” But when I came out, he was gone.
This is really the first time I’ve hesitated because of the situation, in a section of the city I don’t know… and it’s because of the bullet-proof vest, y’know?
Usually, in neighborhoods that I know more, like Brooklyn and some parts of Brooklyn that I go every weekend, I really don’t mind talking to bad guys, y’know? I go straight, and I go “Hey guys, this is what I’m doing, do you want to participate? Yes, no?”
I took pictures of gang members in LA so I’m not really afraid. The funny thing is that those guys that look intimidating with tattoos on their chest, you can do whatever you want with those guys. You can make them walk three blocks because you saw an interesting background earlier. You can touch their chin and say “Hey, y’know what, just put your face like this.”
But this guy, I don’t know. I guess not being in my usual element, in a borough that I’m not familiar with…
It’s common sense, you know? First of all, I lived in Mexico City for six years, so I’m fluent in Spanish, I know Latino culture, Dominican and Puerto Rican culture, I know the music, I have friends from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, I know the food… So I know the ways to connect with them, y’know? If you’re going to these neighborhoods, study a little bit. Learn about the music, learn about popular culture, so you’ll have things to say.
Like, for example, there’s music on a block party; I know some classic tunes, I can say “Hey, this is good music, like Ray Baretto. Or maybe just compliment someone on their shirt. Just by talking to them in Spanish, they don’t see… The people see me as a foreigner when I talk to them in English.
I was born in the northeast of France, in a little town called Metz. And that’s funny, because when people ask in the streets, “Where are you from?” I say, “Yeah, I’m from Metz, in France.” They’ve never heard of that town, so I say, “Well, it’s the same as the New York Mets, but with a ‘z,’ instead of an “s.”
Charles le Brigand a.k.a. Stephane Missier is a New York-based photographer with a stunning portfolio and predilection for fire hydrants. I Should Have Shot That! is illustrated by the amazing James Noel Smith.