Inspecting The Troops

Inspecting

This picture was taken 20 years ago this week. It was back in the days of film, when you’d shoot a bunch of pictures, and then you wouldn’t know what you’d gotten until you saw the prints a few hours or a few days later.

The occasion was a Coast Guard ceremony for the decommissioning of the Second Coast Guard District in St. Louis. The Second District was essentially the headquarters for the inland-waterways operations of the Coast Guard, but the government decided, in a cost-cutting move, to consolidate the Second and Eighth Districts’ functions into the Eighth District’s headquarters in New Orleans. So they held a ceremony in St. Louis to mark the closing of the Second District, which I covered for the magazine I work for.

Part of the military ceremony involved the commanding officer “inspecting the troops,” and that’s what was going on here. The story the picture tells—follow the officer’s eyes toward the only female member of the unit—is almost certainly not what was going on that day; I just happened to click the shutter at the instant his eyes happened to be pointing toward her ass. It certainly wasn’t intentional on his part, nor on mine.

The higher-ups in my office, correctly, wouldn’t let me use this photo in the magazine; we probably went with a more generic lowering-the-flag picture instead, but I’ve kept the print on my bulletin board ever since, as a reminder of the magic of still photography mixed with moving subjects: a sweeping glance can become a leering, 20-year stare.