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At a Loss for Words

At a Loss for Words
Copyright ©2007, Elisabeth Spector HoF Win ¤ $

SighÖI had quite an unhappy experience this morning and feel the need to talk. I know this probably isnít the most appropriate way to do that. Iím posting this because you all are my friends and because of the photography-related circumstances that somehow make me feel as if you all can relate in some way. Please do not read on if you are easily upset or squeamish. I sincerely hope I donít offend or upset anyone. I'll post the rest of my message below.

Edit: I guess that title is really stupid, given the length of my comments. I meant that I was at loss for words for a suitable title... :-(

Edit 2: I tried to take the check mark off the Allow Rating box (I don't want ratings), but it doesn't seem to be taking for some reason.

Photographer: Elisabeth Spector HoF Win ¤ $
Folder: ES Miscellaneous
Uploaded: 2007-Nov-23 19:37 EST
Current Rating: 0.00/0 (Weighted rating: 8.00)
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Copying allowed: No
Camera: Olympus E-330
Lens: Olympus 11-22mm f2.8/3.5
Lens Adapter: None
ISO: 100
Aperture: f/4
Shutter Speed: 1/250
Focal Length: 20mm
Flash: No
Tripod/Monopod: No
Critique Level: Dead Honest Critique

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To back up a bit: Some weeks ago, I was feeling very tired of hearing the same excuses in my brain regarding lack of photography outings (no time, no good scenery, always with the kids when Iím out and about, etc., etc.,). I finally decided to start making time to take photos at least one day a week. There is a local hiking/biking/jogging trail, less than 3 miles from my front door, that is part of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail. From the access point nearest my house, it runs about a mile down toward Galveston Bay. While the wildlife is pretty non-existent in the middle of the day (the time of day Iíve been there with the kids on previous walks), I soon discovered that it is a photographerís paradise just after dawn. Well, a patient photographerís paradise, at any rate, but thatís what Iíve been after: peace and quiet and the luxury of unhurried time to keep my cameras in fully manual mode and enjoy the experience of following the changing light and photographing whatever birds, etc., cross my path. I soon found out that the trail is really not that quiet on weekend mornings-- full of early morning joggers and bikers, many up and out before the sun even rises. All in all, itís been a *wonderful* experience for me these past several weeks. Iíve photographed many beautiful birds, plants, and animals, and even taken some landscape shots (not my usual subject matter). Iíve enjoyed the ďmeĒ time and having lots of images to post-process. I actullly have found myself looking forward (meóa complete slug-abed!) to getting up before dawn for these little photographic outings.

Iím not sure if Iíll be continuing with this endeavor, though, because of my unfortunate experience this morning. Today was the day after Thanksgiving, a Friday when most people are off of work and sleeping in after the holiday meal. It was pretty chilly this morning when I headed out at sunrise, and there was *no one* on the trail. Not a single soul, very unusal, even for a non-weekend day. I walked about 2/3 of a mile, down to a point where the trail crosses a 2-lane road that runs parallel to the Bay. The road forms a a little bridge there, crossing a sort of creek or gully that connects to the marshes behind and to the Bay a little later along the trail. I always stop at the little overpass because (1) there is usually a very scenic view from this spot and (2) there is a sign warning of alligators and I like to look for them (never seen one yet). But the cars whiz past very close to the little walking ledge and I tend to hurry across after my brief stop.

Today, I crossed the road to the other side of this little overpass/bridge (which sits only a couple of feet above the water), and saw a scene that just didnít make sense to me. It appeared to be an adult-sized mannequin floating in the water, and I thought it must be a joke or a Halloween prop or something. It was half-clothed and there was a plastic bag around the head. I suddenly had the horrible and sickening realization that it was real. I fumbled for my cell phone (almost out of charge) and called the police. I must have sounded like a blubbering idiot as I tried to describe my rough location. It was eerily quiet, except for a few cars driving past. I told them to look for me standing on the side of the road in a dark green jacket with a big black camera. The 3 minutes I waited for the police to arrive felt like an eternity. The police woman who showed up was very nice. She took my information, and gave me a hug when I started crying. More police showed up, and after she finished getting my information, she offered to call someone to pick me up. I told her Iíd be okay and that I would walk back to my car. My husband and the kids were still fast asleep and I wasnít thinking very straight. I wish I had called someone to come get me, as the walk back (a 15-20 minute hike) was even more quiet and creepy than the walk there. I walked very fast and was relieved when I was finally back in the car. The police woman even called later in the morning to see how I was doing.

Iím so full of thoughts and emotions at the moment, occasionally feeling very shaky and depressed for a minute or two, but then feeling completely normal and detached (and wondering if something is wrong because I feel that way). The selfish side of me feels so sad that his wonderful nature trail and birderís paradise, and even by extension the community where I live, now feel so spoiled by evil. The town where I live is a really quiet, idyllic community of about 10,000 people. I doubt this area gets more than one murder every few years. That feeling of safety feels gone now, even if logic tells me that this is an isolated incident, probably the result of a domestic dispute (still horrible, though) and not some lurking, random killer. I just got a chill as I stood there, all alone in the quiet morning, staring at this woman who was dressed so much like me in blue jeans and tennis shoes. The thought of someone dumping her there, possibly only a short time before I arrived, made me feel as if I had come too close to one of those arcs of pure evil that cross the world here and there but which you hope you never actually encounter.

Gosh, Iím sorry for all this rambling. Iím just so sad and mad and finding it hard to comprehend. I hope the police can solve the case quickly, that itís not a random act, that she doesnít have any children, and that her family can have some peace somehow. I hope Iíll be able to go back out there and photograph regularly, at least when all the joggers are typically out (never again when it is so quiet and devoid of people). I wish I had a photo buddy who could go with me. I get a queasy feeling when I look at my E-1 and E-330 for some weird reasonóalmost as if they were witnesses too, or maybe I just feel uneasy because of their association with the incident. I guess that will go away soon.

In the meantime, my identical twin sister has some scary medical issues that just cropped up, and Iím worried about that and (selfishly, once again) missing our ususal conversations about our recent photographs. Sheís a far better photographer than me and hasnít been able to take/post images in some weeks now. I want that situation to get back to normal, too.

I hope Iím really not quite as much of a basket case as I sound, lol, or that I donít sound like some sniveling, selfish person. I think I just needed to talk, and I feel as if so many of you are my friends.

Thanks so much for listening.

By the way, the image Iíve posted is of the view from the little bridge where all this took place. (I took this in October.) The place where I saw the womanís body was a little extension off of this larger body of water, just to the right of this scene. I feel I should dedicate this image to the unknown woman, whose temporary resting place was this beautiful little corner of the world.

P.S. I was kind of hoping to use a series of images from my walks along this trail for the MFT Photo Essay Competition at the end of the year. Now even that prospect gives me a pit in my stomachÖmaybe Iíll feel differently when Dec/Jan rolls around.

P.P.S. I did not take any photos at the scene. Iím sure that was the right thing to do, though part of me feels a need to look at the scene again (and again) in the hope of ó???ó somehow resolving the feelings of bewilderment I felt when it first registered in my brain? I donít know. As gruesome and heart-rending as it was, Iím glad her face was covered by the bag so I donít have an actual face to recall. UghÖso sorry to be so macabre. Thanks again for listening. You all take care.

Elisabeth Spector HoF Win ¤ $ at 19:39 EST on 2007-Nov-23 [Reply]


My main thoughts are that, speaking as someone who once got mugged for a camera, Iím very relieved that this reading didnít end up the way I thought it was heading.

I canít for a second imagine how traumatic this must be for you, but I do readily understand how you of all people feel the need write about this in this way. I also feel quite privileged that you feel you could do so.

Incidentally, thereís no way I could have brought myself to photograph this scene either. Unless perhaps circumstances were such that I could have convinced myself that it would be useful to the police. I may however imagine myself finding it useful to draw the scene at a later date. I say this, remembering feeling the need to do just that as a child.

Chris Cooke HoF ¤1 at 20:45 EST on 2007-Nov-23 [Reply]


Elizabeth, what a violation of one's peace. So sorry for the family who undoubly are deeply grieved over their loss. Hopefully your family can come around and help out. Probably should have someone tag along with you to be safe until the coroner report comes out. If I still lived in Seabrook Texas, I would come over and co-shot with you (worked at NASA helping lead the return-to-flight effort).

Bruce Wendler Win ¤ $1 at 21:06 EST on 2007-Nov-23 [Reply]

Similar experience

Elisabeth, this is uncanny. On Monday this week on my daily walk to the lighthouse something made me come back to get my camera after I'd already left the house. (I sometimes take it with me, but rarely on a working day because I don't have the time to indulge). And something made me decide to take my 50-200. Upon reaching the lighthouse and doing my brief routine of some push-ups and leg stretches I spent a few moments gazing out to sea in the hope of glimpsing a straggler of the humpback migration. As I turned to begin the walk home, I saw a group of four people a couple of hundred metres down the beach and thought it was odd that they seemed to be dressed in uniforms. I also saw a few witches hats cordoning off an area of the beach. But I couldn't make out what the scene was about until I lifted the camera to my eye and zoomed out to 200. As the scene came into focus I saw two policemen walk towards the water with a white sheet and then came the terrible realisation that they were about to cover a naked body lying on the wet sand.

I clicked the shutter twice without even thinking. And then the body was covered. This weird feeling came over me and all sorts of questions were flying around in my brain. I must admit, some of them were commercial questions. "What if this was a famous person?" etc. etc.

Amongst all of those thoughts, and really bubbling to the surface, were thoughts that I should not have clicked the shutter. On the sombre walk home I was wrestling with conflicting emotions. "Was I being predatory?" "What if this is a big news story and I have the only civilian photographs?" "Could my actions be justified?" "What made me bring the camera today?"

Some reading this will judge me, I'm sure.

I got home and had breakfast and the early bulletin on the radio said simply that a body had been washed up on Lighthouse Beach and Police had established a crime scene. On the way to work, I detoured to the Lighthouse lookout and saw there were a lot of people there, including a police car whose occupants seemed to be observing people at the lookout. Down on the beach, there were more police and the covered body was still in the same place, though quite a way from the water by this time as the tide was falling.

I went to work, really torn between two things: the possible news value of the photograph and the fact that I had seemingly intruded upon the aftermath of a human tragedy. I confided in a female colleague at work, telling her that I had a moral dilemma. Whether to advise the media that I had a civilian photograph of a possibly important news story, or whether to destroy the images.

My friend said, "That's not a moral dilemma. You have simply taken a photograph that could be of public interest. You didn't harm the man. You need to get on the phone and let some people know in case it is a big news story."

So I did.

But before people here judge me, let me tell another short story. Last year I was covering a rodeo event for my employer - the major sponsor. I had prime position near the chutes and could get graphic, action images. A bull came bucking out of the chute with a young cowboy on its back. As the bull's head came up the cowboy's head lurched forward. The crack of the clashing skulls rang out like a gunshot. The rider was flung off in a cartwheeling spin before hitting the ground like a rag doll - motionless. He was facing me with eyes and mouth open and dirt and dust over his face. I thought he was dead and felt sick. I dropped my camera to waist level thinking "I can't shoot that."

What's the difference between the two incidents? I'm not really sure other than to say that when I could see the cowboy's face so clearly it didn't even occur to me to take a photograph. (Thankfully he did come to after a couple of minutes, but I hope he decides never to throw his leg over a a bull again. I think everyone at the rodeo thought he was dead.)

So there it is. Same photographer. Two similar situations. Two different reactions.

Footnote: Police believe the body on the beach was a case of suicide. Whatever the cause, still a human tragedy. And it will be a while before I can walk to the Lighthouse and not feel strange when I cast my eyes down the beach to that spot.

Elisabeth, there's a lot of bad in the world but there's also a lot of good. I'm sorry that you had that terrible experience and hope that thoughts of the good things in this world will soften the memories you have of it as time goes by.

Rob Smith HoF Win ¤ $1 at 21:54 EST on 2007-Nov-23 [Reply]


Thank you Elisabeth for sharing this sad story with us; sometimes we wonder why bad things happen to good people? but we do live in a imperfect world and death, and trials and tribulations are all part of it; on the bright side, we do have love, blessings, births, children, fellowship, things which allow us to overcome these unfortunate moments; as a child growing up in war time, i 've had my share of witnessing death on many occasions and I fully sympathize with your feelings, especially knowing you live in such a peaceful place; i'm not very eloquent and can't find the proper words to comfort you but I can only offer you this: "Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope." (Romans 5:3-4) ...We do have hope, hope for a better day, a brighter tomorrow ...God bless you and family.

dee vee HoF Win ¤ $1 at 22:50 EST on 2007-Nov-23 [Reply]


Thanks for sharing your story with us Elisabeth. I think your reactions are perfectly normal, including your doubts about taking pictures or not. If I had experienced something like you did, I would have become too paralyzed to take pictures. But I would not have thought it was wrong doing so. I donít think there is anything wrong in taking pictures, but sometimes there can be something wrong (or immoral) in how people use their pictures.

If I were you, I would also have felt uncomfortable with going back to the scene/area. But then Ė you used to love the place and now it has sort of been taken away/stolen from you. You could try to ďget/take it backĒ. Maybe your twin sister could go to visit you and you could go back together? Or maybe there is someone else you could go with Ė your husband or a friend?

Maybe it could also help you if you called the police again and got whatever information they could share with you? Maybe this is, as you suspect, a case of domestic violence (read: not a mad killer lurking around and putting all visiting the area in danger).

Your picture of the place is very nice. Looks soft and peaceful. Donít know, but maybe the unfortunate womanís family would appreciate getting a copy of it? Maybe the police could help giving them a copy?

Youíve had a terrible experience and your reactions to it tell me that you are human! I hope the bad feeling/memories will become weaker and vanish over time. :-)


PS About rating Ė if this picture is in a separate folder you will need to change folder instructions Ė make it impossible to rate all pictures in that particular folder. If the folder now allows rating, that instruction override whatever you check/un-check on single pictures in the folder.

p.t. Inactive Win ¤1 $ at 00:57 EST on 2007-Nov-24 [Reply]


Wow. What an experience. Not one I would want to have. Do not feel bad about telling it here. You needed to tell someone. We see so many things in movies and the news that sometimes we might think/feel/show a callousness towards that but when it happens right in front of us, it's different, or at least it should be. I'm sorry you had to experience this.

Jeff Tangen Win ¤1 at 01:06 EST on 2007-Nov-24 [Reply]

you and your sister

strength for the upcoming time, hope you get enough love of your family and friends. Regards.

theo keijzers HoF ¤ ¤1 at 05:27 EST on 2007-Nov-24 [Reply]


A simply terrible event. Elisabeth. My thoughts are with you and, of course, with the family of the deceased.

Regards, Chris

Chris O'Neill ¤1 $ at 05:51 EST on 2007-Nov-24 [Reply]


I am very sorry that you had to witness this. My feelings go out to you! As you know i am not very good with words but i feel that others already expressed what i wanted to say. I hope you are feeling better soon!

Regards, Arnoud

Arnoud van Houwelingen Win ¤1 at 06:07 EST on 2007-Nov-24 [Reply]


That's an awful story Elisabeth. I found a body in a river when I was about 12 and couldn't sleep for a week. I'm glad that I was so young as I recovered quite quickly but I only realised that in retrospect. There are some nasty things going on in the world - luckily for us we don't come across them every day but when we do we feel soiled by association. I sure hope that this doesn't spoil the place for you (in the long term) and that it doesn't stifle your creativity. I'm also very sorry to hear about your sister and I hope the future holds better times for her and you. Please look after yourself and your family and I hope to see a posting from you soon which has nothing to do with any of the negative feelings you must have at the moment.

Best wishes Adrian

adrian tear HoF Win ¤ $ at 07:02 EST on 2007-Nov-24 [Reply]


Thank you so much, everyone, for your replies. I wish I had more time to respond fully right now, but I just wanted to let you know how much your thoughts mean to me and how helpful (truly) they have been. I tend to look on the bright side of things and rarely get too mired down in negative thoughts, so I'm sure that part of things will be back to normal soon.

Elisabeth Spector HoF Win ¤ $ at 12:58 EST on 2007-Nov-24 [Reply]

Sorry ...

for this you come about, Elisabeth. But the best thing is to talk about, as youīve done. So you see that there are more people who had strange encounter. I for example came across a person, who has done suicid by car exhaust. The car was still running and I never will forget the smell as I opened the door. Such is life, you canīt change any thing. But you can talk about.

Hope it helps, best wishes,

Horst Schmier HoF Win ¤ $ at 13:25 EST on 2007-Nov-24 [Reply]


Dear Elisabeth,

I regret by heart you had such a terrible experience. Many years ago, I had a similar experience...a man driving his car, run over a woman and killed her just in front of me. I started trembling, I hardly was able to take my mobile phone and I also phoned the police. I think you are a very sensitive woman. I am pretty sure everybody from MTF would have reacted in the same way. I think we like photography because itīs somethink like an extra sense of us to express our feelings. We love nature, human beings and the whole world and when such a terrible experience is facing us, we feel very bad. I hope to see new images coming from you very soon. They are simply superb.

Best wishes,


David Irisarri ¤ $ at 06:37 EST on 2007-Nov-25 [Reply]


As Rob said, there is good and bad in this world but the good by far outweighs the bad. We tend to close our eyes and shut off our hearts in front of the bad, but sometimes the trick just does not work. I hope you get over this terribly negative impact on you soon and it will make you stronger and even more sensitive and yet less vulnerable. May sound cruel but to get over it for you will be nothing against to the ones who were close to the poor soul.

(and, sorry to mention this, the picture you have posted is just superbly done)

Klaus Er HoF Win ¤1 at 16:58 EST on 2007-Nov-25 [Reply]


Horst, David, and Klaus--thank you so much for your thoughts. I will try to thank each of you privately when I get the time. While I'm here, though, I wanted to say, Klaus, that you are exactly right that this is truly *nothing* for me compared to what the woman's family (not to mention the woman herself) have had to deal with. It's completely inconsequential in relation to that. My life is already pretty much back to normal; theirs will never be. :-(

Elisabeth Spector HoF Win ¤1 $ at 17:28 EST on 2007-Nov-25 [Reply]



As I read the other comments, I am surprised, though I don't know why by the number of folks, including your self now who have had similar experiences. My heart goes out to your, and the family of the woman who is no longer here with us. I am glad to hear that you are feeling ok with this. I can't say that I would be. I hope the bird trail is safe for you in the future, and please be careful until you know for sure that it is.

Kathy Kempson ¤1 at 20:21 EST on 2007-Nov-25 [Reply]


I think you did the right thing, "talking" about it Elizabeth. I can't really add to what others have said, and have been lucky enough not to have had an experience such as this, though my life has not been without it's deep upset and grief, like everyone else I guess....

Your photography exudes positiveness, so this is only a blip, I'm sure, and in so far as you can "know" someone online, I have every faith that you'll be up and running in no time. :)

My thoughts are with you and the ladies family

Kind regards


Andy Collin HoF Win ¤ $ at 15:10 EST on 2007-Nov-27 [Reply]