Three Card Monte

Three Card Monte

This New York street scene was fascinating. Everyone you see in the picture is part of the crew: a shill pretends to play (and pretends to win) to hype it up. Lookouts pretend to be spectators while watching for five-oh. When one of them gives the signal, the whole crew walks away and disappears into the crowd.

This is a con game—you can't win—and the dealer is very good. I stood and watched as he took somewhere around two hundred dollars from a foreign tourist, though I couldn't keep track of the exact amount. He talks fast and keeps it confusing. You can follow the money card when you're just watching the game because he wants you to, but when it's not a shill, when he's playing for real, you cannot win. Even someone who knows how it's done can't follow it.

Getting a picture of people committing a crime is tricky. I could have switched to a telephoto lens, but I didn't want the “surveillance” look, so I stuck with the 24mm f/2. I knew that when I took the shot, they would hear the shutter and that would be that, so I had one chance. I waited until there was no one playing; I didn't want to take a picture of a plonker losing his shirt and put it up on the internet.

Indeed, when I tripped the shutter, everyone heard it and the confrontation began. The woman on the right actually broke her cover as a spectator to tell me to stop, and the dealer started yelling at me. When he took at step toward me, I stood right there, pointed my camera at his face, and held down the button. Five frames per second was too much for him; he gave the signal and the whole crew melted away. So did I.