When a Vanishing Point Becomes a Spear

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You missed me; I shot you.

Sometimes it’s just kids in the neighborhood. A crowd of high school girls in white shirts and light blue jeans in front of the pizza parlor don’t see me standing, practically among them, until I ask whose pants are the most torn. Within a nanosecond they line up for a photo.

On the subway, my subjects must assume I’m reading on my phone; Riders, lost in faraway thoughts between stations, don’t notice me as I angle my view up from my lap and click on their faces.

I might even approach a man on the street and ask, directly, to take his picture because I see that his patterned shorts match his fuzzy dog, or I feel his sneer is actually a visual worth capturing. He will never return a question and seek my purpose or intent.

Inevitably, there’s a point when women talk about being invisible. It’s rarely a single incident, just an advancing feeling. Like mold in the shower, you know it’s there either staring you in the face, or half present, under the conditioner.

No surprise; I was warned. Born in 1925, my mother was a widow at 48. A chic Manhattanite with a business career, she did not fit the profile of a homemaker sidelined in the ‘burbs when her husband left for the office. Nor was she rudderless when he died. She travelled at the front of the plane. She had tickets to theatre, concerts, the ballet, movies. But she never had a steady male partner again. And for years when she went out to a busy restaurant with one of her girlfriends she spoke up when led to a back table. It seemed, she would often tell me, that “the ladies” were forever being seated by the restroom or the bussing station.

More and more in small, quietly creeping ways, I know what that treatment felt like and why that gesture got under my mom’s skin. Thankfully, women’s lives have improved. The all-girl party, ages 50-plus, is no longer constantly shepherded to the rear of restaurants, at least. Progress.

But the sense of being officially set out of view, I know it when I see it. And I am seeing it, and feeling it, more often. Mom’s lament echos in my head.

But here’s the crazy thing.

Social media is changing my outlook toward the encroaching invisible world — for the better! That’s because I’ve weaponized it. The ability to vanish is my new creative spear. And I’m taking aim.

“Can I just get a quick shot of you guys,” I say to my targets wherever I spot them in public. I’m not suggesting they stop for a selfie, but I might as well be. Some are overdressed; others decidedly under. I might notice them for their blue hair or some statement-making look-at-me regalia. Towering heels. Saggy pants. Even the highly disinterested, or apparently distracted, quickly fall into a pose formation. They consent. As if I am their commanding officer, it’s “Yes Ma’am.” I take their picture. No questions asked.

In fact, the people I see of any gender or generation, living their daily lives, simply let me observe them — and shoot them – with an iPhone. They do not look back at me as someone who will edit…um, manipulate…the final digital frame to my liking, brighten the scene with AfterLite, retouch them via FaceTune, then post their image on Instagram with a caption of my choice. They don’t see me that way. Or any way. When I snap a picture of a guy in a crosswalk the pace of his stride never lags.

That shifts the balance of power to my advantage. When people don’t focus on me while I focus on them, victory is mine! My photos, taken straight on, or as a stealth operation, are my winnings -- to keep or share.

These strangers who pay me no mind, they are now my enablers. They’re helping me fill my own artistic space, show I have an eye. I am free to move around as an invisible woman, with my own creative arsenal - and vision.