Dear Lady-Seated-Three-People-to-my-Left,

My apologies but, when I slid past you to take my theater seat Saturday night, I didn’t recognize you. I do remember your peach-colored dress. And that you chatted amicably with the fellow who accompanied you. But, in all honesty, you looked like any one of a number of theater patrons: the people who use some of their leisure time to experience a bit of suspension-of-disbelief story-telling magic created live by a dedicated troupe in the inky blackness of a playhouse.

Little did I realize that you, a woman sitting a mere three people to my left, were a theater photographer of no small ability. Your dedication to your craft was apparent as you pulled the smartphone from your handbag and carefully inspected it. Naturally, your action came after the writer/director of the show requested that electronic devices be turned off. Indeed, your action came after the house lights went down. After all, what’s the point of such an examination unless it’s made under actual-use conditions? The inspection of the smartphone, itself, was long and meticulous – which is why several of us noticed you doing it.

But one mustn’t rush an artist, right?

You eventually finished fiddling with the settings (and reading your email – yes, it was possible to see what was on your screen three seats away) and the phone found its way back into your handbag. It wasn’t long, however, before it came out again. In photography, it’s important to let the moment come to you. You must be ready for it. So you waited. Watching the performance through your glowing screen. Trying to adjust the composition a bit. It’s such a bother to have to frame things properly from the confines of a theater seat, isn’t it? But art is all about working within the limitations of the form and you finally clicked off a few shots.

I know this because the smartphone’s screen flashed even brighter just before each shot.

You were clearly a professional: you had disabled the camera’s strobe. An amateur would have thought the strobe able to compete with the stage lights and help fill the exposure across the image. You, of course, knew better. You understood that the reflection of light off the actors on the dark stage was more than adequate for the inexpensive, fixed-focus camera in your smartphone to provide a nice blow-out effect without requiring any digital post-processing whatsoever.

Since this was a small theater, I had expected I would be close to the evening’s artists. But I never imagined I’d be seated just a few feet from one of them!

You finally placed your smartphone back in your handbag and I thought that was the end of it. During intermission, I was tempted to approach you and ask how you obtained a special pass to shoot photos during the performance. Were you a friend of the writer/director, perhaps? But I decided it would be rude to disturb the artist in the place where she created her work.

You must not have been content with your First Act shots, however, because you were back at it even more ferociously as soon as the Second Act began. The two patrons between you and me watched you labor as well. I’m guessing they, like myself, were astonished by your diligence. You were obviously aware of our intrusion because you cupped your hands around the smartphone to prevent our seeing your photographs before you decided which ones to publish.

Then your eyes met mine. You sheepishly looked down. After a moment, you glanced up again.

Yes, I was still looking at you.

I’m guessing you could sense how passionately I was involved in what you were doing. What can I say? Your efforts to secure documentation of this live event under conditions that would have discouraged lesser individuals affected me deeply. But you didn’t let my staring deter you from the task at hand: you kept right on clicking photos despite now having a distracting presence invade your creative space.

A good artist remains true to herself and her process, right?

You impressed me most, however, after you completed taking the photos. Lesser artists would have been content to review the evening’s work after the show. You, instead, pressed right on with your creative journey: flipping through the pictures, occasionally sharing – and discussing – them with the fellow who accompanied you. Your agent, perhaps?

Sure, you were flustered when your smartphone suddenly played a tone, interrupting your conversation and picture review. It was only then that the tool of your trade went back into your handbag. I guess you found it hard to concentrate with all the disruptions and decided to call it an evening.

There’s only so much distraction an artist can take, right?

After the show was over and the house lights went up, you went down to the stage to congratulate the writer/director. It turns out you were friends with him, after all! How very sweet: your evening was all about supporting your buddy and his production. How lucky he was to have you – and your talent – in the house that night.

You and I passed each other as you left the theater. You deliberately avoided making eye-contact with me, however. I guess that’s how it is with creative people. Many are quite shy unless emboldened by their craft.

I understand.

I’m guessing you’ve already shared the pictures on social media. Perhaps your friends, especially the writer/director, will recognize everything – everything! – you did to capture those low-quality, grainy, underexposed shots. Sadly, though, it probably won’t occur to everyone just what you were able to accomplish with those photos.

Because – as I’m sure you know – some people have to be sat down and thoroughly schooled on how to experience a piece of art.



Originally published September 2, 2013 in Bitter Lemons.