I am not here.


When I first started shooting events, I had a lot of wonderful shots ruined because the event-goers would notice me and immediately wrap their arm around the nearest person to them and turn directly to the camera. I tried a few different ways of staying low key. At first, I changed to a more telephoto lens, but that just caused more problems. It became harder to know where to stand to not have people walking into the frame and obscuring my subjects. I needed a way to become invisible while being an arm’s length away from the subjects.

Having a lot of magician friends, I brought this problem up to them. Pop Haydn, always a font of knowledge, said, “just tell them not to acknowledge you.” I pondered this for a while. I understood what he meant. In magic, there’s a concept called an “insta-stooge.” What that means is as you greet your volunteer from the crowd, you simply tell them to do something secretly. This technique is rarely used, but I knew a magician who did a funny gag using this principle and he said it never failed him. His take was that giving someone information secretly meant they were “in the know” and now a legitimate part of the act, so they played the part assigned to them. I’d seen him do this gag a hundred times so I instantly realized the power this technique held. So, I had my good friend Steve the Ventriloquist make me up a red button with the phrase “I am not here” in big white letters. When I arrive at an event people at first will still try to engage the camera,but after a while everyone sees the pin and they realize what not to do. After walking around a bit, people just ignore me. By the end of the event I’m literally invisible as people just mentally edit me out of the scene.

im not here
I’m not here

I’ve often started to talk to someone only for them to point to the button and exclaim, “You’re not here.” Then I have to remove the pin to become a participant in the conversation. It may seem silly, but it’s a powerful technique. Now you can use this once I’m too old to take pictures, but until then, it’s mine.