vantage points

It was the second time that I observed someone secretly taking a picture of their counterpart in a train. Let me sketch the situation for you (augmented the topview on mobile, excuse the mobile-ness of it):

visual angle

While he stared downwards into his mobile phone I witnessed how she simulated typing on her phone while slowly tilting the angle into a position to take a shot of him that covers the upper half of his body. Then she tilted the phone backwards, switched to WhatsApp and sent the picture to someone. A short line of writing follows from her. First I thought they know each other and she would actually send this to him with a line saying something like “this is how you look while looking into your phone”. But he didn’t look up after she pressed send. He could be playing cool and not show any mimic response and reply on WhatsApp? But she put her phone away and looked into a newspaper so I ruled out that possibility. My next (and still the one I hold as most likely) scenario was that she texted a girlfriend of hers to show her taste in men (he was good looking) or even hoping for flirt-encouragement that she couldn’t source out of her own? Or was he a movie star, some famous person? A bit later I saw them exchanging a few words and swapping some pages of newspaper. So apparently they had already, or have now, some newspaper-sharing thing going on. So do they know each other? I still don’t know. Maybe they are siblings and she actually sent the picture to his girlfriend, who also is a good friend of hers, saying something like “look how cute your darling looks”? But the looks they traded (I could only see his face though from my vantage point) while the newspaper-sharing thing was going on, indicated more a polite stranger-warmth to me than anything more close.

Well, I had to leave the train without being able to collect more hints. For a short moment i even considered going over there and telling him what she did – after all it’s a serious breach of privacy isn’t it? But well, of course i didn’t do that.

In the next trail of thoughts i found myself wondering; what if I was observed while observing? There is one vantage point from the exit area that I could imagine that would allow to observe both her phone, him and me looking into that direction. And then in the next cabin someone could be observing the guy in the exit area observing me while i observe the woman who secretly takes a picture of her counterpart… and so on. One could picture a chain of observers observing observers through the whole train. What might be the maximum alignment of that kind that you have already been a part of? Maybe you’ve even been the cause of a 3-degree-deep observation tree-graph?? 3 in direct observation, 2 in 2nd degree and 4 in 3rd degree? What the heck!

photo 2

Oh, the other situation of that kind was in Berlin. The young punk girl was clearly aiming to capture the sneaker-ish shoes of her Chinese male counterpart.

The next time i really hope to witness how the photo-taker in such a moment accidentally has the flash on…

Why am i sharing this? I don’t quite know – it’s one of this situations where one can tease many thoughts out… and i find it irritating how little awareness many people have who else might have a vantage point on their little screens in public spaces. Unless of course one does not mind to be observed while secretly taking pictures of others? Or is it me? should i have looked away from the screen, pretending not to witness this?
Google glasses is gonna kick off that debate on grand scale… oh my!

Maybe it’s a man/hunter-thing to have that spacial awareness of who might also be watching your target or threaten that which you protect? But well, that might be too profane an explanation… :)

Should I ever be tasked with collecting “special scenes to put people in to see their reaction or inquire into their reflections afterwards” for a secret service, ethics committee, recruiting agency or anthropology research; the scene above would definitely be among them.


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Benjamin Aaron Degenhart

Currently pursuing a Masters in Computational Science and Engineering at TU Munich.

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