• Posted: Jul 10, 2011 20:50:26
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The previous post asserted that photography is about seeing. But, what is worth seeing and why?
Young artists play with such ideas, such questions. As they mature, they sometimes do find answers, useable and not. Similar questions arise for those who explore the work of artists. The questions, the answers, provide substance, pathways, doorways to growth, to enlightenment, to connection to things beyond what we think we already know.
Following is a story written long ago about a picture taken years before that. The questions, "what is worth seeing and why?", are very much present in the mind of the young artist as he works. Answers of a sort are found, but the questions continue and offer opportunity for consideration, for contemplation to those who would view the works today.
May your experience of these and similar works edge you ever closer toward a more fulfilling connection to what it means to be human.
STICK IT IN
She lay beneath him, fully nude, legs apart. Her nervous, bony hands ran up and down his bare, muscular arms, caressing him, positioning him. He looked down upon her, his full weight in abeyance, eyes wandering thin thighs, flat belly, weak breasts, tight nipples, stringy hair, brown eyes. Her white lips pursed, parted. He pushed into her, felt her labia part, accept him. She was loose, accepting, but not wet, not hot, cool, hard.
"You aren't ready."
"Do it anyway. Stick it in."
He pushed in farther. Her cool ribbed channel parted, accepted more of him. Her eyes closed. Her fingers pulled downward on his shoulders. Her thighs strained wider.
Her buttocks tightened, rocked back and forth, relaxed. Her head rolled gently side to side, feeling him move into her. Her hands moved down his bare back, gripped at his buttocks, guided him, pulled him deeper.
He obeyed, coldly watching the grinding of her hips, the quivering of her tits, the beads of sweat forming on her lip, in the hollows of her neck.
Little by little she was getting wetter, warmer, tighter. Her breathing quickened. Her grinding deepened.
"Do it," she said, "Do it."
Her fingers dug into him. Her teeth bit her own lip. Hot warmth spread through her. His back arched. His buttocks jerked. Fluid pulsed into her.
"What's in the case?" she'd said.
Is that why he'd carried it? Bait?
"A camera," he said.
Why had he carried it?
He was thinking of selling it. That's why.
What are antique cameras worth these days, anyway?
Not much. They make better bait.
"Guys say they're artists. I never met one that's any good."
Her bait. But was he, was he different? Was he any good?
"I could prove it," he'd said. "What's in it for me?"
He'd called her bluff. She looked away.
He sipped his beer and watched the band. She played nervously with a pack of cigarettes, but didn't light one.
"You take a picture of me that I like, and I'll buy it," she said.
He looked at her, fingering his empty glass, scrutinizing her pale, freckled face, long neck, thin arms and hips. A model's figure? Perhaps. Of sorts.
"You model for me," he said, "and I'll give you all the pictures you want."
She smiled, a conquest. "Where?"
"First your house, then in my studio."
"I have roommates."
"Alone," he said. "First we talk. That's all. No pictures yet."
She looked him over carefully, before making a decision.
"Let me see inside the case."
He picked it up off the floor, set it on the counter, and opened it. Inside, resting on a bed of grey foam, glistened the chrome and leather body of a Reflex-Korelle single lens reflex roll film camera, circa 1938, a forerunner to the famed Hasselblad.
Her eyes widened as she scanned it. Her fingers reached to touch its worn, bruised leather. Colored light from the bar, mirrored in its smooth chrome and clear glass optic.
She looked at him. "You are a photographer, aren't you?"
There'd been others. The French girl who'd asked what he had in his mouth. She was drunk, and crashed into him trying to get a closer look. She smiled when she figured it out.
"Want a light? I'll help you smoke it."
Then there was the buxom old broad with the yapping dogs, who'd asked for help finding her key in the dark. She'd turned to him, held him squarely in front of her, to make sure he wouldn't misunderstand, and said she'd like to thank him, please come in.
There were the two girls in the lobby of the movie theatre, one coolly Anglo, the other warmly Jewish. They'd come home with him that night. In candle light, over wine, the Anglo had remained cool. But the Jewish one turned to fire.
Then there was the young suburban housewife who was thinking of becoming a prostitute, for kicks. And the teenager with the big boobs and irrepressible grin. And that school teacher with the long dark hair, who preferred classical music and riding bicycles.
There were the two Italian girls from Cicero, best friends. Each came separately to his door on succeeding afternoons. And the fat girl from the blues bar, who bounced a rubber ball while they talked. And the shy Swedish woman who wore no makeup and sold cheese in the deli a few blocks from his studio.
Then there was the middle-aged debutante whom he'd walked with on Michigan Avenue. She'd invited him up for drinks in her Streeterville apartment, just as she was waving goodbye to her teenage son outside their building.
There was even a Turkish belly dancer who agreed to have drinks with him, but who shied away from agreeing to be photographed after a disapproving glance from her watchful "manager".
What was the attraction these women held for this man, this photographer? None were ideal specimens of womanhood. Many were plain. Some were naive. A few disturbed.
She lay there with her brown eyes closed, until he pulled out of her. He watched the white semen drip across her light brown pubic hairs, saw her thighs close, her knees draw up, and her body turn away from him.
She had had enough of him. Her fantasy was complete.
"My roommates are out this evening," she'd said. "No one is home now."
He looked into her brown eyes without expression. She smiled, encouraging him.
"We can start, then," he said, matter-of-factly, and snapped the case shut. He slid off the stool, and she followed.
"I thought maybe you were a doctor."
"No. What are you, a nurse?"
"No, a secretary."
The teenager never said much, just giggled, her dark hair shining, her dark eyes bright, jiggling within her blouse, satin hot pants, leather boots. The middle-aged debutante's breasts had jiggled too. But hers swung more when uncovered, bulbous drips sliding down her ribs, crinkled at the edges to match the crinkles at the corners of her mouth and eyes.
The teenager's breasts didn't swing. They stood full and firm, a pinup silhouetted against an open window, rain falling in the night, blue lightning highlighting his hands as they moved over them. She, an eager wet nymph.
The pale thin secretary was reluctant to show her breasts. He'd set her on a stool against a plain charcoal backdrop and let her listen to music as he mounted his camera on a tripod. Northern skylight flowed in around her, sculpting her, making her pale skin appear translucent.
"That's fine," he'd said, and began photographing. She was still dressed, perched on the stool, nervously rubbing her knees.
"What do I do?" she asked. "I've never done this before."
"Nothing. Just be yourself. Look around. Listen to the music. In a while, I'll ask you to stand and remove your clothes. Slowly, one piece at a time, like you're alone in your bedroom."
She'd squirmed when he'd said that. It made her more nervous, more anxious. Not less. She had his attention, she had him all to herself. But he was keeping her beyond arm's length, out of reach. She needed to be touched, comforted. He refused.
"Pretend I'm not here," he said.
How could she do that, with that glass eye watching her, clicking, winking at her? What was he looking at? What was he seeing? She felt cold and looked away, trying to ignore the winking eye.
The fat girl from the blues bar had sat before him too.
"Do you mind if I sit?" she'd asked.
He watched as she looked around, commenting, "Nice place."
She took a rubber ball from her pocket and began to bounce it, still talking, still avoiding eye contact.
He watched her without comment, letting her feel her own isolation, realize her own pain, find her own comfort.
The school teacher had watched him like that, without comment, as he fumbled, preparing dinner for her. She'd eaten without comment too. And when they'd lain on the floor afterwards, listening to music, he realized he couldn't bring himself to touch her. He felt somehow dirty, ugly, unworthy.
From then on, he'd played a game of protection, not allowing himself to reach for her, least he risk the sting of no comment.
Yet, to not express desire for her would have been an insult.
He did let his head rest against hers and their fingers entwined. But that was all they did. His game of protection did not satisfy either of them.
The fat girl had looked boyish without her clothes, a fat Buddha with bony shoulders sitting on the floor, legs crossed. He had her keep her hat on. The black brim covered her face. She placed a clinched fist on her hip, and patiently squeezed her rubber ball with her other. They'd never touched. She seemed comfortable with that.
The secretary stood to take off her sweater and lay it on the stool. With her toes, she slipped off one shoe, and then the other. Without guile, she unbuttoned her blue jeans and let them drop. Leaning against the edge of the stool, she pulled first one striped sock free, then the other. She stood again to unbutton her blouse.
She glanced toward him as she removed it.
He said nothing. Another click, another impersonal wink.
She felt cold again. Her underwear puckered, appearing too big for her.
She pushed her panties down and removed her bra.
Before she stood fully upright, exposing herself to him, she'd reached out for him, a plaintive plea to be shielded, warmed, comforted. But again he refused, his words pushing her back. "You're doing fine. Just stand there."
She hesitated, coming to grips with the terror she faced, then straightened. Standing there, in a pile of discarded clothes, a nervous naked little girl, the cold black camera winked.
The suburban housewife had stood there too, naked in a pile of clothes. But that was different. She had a smirk on her face. She was proud of her stretch marks, proud of her bruised nipples, thrilled with this new form of sin.
Some old guy on a street corner, playing harmonica in the rain had suggested he do this for a living. The old guy even had a name for it, "boudoir photography".
"I could push plenty of bitches your way," he'd said. "All of thems wantin' to get good snaps of themselves, 'fore they gets old and starts to sag. Theys husbands and boy friends would even pay for it. Why, you'd probably get to fucks most of 'em. I gets 15%. What d'ya say?"
He still thought about the offer now and again. But he doubted it would work. The tension, the mystery wouldn't be there. He'd be the one on stage, contracted to perform for a fee, satisfaction guaranteed or your money back. Control would be out of his hands. And so would the pleasures of unrushed honest scrutiny.
He had her turn around, push the clothes aside, then sit on the stool again.
North of Montreal, Mont Tremblant, in a mountain cabin overlooking a deep blue lake, a French-Canadian girl had sat across from him on pillows at the corner of a tea table. She wore little makeup. Her hair was cut short, boyish. Her pert breasts poked outward from beneath her tank top. Her thin tight shorts conformed to the curls of her pubic hair, and the curves of her vulva. She was a professional, practiced before a camera. She may have willingly displayed herself to him, but he would never have been allowed to see her naked, not truly naked like the fat girl, the debutante, the teenager, the housewife, and this one, this secretary from the bar who had taken his bait, wondering about that camera case.
She got up and began to wander about the studio. She stroked the wine-red velvet sofa beneath the skylight, then impulsively draped her nude body cross it's soft surface.
When he'd brought his camera closer, she'd covered her face with her hands and splayed her legs for him to see between.
Later, she'd climbed the back of the sofa to look out the skylight and across the 'L' tracks. A train went by and she whimsically displayed her bare breasts and waved.
When she finally climbed down, she'd moved to stroke the leaves of a dieffenbachia, then clutched her hands together and bit her thumb nail.
She wandered the studio, touching books, records, tables and chairs. She lingered for a long time before a poster of Mick Jagger, then pressed her face to the wall and touched fingers to the lips between her legs.
In the end, she began to feel cold again. Turning toward the camera, she asked, "Can we make love now?"
He couldn't bring himself to disappoint her yet again. And so, he set his camera aside and led her up narrow stairs into the direct sunlight of his bedroom. And there she lay down for him and, as requested, he'd stuck it in.
This one never asked to see the pictures he'd made of her. They often did not. That was okay. They weren't meant as something to be hung on a wall, put on display for others to see who wouldn't understand. They were merely his notes, confirmations of his scrutinies. And for her, as for many of the others, they were horrifying evidence of how much they'd revealed to him, to his camera. And she, in particular, couldn't bear to look.
In early days, American Indians believed a photograph captured and held a person's soul, preventing it from crossing into the after life, uniting with the Great Spirit. They believed all photographs should be destroyed upon a person's death, releasing the soul trapped within.
Once this photographer had made pictures of an old man on his ninetieth birthday. He gave prints to the family. In style of the times, he'd printed the whole negative, showing black all around, indicating the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
When the old man died soon after, the grandson called to ask, "Those black borders, were they some kind of premonition? A forecast? A spell?"
"No," he'd said, "they weren't."
But the episode had frightened him, rekindled an old fear. In high school, he'd photographed a house near an idyllic tree covered stream. The pictures of the stream were good. Those of the house were not. He threw them away. Later, the house had burned down. He never discarded his negatives again, never let them out of his hands.
"Thou shalt not worship graven images," the Ten Commandments warn. But, it is not the images themselves that should or should not be respected, feared, coveted. It is the truth they may reveal.
He rose from the bed, pulled his pants back on, then walked to the window. The street below was quiet. Only a few cars passed, a few pedestrians moved in and out of shadow and sunlight, exposed briefly, then cloaked again.
That was all he sought through his photographs, those few moments of unveiling, of truth exposed to close scrutiny. In exchange, he tried to give his subjects what they wanted.
She had merely wished for him to stick it in.
Wednesday, March 22nd, 1972