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The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes - From Our Archives
The Photographer’s Model
Joseph Grant

“Life is defined by light and shadow…” The stentorian voice boomed, filling the large empty echo of the front of the photographer’s shop. The bell over the door jangled as Jason and Catherine passed through the doorway, causing Jason to look at the device. It was a metallic monkey that struck the bell maniacally when the door was opened or closed shut. It must have been spring-loaded, Jason thought. “Be with you in a sec.” A disembodied voice called out from the back of the studio.

Jason and Catherine nodded in recognition to no one. Catherine turned and sat down on the lavender chaise lounge against the window. Jason stood at the abandoned front desk. Catherine fumbled through the abundant portfolios that littered the small table in front of the chaise. Jason noticed that instead of magazines, there were the portfolios. He thought it was a brilliant business maneuver on the part of the owners of the shop, an excellent marketing ploy. His eyes glanced at the many portraits that hung just overhead along the entire length and width of the shop. Looking behind him, the portraits even hung over the doorway, facing the customer on their egress.
            The shop beyond the front desk reminded him of a hair salon. Bright klieg lights stood in the corner while track lighting blazed down from above and in front of two large oval mirrors sat two identical salon-style chairs, each with levers to raise their host up or down, given their stature and degree to which a customer’s hair and make-up was necessitated. Just as in a hair salon, there were a variety of multicolored hair care products, hair dryers and large and small brushes. And just as in any salon in New York or Beverly Hills, there were desserts, cappuccino and water and fruit for those not in the binge and purge set.
            Jason studied the portraits. Captured for that moment in time were many of the town’s most beautiful people. There were a variety of gauzy, dreamlike portraits of white, black and Latina women dressed like Greek goddesses, adorned with laurels of flowers upon their perfectly coiffed hair, long flowing tapestries of fabric wrapped around their shoulders, all of the women sweetly gazing at their soon-to-be born offspring, lovingly embracing their precious undercarriage.
            Jason turned to look at Catherine to point out the beauty of such a moment but Catherine, who neglected to tell him she did not want children until a month after they were married, remained oblivious, rifling through a portfolio of half-naked women.
            He returned his eye to the portraits. He noticed that the studio apparently did wedding photography on the side as there were many peculiar shots of a lone brides looking lovely and pure but seeming alone and abandoned at the altar.
            There were a few portraits of nubile-looking cheerleaders and graduate photos from the local high school, all of them female, attractive with straight gleaming pearly white teeth. One of the girls appeared in and overhead photo and he wondered what the true story was behind her sad-looking smile.
            Other photos that looked down upon him were shirtless fathers cradling their naked newborns in pride and picture-perfect families smiling in a variety of staged poses, while other pictures were the other end of that spectrum revealed sad housewives and their unsympathetic husbands in an apparent attempt to reinvent themselves in soft glamour shots to capture a moment that never existed. Jason noticed how the wrinkles, jowls and age spots were deliberately softened and how the husbands had the displaced look of hidden, embarrassed rage beneath their bloated countenances.

            The last sets of prints that he noticed were the most numerous. These likenesses captured a young girl, obviously a model in many moods, many poses and many locations. She had the look of the fashion magazines that one expected to find in the shop, but did not.
            In some, the girl was nearly breathtaking, no striking was her beauty. It was all in her large, dark eyes, how she played with them to the camera. The fact that she had a symmetrical face, enhanced by full lips and a stunning face framed by brown billowing hair only completed her attractiveness.
            The girl in the photo smiled at him, pouted, gazed sadly away and toyed sensually with him. He quickly saw his favorite, a shot of her topless, her hair blown out and wild, her hands covered in long, sparkly white gloves, one of which pointed coyly and needlessly to her full lips, her arms pressing down and covering her abundant breasts. It was all marketing, he knew, but it worked, it had gotten his attention.
            Next to that photo was a portrait of the same woman in a wedding dress, as if to tell him she was unavailable and it had all been a taunt, she was taken, not for him. There were others of her on the beach, holding some lotion in her hand and another of her dancing in a square, clothed in a traditional Spanish dress, the men around her looking far too greasy and staged and slightly too effeminate for her wanting expression of promised seduction.
            Another spoke of her in a marketplace, smiling and gazing up, holding an apple, while another portrayed her on a terrace looking forlorn to something just outside the frame. Next to that was another European-type shot with her straddling a cycle in what appeared to be Milan.
            He noticed one or two shots of her with a young man and a posed one of her holding her pregnant abdomen as in the other photos of the expectant mother, her expression gleaming and wonderfully radiant. The portrait was the only one with a title, which bore the phrase: “Glow”.
            A few shots near the back of the shop displayed the woman with varying degrees of styles, long hair, hair up, hair short, hair curly and some with hats. In one of the last shots, the model gazed out from her mid-thirties, her looks taking on a more mature turn, her eyes losing that spark of youth that was evident in the early shots near the front of the store. He noticed the photos becoming softer, as they had with her subjects, the lights less bright as if one endeavor to recapture a youthful vanity before age and reluctant acknowledgment turned it all into parody.
            He felt a sense of sadness as he reached the end of the model’s open portfolio. He wanted to know what had become of the gorgeous woman in the images. Had she found happiness, had she continued on, well-past her prime or had she vanished without a trace, without a smile, without any story to tell?

            “Welcome, I am the owner and principal photographer.” Said the woman as the curtain parted. “I’m sorry to keep you waiting.”
            “That’s no problem.” Jason stated as Catherine closed the binder in which she was looking and stood.
            “What can I do for you two?” The lady smiled.
            “We’re looking to have our portraits done, you know, what I want to do is kind of a retro look, like old Hollywood.” Catherine sputtered in an almost confrontational manner, the words coming quickly, as if rehearsed.
            “Sure, I can do that.” The older woman nodded. “That’s sounds fantastic.” She said as Catherine smiled and stood down, her direction and ego appeased in eight words.
            “You have such lovely hair and your eyes, very soft and yet they’re fiery, like cat’s eyes. You would have been a star in old Hollywood.” The woman complimented Catherine and posed her head with her hand beneath Catherine’s chin. It was an uneasy moment, Jason noticed, as his wife was ill-at-ease with anyone touching her face. The woman continued to exact her critical appraisal. “Yes, quite the lovely young thing.” She said as any further confrontation subsided in Catherine’s delighted smile.
            Jason had seen the woman somewhere before, she looked very familiar, but he could not place her. She looked like a matronly society woman he had seen at one of Catherine’s charity events. His eyes fell from her and wandered around the room. She bore an uncanny resemblance to the young model featured in the photographs throughout the shop, thought Jason.
            “I think we can get you in a sarong for a shoot. I think that would be a great idea.” She said as Jack interrupted the conversation.
            “Excuse me; is that your daughter in these pictures?”
            “Pardon me?” She asked puzzled. “Which photographs?” She inquired and gave a confused look to Catherine and shook her head. Catherine returned her confused look and shrugged.
            “Do you mean that portrait of me and my son near the clock?” She asked, perplexed.
            “Oh, that’s you?” Jason asked, almost as confused. “You look so much…”
            “So? So much what…? Older?”
            “No…” Jason stammered. “No, um, so much, ah, different.”
            “Those were taken a long time ago, ancient days ago.” She defended herself. “I have gotten older and put on a little weight since then.”
            “That’s not what I meant.” Jason said, embarrassed. “It’s like a Picture of Dorian Grey, but only in reverse.” He tried to joke his way out of it, but it came off as insulting.
            “Please pay no attention to my husband. He’s an idiot.” Catherine countered. “Say you’re an idiot, Jason.”
            “I will not.” He spat.
            “I’m terribly sorry.” Catherine offered.
            “No offense taken.” The woman smiled and held up her hand and closed the book at the front desk in which she’d been writing. “Let’s begin. Please follow me and I will take you through what I do and if you’re interested, we can go from there.” She said and sauntered into the salon with a diplomatic smile. They were offered tea and pastries as they toured the studio.

            The shoot was an easy one for all parties involved. Catherine was an excellent student and moved exactly as the photographer’s model asked her to each and every time. All Jason had to do was look good, turn this way or that and keep quiet. Nervousness prevented Jason from accomplishing the latter. He made a few more flat jokes, one equating the shoot to his prom picture. The woman did not react, but her eyebrow raised and then lowered. When all was said and done, Jason and Catherine paid for their session and went happily home.

            A month later, the photographs were sent to their home. Upon looking at them, Jason and Catherine tossed their session into the trash. Jason’s eyes bugged out, his double chins were very apparent and Catherine’s nose, back fat and breasts looked awful. It looked as if she had two cheap implants instead of the expensive ones. The photographer’s model had gotten in the last word. It was all light and shadow, as she said.

Joeseph Grant March 2008

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