Each picture captures a moment of time forever. But without context, can those images mean anything?
I never saw her work the bar before that night. I was high, drunk, and particularly testy. Some nigger photographer schooled me, showed me what color was all about, and I had to prove I was still a man.
There she was, working the bar, selling the beer, chatting the children. "Who the hell is that?" I asked Juan, a Puerto Rican brother.
"Kim," he says, "And you can forget it, brother. She's out of your league."
"What? I--I wasn't thinking about that," I stammer. Juan laughs. I steel my nerves and go up to the bar.
"Miss Kim," I say after buying a beer, "I'd sure appreciate it if I could take some pictures of you." I show her my book.
She looks at me with them green x-ray eyes. "For a show?" she says.
"For my ego," I say.
She gives me the once-over again. Them eyes, dude, they don't let you hide. She decides I'm harmless, and says "Yeah, man." Some weed, some beer, some Chinese food. Load the film, open up to [florin]2.8, and play that funky mind game. But that Miss Kim is a tricky one. She knows all the hocus-pocus tricks--ten times over and more.
When I photograph a woman, it's like a spell is being cast on me. It's like sex with the eyes as penetration points.
What do I feel? Nervous. Scared at first. There's anticipation. I do a shot of whisky and just shoot. Hands always shake a little. Hard to focus, too.
Then she begins to look at me in a way I like. Yeah. Then I really start looking at her--because before I was only looking at her in glances. I notice the wrinkles, the bruises, the goosebumps. I notice she's breathing funny. Is she turned on too? Can she sense my arousal?
I feel drunk, like we're the only two people in the world. And then the pictures just flow.
When I got that camera in front of me, I'm The Man. Without it, I'm a mess. If it weren't for that camera I wouldn't get laid at all.
I was doing a test with Kim, and about the third roll of film she gets a crazy look in her eyes. And she slowly starts moving closer to me. Suddenly she's kissing me.
She fucked me like I was Picasso or something. And after it was all over I was too afraid to ask--was is it the camera or me?
As I wander the streets of New York City I'm always on the look for subjects. I look for women who are beautiful, yes, but also flawed in some everyday sense. I look for a strength in their eyes. I try to look past the words they speak and imagine who they really are.
And if I see something, I walk up, introduce myself, and see if I can score.
New York girls are tough, because it seems everybody here is a photographer. But I don't let that stop me from trying to win them over. There ain't nothing like the feeling when you know you got her. When she puts that phone number in your book. When she leaves you that message on your machine: "James, I wanna do pictures!" I can't help but laugh.
Kim likes to introduce me to her friends as "my photographer." I roll my eyes at that. But I don't say anything. I must admit I'm sorely tempted to introduce her to someone as, "The model I'm fucking on the side." But I keep my mouth shut. Getting it regular does that to a man.
If there is one person I can't do without, it's Tracy. He's a makeup artist by day and a drag queen at night. It's strange to say, but he completes me. There are a lot of good makeup artists in New York. And every photographer has to find the one that works for him. From the first time I worked with him, I knew he was mine.
Tracy, Kim, and I were having a celebratory dinner in the Village after a shoot. Par for the course, Tracy and I are flirting terribly. Kim, getting increasingly annoyed with each double entendre, crankily says: "Why don't you two just fuck already?"
"Kim," I say. "We're just playing, baby..."
"I know about you two," she says coolly.
"Baby, you gonna make yourself sick thinking like that."
"Just fuck him and get it over with."
Tracy is trying hardest to keep from laughing out loud.
"Baby," I say, "I live by a simple rule: I don't fuck nobody with a bigger dick than mine."
Tracy is on the floor. And even Kim has to crack a smile.
Marc is an old photographer who blew his shot. He used to be a Name--worked with the best makeup artists, stylists, art directors, photo editors, and models in New York. Now he makes most of his money shooting head shots. And that makes for one bitter man.
I bumped into him on the street in the Flatiron District. As usual, he begins bitching and moaning about how they were out to get him. I nodded and smiled a few minutes, and then looked at my watch.
"Well, pal," I say, "I gotta get going. I've got an appointment."
"Fuck you," Marc says.
"What?" I say.
"All you fuckers are all the same," he mutters. "They're gonna use you up too!"
"I hear you man, but I really gotta go!" I say, running off.
"Ah, fuck you too," Marc yells after me.
Christ, I think. What an asshole.
All Kim cares about are the pictures.
"Let's do something weird," she'll say. And we do. Once I found a pair of old white skates. Fit her nice. I bought her a sequined tube-top and some boom-boom shorts. We did her makeup slutty, and we took a cab downtown. Shot her squatting in an alley.
Beautiful. Fucking beautiful. That girl's gonna make me famous.
I showed my book to an art director at a big music magazine. He looked at my work in that art-directorish way--looking at a page for a second, then quickly turning the page, occasionally pausing at an image that struck his fancy.
When he was done, he closed the book slowly, put hands together in front of his face and said: "Your work is very beautiful. But I sense a certain detachment between you and your subject."
"Really?!" I said.
"Yes. We here like to make our subjects accessible to the readers."
"How do you do that?" I asked.
"Well, we like to get people doing everyday things."
"Like?" I said.
"Like someone drinking a big glass of water or eating a hot dog."
"How about pizza? Pizza's pretty accessible," I say.
The art director, sensing I'm being sarcastic, smirks and says simply: "Touché."
Needless to say, I didn't get any work from that guy.
A gorgeous girl, cocaine skinny, got on my train this morning. She was wearing a funky fur coat, a plaid miniskirt, and knee-high black leather boots. Her hair was wild, her lipstick mussed, and her eyes had bags. And after she sat down, she fell asleep.
I watched her for a bit, my trigger finger getting itchy. She looked so beautiful, despite everything. I wanted to take her picture badly.
But there was my station. And after taking a quick last look, I got off the train and went to work.
Kim and I are laying in my bed looking at some of my photos in a magazine. Kim's jabbering on and on how this is such a great opportunity for us. How the hell did this become us?
My work bores me. I feel like I can do this stuff in my sleep.
When I tell Kim, she shrugs and says "Keep shooting. Something will happen."
I try to take her advice, but I'm going fucking crazy. I can't look at a magazine without a feeling of dread. Every picture I see is like a goddamned knife in my heart. Every picture is so goddamned perfect--how the hell do I compete with that? I shoot for rinky-dink magazines who can't pay me or don't pay me shit. I shoot for art directors who murder my pictures. I shoot people who are absolute nobodies. And I don't love Kim. I never did.
Something's gotta change.
I have left a million messages from Kim unanswered.
"James, I got a crazy idea..." Beep.
"James, let's have lunch tomorrow." Beep.
"Are you there?" Beep.
"Come over to my place..." Beep.
"James, I need you." Beep.
"Are you ignoring me?" Beep.
"Pick up the phone, you prick!" Beep.
"What's her name, asshole? Look, I know you're there..." Beep.
"James, if you didn't want to take pictures of me anymore, you could have just told me." Beep.
I know I should call her back. I am seriously considering it, when in walks my first appointment of the day: A dangerous redhead with something I can't put my finger on.
It was beautiful. Fucking beautiful.
James Collier (email@example.com) is a freelance photographer and graphic designer in New York City.
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 8, Number 4 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1998 James Collier.