Picture Me This – the Introduction

He’d been a photographer for over twenty years.  Tommy felt there was something spiritual in turning moments of real life into permanent art on film, or rather disk.  He had made the switch from film to digital photography with barely a hitch.  He loved the way the new technology and software allowed him to bring even sharper color and effect to his subjects.

People weren’t his favorite subjects.  They moved, grew tired of posing, had opinions about which side or light made them look their best.  He preferred instead, nature – simple, pure and without complication.  Mountain vistas, cool water lapping at the shore, all were poised and waiting to be captured, preserved.  Unfortunately, nature photography didn’t pay the bills, human still-lifes did.  So, instead of spending carefree days out in the wilderness hunting down the best shot, he spent the bulk of his time trying to coerce beauty from unhappy children or self critical adults.

His agent is the one who, when it became almost impossible to sell his nature photos (no matter how beautifully mounted or framed), suggested he set up the studio.

“It’ll be fine.  Just until the gallery sales pick up.”   That had been over five years ago now and gallery sales had yet to do much of anything.  So here he was, operating a full time photo studio that offered a wide variety of portrait styles – senior pictures, new born babies, couples, families, and the ultimate frustration, glamour photos.

The glamour pics were the worst as far as Tommy was concerned.  Women disguising whatever natural beauty they had with tons of make-up and very little clothing.  He felt sorry for the woman who asked for these because their insecurities were shamelessly laid out before him .  He’d feel embarrassed as they asked him to air brush out this or that perceived imperfection.  He’d wince as he watched them squeeze into various outfits and lingerie, all the while babbling on about how they hoped the pictures would show them as beautiful once and for all.  Tommy understood what beauty really was, and the final image these women put together was not it.  Until Rita Griffin.

She was beautiful.  Naturally.  The first woman who had come into the studio that stopped the breath in his throat.  She had come through the door all cool but looking unsure.  The layout of the studio didn’t offer any clear direction for the client and she had stood by the door trying to figure out where she was supposed to go next.  Tommy had stood in the door to what used to be the dark room but what was now editing and print central.  He envisioned her as a strong but fearful doe he’d once chanced upon on one of his photo trips.  The doe had stood all alone surrounded by the vibrant colors of the meadow and wild flowers.  He’d been able to only take two shots of her before she caught his scent on the wind and ran off into the woods.  He knew that if he approached this client too quickly, she’d bolt just as quickly.

He crossed the expanse of the studio with its wide open space and different back drops and props set up around the perimeter.  In the center was a make shift beauty area where Celia, the stylist, worked on hair and make-up for the glamour shots.  One look at Rita and he knew he would insist Celia do the barest of applications and styling.  He wanted nothing to come between his lens and her features.  He could see the perfect lighting, the sultriest of poses he would put her in.  He would use every tool he had in his studio to bring out the caramel tones of her skin, the deep hazel of her eyes.  He approached Rita with all the stealth he could muster, startling her as she glanced around.

“Ms. Griffin?  It’s such a pleasure to meet you.”  He was speechless.

“Oh! Um, Mr. Roberts?”

“Yes, but please, call me Tommy.  Welcome to the studio.  This is Celia.  She’s going to do your hair and make-up.  Um, before we get started, may I make a suggestion?”

“Of course.  You’re the artist.”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been called an artist.” He tried to act as if the title didn’t thrill him as it rolled from her perfectly shaped mouth.

“Yes, well, I saw your nature exhibit at the Willoughby gallery.  You are an artist.  I was a little shocked when your name came up in my search for um, well, you know…”

“Yeah, glamour shots.”  They laughed and he found himself getting a chill as the giggle bubbled out of her.  The laughter seemed to set her more at ease.

“Yeah.  I feel a little silly.”

“I can tell.  But why? “

“Well, it’s…”

He guided her into Celia’s chair with a quiet aside to use subtle color, enhance the eyes and cheek bones and to leave the hair straight.  While Celia assembled her tools, he continued to coax Rita into revealing the reason for her unease.

“Listen, I’ve heard just about any excuse there is for why women want to take these kinds of pictures.  You can tell me, uh, us.”  He included Celia just because of her proximity to them as he talked.

“My husband.  I’m taking the pictures to surprise my husband.  I’m hoping that maybe, if I can remind him of what I looked like, of the way I looked before… he might, um, pay more ah, attention to me again.  He might…”

“I understand, no need to say anymore.”  She relaxed, clearly relieved.

“What outfits did you bring?”

“Well, I have the jeans, tee-shirt and sneakers I wore on our first date.  I’m so proud, I can still fit them, sort of.  Then I have the first dress and pair of heels I wore on the first serious date we went on.  We used to do movies or go play pool and eat hot wings all the time.  Then one evening, he calls me and tells me to dress up, that we were going to this fancy restaurant.  He showed up in a suit and well, I fell in love with him that night.  Not because he looked so good, I mean I always thought he was gorgeous but there was something about the way he looked at me that night.  His eyes lit up when I walked into the room.  He put my hand on his arm and walked me into that restaurant as if I were the most beautiful woman in the world and he was proud to be seen with me.  I had never felt so special.  I’m sorry.  I’m babbling.”

“No, no.  I love hearing you talk…about your life, um..I mean, about why you want to take the pictures.”

“Are you sure?”

“It helps me get a feel for the poses to suggest if I know more of the why.”

“Okay.  Where was I?  Oh yeah, and the last thing I have is one of his button down shirts.  He’s a sports writer, works for the Tribune.  He’s got an old fashioned idea of what a newsman is supposed to look like.  He works from home most days now that everything’s digital but he still gets up at seven, puts on a white button down shirt and khakis, then heads out to his office over the garage.  If he has to do an interview or go somewhere to cover a story, then he adds a tie to the mix and heads out.  I thought, maybe wearing the shirt would be sort of fun but also show him that I appreciate his sense of what’s right and proper.  Does any of this make sense?”

“It makes perfectly good sense.”

“Whew, glad you understand.  I just hope he likes them.  The pictures.  I’m not sure what I’ll do if…well,”  Her sigh spoke volumes.

“I give you my personal promise, I will take the utmost care to make these the best pictures I’ve ever shot.”

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