Thirty Days of Photographs: My Hobby

I was always interested in photography and got my first serious camera when I was about 18 years old—a 35mm, single-lens reflex Chinon with a compact body and three lenses that was a combination birthday/Christmas gift from my parents. I took to the craft immediately, enrolling in classes for it in college and winning a few awards in juried competitions, although I’m not sure why since I don’t really have the patience, sense of timing or the gifted eye that’s required to do it exceptionally well.

Still, as a hobby, and for a little while as a profession, it stuck.

In my early career as a journalist, I took pictures almost as often as I wrote, and it was useful skill to have when I was competing for jobs. My first job at a newspaper, just one year out of college, wasn’t as a reporter, but as the darkroom technician. I spent my nights in a tiny black room winding other reporters’ film onto developing spools, creating proof sheets and then huddling over trays of caustic chemicals the next morning hurriedly printing the editors’ picks in order to meet the press deadline.

I loved the work, and continued doing it even after I became reporter. In fact, I lugged my Chinon around with me for several decades, taking pictures of everything from auto accidents and sports stars to corporate executives and B-list Hollywood celebrities.

Digital photography made film-based photography seem outdated five to six years ago, and I eventually bought a starter digital camera, and then the Nikon D-60 that I use now. It’s a great camera, but it still feels awkward in my hands compared to the old Chinon. I’m getting better with it, though, learning its quirks and good qualities.

I kept the Chinon anyway, mostly because I couldn’t bear to throw my old friend away. Then a few months ago, gripped by the thought of de-cluttering my basement, I donated it to Goodwill. I hope some kid bought it and learned how to use it, but I suspect it’s sitting on a shelf collecting dust, like me and my silly memories.

As for photography…well, I believe that everybody ought to do it regularly because the act of making pictures can help you see the world instead of just looking at it.

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Seven Women: Kate

I don’t know how else to say this, so I’ll say it straight out.

Kate wanted to have sex with me.

The words sound ridiculous, even to me. I don’t believe women find me sexually attractive. Not like that guy with the square jaw and deliberately tousled hair who looks good in or out of a sleeveless white undershirt. I can’t imagine walking into a bar and strutting out with a woman on my arm, not unless we settled on a price first, and I never carry cash.

I’m not that guy.

But it’s true. Kate wanted me.

All of me.

She tried to bed me in several different ways.

Once, she invited me to a pool party. We spent a few hours splashing around in the hot tub, and then she drove me to a secluded spot in the woods in her cream-colored Cadillac, which featured a king-sized leather backseat. She made small talk, but even in the dim blue glow of the dash lights, I could see her face clearly enough to know exactly what was on her mind. It was as obvious as the oversized tail fins on her Caddy.

But I turned her down.

Another time, she asked me to pose nude for her.

Kate was an artist, a talented sculptor and painter. We’d visited many galleries and art shows together, and were the smartest art critics we knew.

One afternoon, she told me she was working on a painting. She showed me a sketch of Poseidon. He was naked, standing knee-deep in the surf with his back to the shore, and was gripping a fishing spear in his upraised hand. She said she needed a back and butt model to help her finish the painting. I admired art, respected Kate’s work, and weighed my options for a minute.

Finally, nervously, I said I was worried that I might embarrass myself. That once I got naked, I’d be standing there with one hand in the air pretending to hold a spear, the other hand desperately trying to hide…well, a different sort of spear.

She laughed, and told me she would also get naked so I wouldn’t feel alone. 

Now I was trembling. Perhaps not noticeably, but I decided to fess up completely and put an end to it. So I told her I was also worried that once I disrobed, Little Mike would start doing the thinking for Big Mike and all three of us would end up rolling around in Cerul and Titan blues like Toulouse-Lautrec and La Goulue, the naughty can-can dancer at the Moulin Rouge. She grinned, shrugged playfully, and raised an eyebrow, her pale blue eyes twinkling.

Once again, I knew exactly what she was thinking.

Once again, I turned her down.

It’s not that I was a prude, although I was, just a bit. Nor was Kate unattractive. She had fine, sharp facial features, and wide-set, watery eyes. Tall and thin, with straight, light blonde hair, her skin was like white marble, very pale and soft. She blushed easily. She had what some men describe as classical beauty. When the actress Uma Thurman got famous years later, I immediately associated her with Kate. There’s nothing wrong with Uma, and there wasn’t anything wrong with Kate, either.

I simply wasn’t attracted to her.

Kate was my friend. My good friend, but no more than that. She could’ve been a man, or an alien from another planet, and it wouldn’t have mattered to me. I couldn’t match her desire.

I believe Kate felt rejected by me, and that it made her angry, although she never said so out loud. She just stopped talking to me, except when it was absolutely necessary.

Later, I was surprised to learn that Kate was dating one of my college roommates, a painter and sculptor. She wasn’t a student—she didn’t even live in the same town—and I can’t remember introducing them. But I must have. I returned to my room unexpectedly early one night. When I opened the door, I was hurriedly shooed away for a few minutes. When I returned a few minutes later, Kate was standing there, smirking mischievously, wrapped in a brown towel. She was modeling for my roommate, who was working on a clay statuette for a bronze casting.

A nude wading knee-deep in water.

It was good. 

A decade or so passed.

Then one night I saw Kate at a used CD store in southeast Denver. I’m not sure she would have spoken to me if I hadn’t absentmindedly bumped into her. We talked briefly. She had married and divorced my old roommate by then, and was working as an elementary school art teacher.

She seemed sullen.

Profoundly unhappy.

Angry. At me. At him. At everything.

Desire can launch a thousand ships, or make the strongest warrior weak and blind. It builds cities, destroys nations. In our fantasies, it’s a four-poster bed of burning coals, a white-hot forge that melts flesh into flesh into flesh and flesh. But desire is also as cold and as dry as a bitter wind scraping across a remote island of brittle ice. One misstep there, and the snow-white frost might crack, plunging you into a sea of frigid black water that closes over your head faster than you can cry out for help. Desire schemes and teases and begs for companionship. But it also sulks and seethes and rages at loneliness. True or tainted, it is a Fury, and fearsome.

I never spoke to Kate again.

I don’t know if she finished her painting of Poseidon.

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