Anita The Teacher & Her Not So Terrible StudentSaturday, September 24, 2011
Of late I have been preocupied by a recent communication from one of my favourite female subjects. I wrote about it in this blog and I will repeat here her communication:
I've also had the beginnings of an idea recently. I bite my nails, and have for as long as I can remember, and it's something that I consciously make an effort to hide, at least to some extent, when I'm acting or modeling. I feel like, to this point, I've only ever been photographed as a pretty young woman, idealized in form. What would it be like to be photographed as a flawed young woman? Does that make sense?
Coming from a family of teachers (I was one, my wife Rosemary, her sister, my mother and grandmother) I can attest that some of the most recalcitrant of persons who are less likely to be willing to listen and to learn are teachers. My youngest daughter and her family have accused Rosemary and me if being pushy in our relations with our grandchildren. We are told that we don’t listen. I think they may be right.
But I was surprised and pleased as I thought of the problem of taking pictures of a flawed young woman that when I searched through my files I found quite a few. Many of these pictures I initially considered to be failures as were the ones of Helmut Newton - A - Brad Cran & A Laurel Leaf in yesterday’s blog.
I looked up Anita in my files. Sometime in late summer of 2010 I was approached by a female model (lived in Prince George but in town for a few days) who wanted me to take her pictures. We met at the Starbucks at Sears, downtown. Anita was a boyish, almost androgynous young woman whose voice was mezzo-sopranish. In a pinch Anita could have dressed to look like a man.
Anita was a happy woman with an almost blasé lack of preoccupation in heavy duty stuff that just might have made her less happy. But I could sense that she had not had a terribly easy past and that her strength had carried her through thick and thin.
At the time I was going through the depression of having let my studio go in late 2009. I had no place to hang my shingle – photographer. I had brought all my studio stuff home and stuffed into a dark corner of my basement. I felt like a captain with no ship on half-pay.
Anita wanted me to take pictures of her undraped. In a studio she would have walked in. We would have had a short chat and then I would have photographed her as she unlayered herself and there she would be. Perhaps after so many years of my doing this I would have simply taken the pictures without much passion or interest.
But Anita was persuasive and exuberant. My problem was taking her picture in my house. In the past I have photographed a few women in the buff. One in particular, Rosemary was not fond of. During my session in the garden, Rosemary would call out from the upstairs bedroom window, “Alex, phone for you!” I was getting the message. And yet with an extremely beautiful Ona Grauer, I was left alone and Rosemary even mentioned what a great model she was. The idea of bringing an unknown woman into our house and taking her picture in our living room was not an idea that I looked forward to doing with no guilt and pleasure.
I decided that the course to take was not to use a big camera or lights and to do the whole session with a small camera and fast film. Alas I should have at least used a tripod so that I could use slower shutter speeds and sharper f-stops with more careful focusing.
But shooting loose (without a tether to a flash and with no tripod) almost felt strangely easy. Perhaps this route would work.
When Anita showed up I took two rolls Kodak Tri-X and it was indeed so easy that I felt guilty for it!
But the warm, friendly Anita was another Anita in front of my camera. She was almost scary. I had asked her to comb her hair back to look more boyish. She did this in front of my guest bathroom mirror. I cannot show the pictures here as full nudity is not the intended scope of my blog. But the pictures that you see here do show a raw look, almost without makeup in which the woman revealed is not glamorous or ethereal but a woman with a point of view, a woman with an unblinking eye contact, a woman not afraid to show me what she really is like.
About a year later I heard from Anita again. She had some good news to tell me, and the news had to be told in person. We met at the Starbucks at Sears downtown. Just in case I brought my Nikon FM, a 50mm and a 35mm lens and two rolls of Kodak Tri-X. One never knew! The surprise was that she was heavily and obviously pregnant. She also handed me a plastic roll containing about 40 rolls of a President’s Choice, No-name 800 ISO, 24 exposure colour negative film. She had stored the film in her fridge for some years. I took it knowing in advance that I would never use this film (I was wrong!). Anita smiled at me and without saying much I sort of knew what my duty was. After all she had brought the high school sports sweater had originally photographed her in. I suggested we take a drive to Stanley Park. I made her sit in the drive’s seat of my Malibu and I took a series of pictures of Anita pregnant. Here are a couple of those.
Anita moved to Ottawa and had her baby a couple of months ago.
Only now, looking at her pictures, do I get the message (learned to listen and to see beyond my own ideas) and realize that I should have photographed her many more times. But at least I have these.