‘I love women.’ The eye of Aussie Cyril’s small camera click-click-clicks, his plump lips smiling.
I adjust myself on his chaise longue, offering him a shoulder. ‘Ah. No – I mean, my question was just in general terms. About how Art Nude photographers’ ways of relating to their models have differed from the historical precedent of artists’ relationships to their models.’ Slithering on the silk draperies I shift a cushion, pose again. ‘I’m curious to find out if there’s a difference.’
‘Wait’ – Aussie Cyril swaps the small camera for a chunky one with a vulgarly long lens, then continues snapping. ‘I don’t think one can generalise. About either photographers or artists. Personally I photograph women because I love women. I would not want to photograph a male model. The very thought makes me shrink. Ooh, that’s lovely. Absolutely lovely. More of that – yes – ’
‘That’s so different from my experience of working with artists. We models are certainly not always loved. We’re viewed as a kind of tool, and we just do as we’re instructed.’
Aussie Cyril pauses at this, momentarily leaning on the oak panelling to look at me. ‘Whereas I’ll do anything you say.’ Click, click, click.
‘Erm … Is that – usual? The photographer led by the model?’
Click – ‘that’s terrific…’ – click. ‘My dear Suki, you’ll find out that there have been very many Art Nude photographers and there’s a great diversity of behaviours. But I reckon by and large the relationship to a model is an intimate and caring one.’
‘Tuh. Whereas artists like Euan Uglow could work with a model for hours, days, months, years, and yet be absolutely disengaged from that human being. Like, one time a model died, so he just found another model with an identical physique and carried on with his painting! The model was a plank, not a personality. Why didn’t he just bloody well take photographs, if he was that fanatical about precision recording? Or else why not just set up a technically challenging still-life? Why use a human?’
As Cyril drives me home his hand comes to rest too close to my thigh.
‘Ahem. I liked your use of drapes and sheets to get those varied backdrops. And your apartment’s amazing.’
‘I was very lucky to find that historic French Concession villa before real estate went through the roof.’
The fake grandeur of the new-built university campus looms ahead. ‘Okay, this is my gate. Thanks, Cyril – it’s been a really good session.’
He pulls in, and presses a thick wad of hundred yuan notes into my hand. ‘Thank you, Suki, so very much’ – he leans in, breathing heavily – ‘I’d like to do many more shoots with you. Very very soon. A bientot!’
Before bedtime Cyril has already emailed today’s pictures. I show Bel.
‘He’s out to make you pretty.’ She walks off.
I agree with Bel. I don’t like that either. But should I risk upsetting him by telling him? He pays so well.
“plank-woman”, from de group session. Mus go bed now! S x
P.S. Btw tanx again 4 lending me books – have browsed Alfred Stieglitz – some of his Georgia O’Keefe pics r like Bel’s studies of my hands n feet.
I send Cyril this, then want to add a quick after-thought. I start another email.
Bel is close to my shoulder. ‘Why are you “enormously enthusiastic”?’ I hear a strange edge. ‘I thought you were a writer.’
Is she jealous? So why isn’t she photographing me herself? What’s happened to this Art Nude project she invited me to Shanghai for in the first place?
‘It’s giving me writing ideas.’ I hit send. ‘It’s great he wants to photograph me. I like working with people who are being creative in their own field. It’s inspiring.’
‘I think he’s got ulterior motives.’
I can’t help my horrible self, even though Bel is – I now think – depressed. Suki, queen of the barbed final word: ‘Least he is motivated.’
A second’s silence.
‘Right. Whereas I don’t think you’ve even glanced at that unfinished novel of yours yet.’
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