Mar 102016
 



ALT TEXT

Loiza

Schiele-esque’ by Tamara’s niece Loiza

Despite Aussie Cyril’s enormous enthusiasm for doing more shoots, weeks pass with no further contact.

It is the fourth Sunday in Advent, and we are hanging out in the flat, not doing much.
    Bel is definitely depressed. I don’t know why. I realise she’s been like this since I got here. Or perhaps, since I’ve known her.
    It’s hard not to get depressed when you’re living with a depressed person. Should I stay here, in Shanghai? I wish she could bat it away, like we all have to. She scares me. Look, you have to just battle on.
    We have free time, the opportunity to do some photography… Should I suggest it? Will I only make her feel worse?
    Bel looks up from an email. ‘Your Cyril friend. Apparently he went to Australia.’
    ‘Darn. No more lucrative shoots with him, then. Never mind! Guess what – I’ve just been booked via Wechat by a school-girl for her project!’
    Loiza, half-Spanish, a pupil at one of Shanghai’s elite European high schools, turns out to be the niece of my ex-flingette. She has been given Christmas money by scheming Aunt Tamara with instructions to book a session with me immediately (it’s school hols)…

…to do Schiele-esque photos 4 my A-level project.
Btw Tamara sent me ur novel & poetry bks – love ur writing – reviewd Melanie Alone 4 my Eng lit homewk SO ENGLISH – god, UK gay culture total throw-back –

A new fan! Thanks, Tamara.

Hi Loiza, u r right re throw-back. Novel is set in north, v diff fr London. Ta 4 praise, if u intrestd, 2 more of my bks free online see www.sukithelifemodel.co.uk Lookin frwrd our shoot! c u tomoz 3pm Suki x

And so, the next afternoon…
    ‘I’m interested in sado-masochism.’ Loiza snaps, crouches lower, re-focuses, snaps.
    ‘Ah. Runs in the family, then.’ I hitch the black lace she has provided further up above my bony red-stockinged knees. The airy studio that Tamara has financed is, like everywhere in Pudong, brand new, still smelling of fresh paint, minimally furnished other than scattered spotlights, equipment, light-deflecting white umbrellas. Thankfully, white blinds block the views of the financial district’s space-age towers that would otherwise give me vertigo.
    ‘Groovy, that’s groovy – ‘ snap snap snap. ‘Yeah… When I told Tamara we were doing Schiele at school she posted me the Angela Carter book The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography and that book Venus in Furs by Masoch – have you read them?’
    ‘Can’t say I’ve…’
    ‘She’s always encouraging me to be an artist; an experimental, subversive one, though.’
    Gurgle, hiss – the electric percolator completes its cycle.
    ‘Espresso break!’ Loiza springs over to the kitchen area. ‘Here’ – she is turning through her school-issue folder of the print-outs of Schiele’s sketched figures; the poses I’ve been carrying out for her. ‘Let me read you something… Charged and explicit eroticism… Near-pornographic intensity… A subversive and challenging vision’ – she looks up. ‘That’s William Boyd the art critic. Coz like, Schiele did like loads of drawings of himself masturbating? So cool.’
    ‘Um. Yes. Very before his time.’
    ‘Maybe we can get to some of those poses next’ – sips espresso – ‘You’re Tamara’s girlfriend, right?’
    ‘Er…’
    ‘Everyone at my school is, like, bisexual, even my Chinese friends. Especially my Chinese friends. Straight is just so last century. Do you know the photographer Ren Hang? He’s so cool, you’ve got to check him out. Hey, you sprawled right there holding your cup’s great! Wait – [snap] yeah! [snap] Awesome. Can you like, hitch the skirt up further, just like in this picture? So I get more cunt?’

It is suppertime when I walk into the flat. ‘Baozi!’ I hold up the bag of still-warm dumplings. ‘God, precocious as hell! That scheming Tamara. Got a thousand yuan for it though!’
    Bel is in the bedroom doorway on her mobile. She quickly finishes, flips closed her phone. ‘My brother. Did you say a thousand yuan? So this Tamara… She obviously likes you…
    The comment hangs uncomfortably in the air. Is this some kind of jealousy again? Like her thing against Aussie Cyril?
    A flurry: Lily Hong rushing through from the bedroom, a fairy in pink mini-dress, pretty as candy, clutching Bel’s iPad.
    ‘Miss Suki’ – Lily Hong is actually weeping! – ‘I reading your stories on internet…’ She strokes my upper arm – ‘Your baby die. Sorry for you’ – squeezes it. ‘Too much sad, very sorry’ – then turns, hands the iPad to Bel. For some reason, the back of her dress is fully unzipped. ‘Sorry I still here too much long time.’ She hurries out.
    I am left with Bel, who is looking at me blankly.
    So I have to explain.


 

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Mar 032016
 



ALT TEXT

Aussie Cyril

I feel compelled to modify most of Aussie Cyril’s pics. But this is one is great as it is. I love the bright pop-arty blue and rounded corners: vaguely 1960s retro, no?.

    ‘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.

Tanx 4 these Cyril! My absolute fave of urs will always be de Uglow-style pic, apres Uglow’s “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.

P.P.S. May I bring more Egon Schiele and Lucian Freud poses to our next meet – these guys not yet out of my system! Rly looking forward, Sx
P.P.P.S. am ENORMOUSLY ENTHUSIASTIC about working togeth!!!

    ‘Why?’ 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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Feb 042016
 

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Fei Mo Di

At the Shanghai Art Nude Photographers group session, this guy Fei Mo Di spun off from the Uglow, Schiele and Freud poses I was doing, and did his own thing.

Two weeks in.
    It is still (by British standards) hot – even in mid-October.
    When will I start to write? Will I start to write?
    Each day, while Bel goes teaching, I wander about – “acclimatising”. Staring. Being stared at. The street market was traumatic the first time I went alone. Now I stare through the cat-calls, grin back at the smiles. Great writing-fodder. It’s just… all still too new.

Bel is as bad. When will she start this Art Nude project with me? Will she start it?
    Her morning coughing fits have become my alarm clock. Today the Air Quality Index reports only moderate pollution: Unhealthy for people with special sensitivities. Asthmatics and the elderly may have difficulties. But she coughs whatever the level, on her narrow bed next to mine, scowling at the news pages on her iPad.

Anyway. Got my first one-to-one booking for a photo-shoot! Fei Mo Di (he with the improbably posh English accent, crisply-ironed shirt, designer jeans) is the second Shanghainese person I’ll meet really properly, after Bel’s little assistant Lily Hong.
    So here I am in his bright white 24th floor penthouse. We begin with sparse, polite conversation. The cityscape beyond the glass walls is a sci-fi movie-set. Vertiginous. Construction sites in all directions; cranes everywhere you look.
    Turns out Fei Mo Di is not what he seems. He went to Eton, then the Central College of Fine Arts in Beijing, topped off with a Masters in New York. His mother is vice-chair of a metropolitan committee for culture or something, on the Communist Party’s Consultative Council. She owns real estate in Kensington.
    I’m sipping from a tiny translucent cup. Just beyond the floor-to-ceiling plate glass, the neck of a crane is slowly approaching… What if it doesn’t stop? The elegant tea-set is beside an Apple computer on a huge perspex desk. Fei Mo Di points at his photos from the group session on the monitor. ‘I haven’t sent you these yet. See – I was moving around you a lot, focusing in. So I want to do that again now. I’d like you quite simply, first of all, to stand absolutely still, statuesque.’ He gets up, goes over to where lights are rigged up. ‘Right here.’

I get into position. Silently he begins. What’s the etiquette when one-to-one? Should I chat?
    ‘Ahem. I’m really interested to find out if art-photographers relate to their models differently from artists,’ I begin.
    No immediate reaction. Click, click.
    ‘Like, whether there’s a more natural, human relationship with a photographer? I mean, doesn’t a photographer want somebody alive?’
    Click. ‘Yes.’ Click. Click.
    Was that curt? Should I say more? ‘Whereas artists… I mean, Uglow, for example; he objectified his models to the extreme. He was so fanatical about the precise reproduction of what he was looking at that he’d actually measure out graph-lines on his studio wall and number them to mark exactly where the model was positioned. Flipping autistic!’
    The tele-photo lens stares coldly. ‘Autism has been known to equate with artistic genius.’ The lens roams to my belly, comes in close to my left breast, shoulder…
    ‘Well, but the crap way Uglow related to the model…’
    Fei Mo Di cuts in. ‘Are you familiar with the work of Chuck Close? He’s an autistic man whose excruciatingly meticulous process creates astonishing paintings that happen to start from a photograph.’
    ‘But if it’s from a photograph it’s not really Art’. Okay, I argued the opposite point with Ilka, but this guy’s Etonian accent is aggravating. I hammer on: ‘A photo is conventionally believed to show “the real thing” whereas a painting holds greater interest and value because it’s a unique and expressive interpretation through the artist’s eye, because everyone knows – and as Anais Nin said – “We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are”.’
    ‘Tuh. Glurge.’ Snap, shift, snap.
    ‘Pardon?’
    ‘Your Anaïs Nin quote. Asinine.’
    ‘That is not fair. People are always sticking the knife into Anaïs Nin. It’s because she was a writer. Words on the page are explicit in a way that visual imagery isn’t, so we’re easier to criticize.’
    Fei Mo Di looks round his camera at me, clearly annoyed.
    ‘Yes – I’m a writer myself.’ Standing there naked, I know I am ridiculous.


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Jan 282016
 

« Page 8
Page 10 »



ALT TEXT

Aussie Cyril

Aussie Cyril is the only photographer from that first Shanghai Art Nude Photographers session to email me a photo of this copy I did of a pose I call ‘plank woman’, famously painted by artist Euan Uglow.

I wake up sticky. So humid, even in October.
    ‘At last! Good morning.’ Bel is setting down a mug of green tea beside my bed. ‘It’s eleven thirty. I thought I’d better tell them you can do this afternoon’s session because they only meet once a month.’
    ‘What? Who? What time? Yikes! Second full day in China and I’m already modelling!’
    ‘It’s Shanghai Art Nude Photographers’ Group. You’ll need that network to build up bookings. I’m sure you’ll get some one-to-one sessions out of it.’
    ‘God, I hope they don’t mind these.’ I hold out my blotched arms – the night’s mosquito bites.
    But Bel is focused on her iPad.
    I scramble for the bathroom. ‘So what will they want? I mean, how does it work? Should I take some ideas?’
    Silence. I see she’s engrossed in The Guardian newspaper online.
    ‘Think I’ll quickly print off some poses, see if they’d like me to copy them. Egon Schiele and Lucien Freud…’ (no response from Bel) ‘…Could try some of the notorious Euan Uglow poses that reputedly hurt his models. The great thing about photographic modelling is, you don’t need to hold a pose for very long.’
    A few minutes later Bel calls to me through the bathroom door. ‘I’ll help you set up a ‘qq’ email account before we go out so you can give out a contact address that works. Your gmail account won’t work here. Google’s blocked. Yahoo is sometimes blocked. They’ve started messing up Hotmail. All the non-Chinese servers get problems. It’s easier to just give up and use the state-controlled one.’

Later, Bel leads me by the hand through the crowds. My second full-on blast of city life: from demolition site to half-built tower-block complex, lace-necked cranes rotating high above chaotic slums, to space-age subway, to old-world tree-shaded French Concession – and always, the seething masses that I can barely separate out into persons. Exhausting – physically, psychologically.

‘…So I finish teaching at six – I’ll see you in the flat. Cyril says he’ll help you get a taxi. Show the driver this card. Hope it’s good!’ Bel leaves me with the men.
    Yes – all men. Why am I not surprised? An exotic mix of races and accents aged from mid-twenties to retirement. Australian Cyril – rotund, elderly – introduces me to the rest: Jacques from Brussels, Fei Mo Di (how come he has a cut-glass English accent?), several other orientals who may or may not be Chinese, a Kiwi, two with north American twangs but probably not US nationals… How to place these people? All I know is, each is successful enough to afford amazing photographic kit, and from a background that has enabled them to speak good English. There is only one familiar type: a man with wife-kidsatuni-earlyretired-doing-abitof-consultancy written all over him before he jovially opens his mouth.
    ‘Mike Little from Swindon, for my sins! How d’you do.’
    ‘I’m Suki. Hi.’ I drop my rucksack and, to avoid some kind of big de-robing moment, instantly pull off my dress and wander about. Sweat beads on my ribby chest and runs down my inner thighs. I wipe off my face. The tissue turns grey: a fine paste made of humidity and pollution has coated my skin.
    The photographers are already in a horseshoe, some with tripods, leaving a big open area in which I can work. The deal is, they’ll each email me their best pics from the session.
     Aussie Cyril, portly, avuncular, opens his arms as though preparing for a bear-hug. ‘We’ve all agreed to let the new model take the lead.’
    So I show them the Schiele, Freud and Uglow poses I’ve printed off. There is courtesy, humour, and lots of movement – both on my part, and on the part of the enthusiastically snapping voyeurs. And certainly no pain.
    Do I fancy any of them?
    Do any of them fancy me?
    Do they do shoots like this with male models?


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