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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