Jul 072016
 



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Aussie Cyril

Aussie Cyril’s photo is in the style of Emmanuel Sougez’s 1930-40s nudes, which “are meant to be sexually admired, but… represent the old-fashioned discreet view of women; an ideal of femininity reminiscent of 18th century artists Fragonard and Boucher,… purely and simply feminine, …seeming to shrink before our admiring gaze”. Yeuch.


My ‘alarm clock’ ( Bel’s hacking cough) goes off early today, but she manages to settle back into dozing.
    So I have got up well before her; left her rattling under her duvet. As I’m putting on my coat I call, ‘Make sure you get a chest x-ray in Antwerp.’ I pop back into to the bedroom, looking for my hat.
     Bel rouses her head. ‘More creativity with Cyril, this morning?’ Did that wheeze have a cynical tone?
    Look, I don’t want his pictures any more. I’m doing this purely for the money.’ I stare at her. ‘You look grey, Bel. I’m phoning the office for you. Don’t go to work. You can’t breathe.’

On the Metro to Moganshan Lu I become terrified I’ll arrive home to find Bel dead in her bed. An asthma attack. Heart failure. A strain of pneumonia that brings instant death.

Alone in Shanghai… God. I would die too.

    But she answers my text.

Am ok tanx. Hav good morning.

At the studio Aussie Cyril’s ten-day-old marriage proposal hangs in the air; brings an intimacy (uncomfortable, unwanted), like ten days into an engagement.
    I don’t refer to it. Maybe it will sink away, be forgotten…
    ‘Over to you, Cyril. You choose the poses.’
    Or should I do something about it? At least they would understand my poetry in Melbourne…
    ‘Thank you, Suki. Today I’m aiming to reproduce the classical nude portraiture styles of Harry Callahan, or Ruth Bernhard; also a fashion photographer who turned to Art Nude called Jean-Loup Sieff, who took “lively portraits of interesting girls”, to quote Peter Lacey.’
     ‘Girl? I’m not exactly a spring chicken.’

In the evening I receive an email with his “classical nude portraits” attached.

My dearest Suki-muse, permit me to regale you with information about the gentlemen who have been my influences. Here is a link to a fine example of Emmanuel Sougez’s figurative female nudes. Though his technique attends to composition, line and form, the individual femininity of his models is not subordinate to these concerns. Then there is Harry Callahan who creates images that are representational of the model’s nature or character (yes, a stark contrast to Edward Weston). Callahan brings out femininity and modesty, coupled with a psychological remoteness and elusiveness. He has chosen women: feminine, demure women; “like mythical beings” they are revered and turned into fantasy (quoting Peter Lacey). While Callahan’s pictures are not remotely pornographic – he maintains a distance and respect – his way of relating to the image of woman is nothing if not sexual.
     By the way, did I ever say, I love those images in which your eyes twinkle? Cyril x

I rattle off –

As so often, you are again trying to make something pretty of me. I don’t mind not being pretty. I’d rather not be. ‘Callahan-esque’ is a style I really don’t like. I’m not a mythical being. I am not remote.

But I must not sound so churlish. Cyril is still paying me. So I delete this, and write –

Thank you Cyril.
These are beautiful. I love looking at beautiful women. I am not one. But they are lovely. Thank you. Look forward to more sessions. Do suggest a date. Suki

Clearly Cyril is hovering somewhere, awaiting my responses. I immediately receive his reply:

Dear Suki, my darling muse, how about another shoot on Monday morning, first thing? Then lunch at the Peace Hotel? Let me know.



 

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Feb 112016
 



ALT TEXT

Aussie Cyril

Another photo from the first Shanghai Art Nude Photographers group session. Aussie Cyril says it is apres the work of early photographer Ruth Bernhard. He has lectured in photography. He has a lot of knowledge.

I flounce up to Bel who is waiting, as arranged, on the China Art Museum steps. ‘Huh. Pompous git.’
    ‘Fei Mo Di?’ She puts out her cigarette, wheezing. ‘Your shoot didn’t go too well, then?’
    ‘He called Anaïs Nin a ‘spoiled upper-crust adulteress’. Why does she get treated with such contempt? Lee Miller doesn’t, even though her sexual conduct was just as liberated and controversial…’ I follow Bel through the museum’s entrance. ‘It’s because Anaïs Nin was a writer, that’s why. Visual imagery is infinitely ambiguous – all about the viewer’s perception – whereas the written word is a record of a thing perceived, and furthermore, is the writer’s take on it – their analysis. So the writer is laid bare, and therefore more vulnerable to personal criticism.’
    Zero response from Bel. Which is becoming usual. Does she think I talk rubbish? When a man ignores me I assume it’s coz he’s a sexist pig.
    Do I talk rubbish?
    The foyer is a huge modern space. A ruddy-faced immigrant from the countryside in cheap gaudy leggings shows Bel and I to her toddler, like pointing out cows in a field.
    ‘Maybe I talked too much.’
    Bel hands me an English-language leaflet about the current exhibition. ‘Did you? That’s interesting. When you model for artists you never utter a word.’
    ‘But with a photographer there needs to be interaction, doesn’t there? To find the poses.’
    Checking the leaflet’s map, Bel heads off. ‘What did you think of his penthouse?’
    I hurry after her. ‘Oh my god. Space-age. Shiny high-tech everything. That whole district is so pristine, glittering, brand new. All those exclusive luxury tower blocks. Was there ever anything old there?’
    ‘Shanghai isn’t old. Pudong was all paddy fields twenty years ago. You should read JG Ballard. He spent his formative years in wartime Shanghai when it was pure anarchy, which is why everything he’s ever written has an apocalyptic undercurrent. That’s Shanghai. Those towers built for the elite remind me of his novel High-Rise. They spook me.’
    Why does Bel only get animated about climate change, wars, and the end of the world? I don’t like thinking about those things.
    ‘Anyway’ – I shift the subject back – ‘I don’t think he’ll book me again. He definitely didn’t fancy me, I know that much.’
    ‘Fei Mo Di? Apart from being twenty years younger than you he’s as gay as a French horn.’

We wander through the museum. Bel’s and other visitors’ pulled-off pollution-masks dangle against their chests, like surgeons taking coffee breaks.
    I stop to field a Wechat message. ‘Hey – another one-to-one booking! Next week. That elderly Aussie, Cyril.’
    ‘Three times married.’
    ‘God, Bel, your ex-pat world is incestuous.’
    ‘He likes to submit to women. Apparently.’
    ‘How on earth do you…’ –
    – ‘One of his ex-girlfriends told me.’ We have reached the central hall where the new exhibition is installed. Some are gigantic. ‘Look! This is the fantastic stuff I wanted to show you. There’s so much photography-based art here, of a kind you don’t see in Europe.’ Bel is again animated, and this time, for once, about something positive. Her sweeping arm takes in all the works: ‘This isn’t about photographs. Photographic techniques and media are merely tools in the creation of these works. This all goes way beyond the debate on whether a photograph can be considered art.’ Her enthusiasm is a wonderful relief. ‘I’m going to bring my students,’ she declares.
    This is our best moment together since my arrival a fortnight ago: Bel actually being relaxed, enjoying something. I am so happy! I link my arm through hers. ‘So. When are you going to start your Art Nude project with me?’
    She immediately tightens a little. ‘When are you going to get out your unfinished manuscript?’


 

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