Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Photographer.

Ian Cooper

It was the first really decent day in early spring. Brett had been out in the woods for about a half hour. On the way in, he felt all right although there was a lot of stiffness and some pain in his hips and lower back. Oak Woods was a nice little conservation area only ten or fifteen minutes from town.

The way in was mucky in places. It was only when he struck off the trail and followed the left bank of the shimmering creek downstream a ways when he began to warm up and find his arteries had hardened or something. To sweat after a long winter was a new thing. It wasn’t that hot out, this early in spring, but he was wearing a tee shirt and three sweaters, with a cotton hoodie as first layer. At some point he had better turn around and go home. There was nothing dry to sit on. He didn’t have any water. It was better to start small. He figured he was eight or nine hundred metres from the road.

Ten more minutes and that would be it.

Bending low, he forced his way under clinging and tangled branches, squeezing between tree boles and following a six-inch wide game path along the rim. Most people couldn’t even see those trails. It hung over the water ten feet up at times, with signs of fresh falls and bank erosion all along after the rains a month ago. 

He wasn’t going very fast but he was getting somewhere. He caught a glimpse of a dark shape dropping from the tree-tops thirty yards ahead. The shape curved down and away and out of sight.

Whatever it was, it was big. It might have been a horned owl, or maybe just a turkey buzzard flying past when he got a glimpse. It might even be an actual wild turkey, as they roosted high up on branches. He didn’t think so, as there was only one of them. Seven or eight of them, would have made more sense. Brett had fallen from a ladder while repairing an overhead mechanical door operator. The fall from seventeen feet onto highly-polished concrete in the bale house loading dock had happened nine or ten months ago and he wondered if he would ever get back to his old job.


Brett stopped abruptly, eyes going every which way.

The guy spoke again and Brett finally located him.

“Hi, how are you?”

The guy was just off the trail, screened by the thin saplings of young hardwoods, but it was surprising how close Brett had gotten without seeing him.

“Uh, all right I guess.” The man was wearing a dark hunting camouflage jacket, but he had jeans on and a pale Tilley type hat.

He wore ankle-height hiking shoes in brown suede.

He had glasses on.

Brett looked for a dog but he would have heard it before now. The guy stepped out onto the trail, bringing along a tripod fully extended but with the feet together. He had a camera around his neck on a strap, and a bag slung over his shoulder.


“I’m Brett.”

They stood there for a moment.

“I see you saw—” The man grinned and started again.“I say! I see you saw the owl?”

"Buggah me dingo. Oi sure dee'd."

The man laughed at Brett’s accent.

“I mean, good sir, that you saw the owl?”

“Is that what it was?” Brett looked up at the top of a big old oak tree, one of a dozen or so really old ones along this stretch. “I’m sorry about spoiling your shot.”

“I was never going to get him anyway. The angle’s all wrong. But honestly, I didn’t even know he was there until you came along.”

The man spread the legs of the tripod and set it off to one side to save the trouble of holding it. He lifted up his camera and stepped closer.

Brett debated as to whether he should pull out his little digital camera, which was capable of sound clips and short videos but thought better of it. The thing was only worth a hundred bucks or so and this guy obviously took his photography pretty seriously.

“I always enjoy the walk out here.”

“Yes, it’s a very beautiful stretch.” Samuel spoke with the faint trace of some foreign accent. “Are you a photographer?”

“Ah…not really. I’ve gotten some nice shots here though.” Other city parks were totally lame, this one was a serious nature habitat.

It had owls and everything.

“So why are you not taking pictures today? Such a beautiful day.” Samuel lifted his arms expressively, rolling his head back, eyes agape with some inner fire, taking it all in with a big heave of the lungs.

Brett kind of pegged him as Italian, in spite of the name, by the way he said it. Definitely not French or German. He reluctantly dragged the Samsung out of his buttoned-down shirt pocket and showed Samuel. 

He pressed the button, quickly searching through and stopped on one shot in particular. It was just water, tumbling down over a few small drowned logs. There were thin dark streaks under the surface, with a lot of gravel and leaves on the bottom. Some of the leaves were yellow, some dark brown or purple. God or somebody had thrown a handful of red berries on the water and Brett was lucky to be there at that exact moment of eternity.

“I like that! That’s wonderful.” Samuel beamed and slapped a slightly-blushing Brett on the arm.

The screen was about an inch and a half by two inches.

How in the hell do you see anything? Brett wondered. 'Cause I sure can't.

“Well, you know. I’ve been taking pictures all my life.” Brett shut up as Samuel patted him again.

“Here. Why don’t you try a picture with my camera.”

“Oh, I don’t know.” It was pointless as there was no way to get the picture off…or maybe there was.

“What kind of card is in that?” He took the camera as Samuel lifted the strap off of his neck and handed it over.

“It’s an SD card, my friend.”

Brett’s jaw dropped. It really was that simple. He looked at Samuel. There was a spot, but the light was bad and his camera never did it justice. It wasn’t that far from here.

“How would I get an image file off of your camera?” The answer almost floored him in its simplicity.

“Oh, Brett, my friend, that’s very easy. I take my card out—and you put yours in, the one from your camera—and then you may shoot to your heart’s content.”

Brett nodded, lost in thought. Of course his camera had a card in it. He just plugged into the computer though, and so he never really thought of it. He could almost go for it.

Samuel reached into his bag and brought out a pair of gleaming tall cans of Labatt’s Blue.

“Still a little cool. So, what, do you want to shoot? I can tell, you’ve got an idea.” You can’t fool me, the look implied.

Brett nodded. Samuel snapped a top and proffered one to him. It had been a while, what with the cash-flow problems he’d been having lately, and he accepted it gratefully.

“Yeah—if you really want to go.”

“But surely, my friend. And when you’re done, maybe I snap a few shots of my own, eh?”

Brett took a long swig of the beer and wondered if Samuel maybe had a couple more in there.


It looked like the vines had pulled the dead trees down sometimes, but they had fallen in a windstorm and then subsequently grown over with smaller creepers. With a full canopy and the sun behind a cloud, there was an eerie darkness under the translucent green mass of foliage.

Off the trail it was slow going.

There was a place where the creek got deeper and widened out. Slowly meandering along in left and right turns, the valley opened up and there were grassy clearings between the clumps of river-bottom brush, mostly small deciduous trees laden with the clinging arms of woody vines. Birches, aspens, sometimes held a garland of dead yet colourful leaves from last year. Yellow and purple, perfect complemenntary colours.

The sheer banks were five or six feet above the water, but small cave-ins promised easy access if it wasn’t too muddy. The sand at the water’s edge was like quicksand, Brett told Samuel.

The water, hemmed in by banks of tougher clay, foamed along in a chain of rapids, with the flat white rocks inviting an easy crossing. The creek ran right up to a railway embankment, a hundred feet higher, and then went into a dark hole in the grassy green hillside.

“Ah!” Samuel liked the place. “Lovely.”

“Yeah, it’s always good.” Brett pointed at the culvert, which was ten feet high and maybe twelve feet wide.

They could see right through to the other side, as the railway berm wasn’t that high so it only had to be so wide.

“Okay, that’s private property over there.” Brett looked at Samuel. “Anyway, I like little sets of rapids.”

They swapped SD cards and Samuel showed him how to turn it on. Brett wanted manual settings, which impressed him as he hadn’t seen it in a while. Not since the old film-type SLRs.

Samuel watched as he moved around, studying the camera and setting it up with no real difficulties. Brett crouched here and there, getting some nice angles on the small, glittering riffles and pools.

“I see that you have the eye. That’s good.”

Brett bit his lip, taking a hard look at Samuel.

“There’s a shot I’ve always wanted to try.”

Samuel came closer.

Brett sought the words. He knew how the shot was done, of course.

“Okay, so what I need is your tripod.”

“But of course!” Samuel unlimbered the Velcro strap that kept it in a tight bundle for shoulder-carrying, and proffered it with a serious mien. “Anything for you, Brett.”

This was getting a little embarrassing, although Brett didn’t feel threatened by it. Not yet, although the thought had crossed his mind.

“I want one of those shots where the water looks all green and sort of foamy…no, creamy. You know? It’s like a long-exposure, with a small aperture, and the camera has to be really steady. I figure you guys always use a remote switch to trip the shutter…sandbags on the legs of the tripod. There’s not much wind out.”

Samuel nodded.

“I can help you with all of that.”

Brett bit his lip, a faint flush of pink creeping up his face.


Brett finally ran out of shots after trying fifteen or twenty exposures of small rapids, even one with a bit of a miniature waterfall a foot tall. Grinning, he chatted with Samuel, who plied him with questions.

He pressed the catch and pulled his card out.

“Have you ever heard of stock photos?”

“Huh? Yeah, sure.” Brett was putting the card back into his camera, so he could scroll the picture and at least get an initial impression of what he had. “They sell images.”

“You use the right word, I like that.”

Brett looked up, catching on now.

“Ah! You think I could sell my pictures?” He grinned at the thought.

It took a long time to become a good wildlife photographer. Most pros worked in department store portrait studios for little better than minimum wages. He’d never seriously considered photography as a job before; even though he clearly needed to do something…fuck, I got to do something with my time—my life.

“Stock photos. Most of the people on some sites never sell a single picture. But I call sell mine, sometimes for twenty dollars, and sometimes for seven hundred. Sometime for much more.”

“Oh!” Brett got it now.

He’d been showing off for a real pro, and probably famous enough in his own world.

“I get it.” His eyes clouded and wandered off to the tree-line.

Brett felt kind of small.

Sensing the thought, Samuel patted him on the arm.

“It’s okay, my friend.”

Brett laughed, a likeable quality was his humility when he knew the facts. The joke was on him and harmless enough. He kind of liked the guy anyhow, and that was different.

“How would you like to make twenty-five dollars today?”

Brett straightened up.

“What are you talking about?” All he had was the Samsung and the few pics from Samuel’s camera.

“You let me take a picture of you.”

Brett’s mouth opened and he contemplated the all but unthinkable.


“It’s okay, my friend. It was only a thought.”

Brett put two and two together.

“You mean like as a model?”

Samuel brightened.

“Yes. I know a few places, they buy my pictures. They might like a nice guy like you. What do you say? What we do is put them up online and let customers all over the world shop for pictures, you know, magazines, websites, advertising executives, all kinds of people. I’m thinking maybe some good muscles, a hairy chest, eh? The ladies always like that.”

Brett wasn’t exactly shocked, not when he examined the specifics.

“So what happens if I say yes?”

“Ah. Well, that’s very simple. I take a few pictures—” Here he sounded very foreign. “You and me sign some papers. A receipt, a model release. I pay you twenty-five dollars. I must keep track of everything, you understand.”

“Ah, ah…” Brett was tempted to just laugh and walk away. “I don’t know.”

The problem was he had also heard of some lucky stiff who was getting paid twenty-five bucks an hour to model nude for college art classes. Word was one or two good-looking women did it too, and he had sort of thought of looking into it out of sheer desperation.

As far as professional modeling went, it was about the farthest thing from his mind.

“Okay, no problem.” Samuel dug into his bag and came up with a business card.

Samuel, Photographer. The design had the elegance of simplicity. It was enough to convince Brett.

“Ah, what the hell.” A smile of relief swept across Brett’s face, and Samuel grinned engagingly.

It quickly evaporated as soon as he took off his shirt and hung it on top of a low sapling. Twenty-five bucks wouldn’t even buy a case of beer, when you thought about it.

The mood had sort of swung for him, and he was momentarily abashed. Sensing the timidity, Samuel bustled about putting his camera on the tripod, selecting a location, and then beckoning Brett over with extended arm. In spite of his misgivings, Brett had enough clinical detachment to observe the way Samuel moved his limbs, nudged his back to get him to curve his spine, and telling him to lift his chin.

“Have you ever seen Michelangelo’s David?”

“Uh, yes—” Brett could do that one, at least.

David was about to take out the Minotaur or something as Brett recalled. With a rock, right between the eyes.

He struck the pose, nice and casual, remembering his posture. The shutter clicked, and then again and again.

His new friend began showing him a few basics of posing as a model.

Brett stood in front of a massive dead tree trunk, pale and stark with all the bark long since fallen off. Samuel had him put his right hand just so on the leg, take a deep breath, and suck in his belly. He learned to sort of flex a few times and then take the pose again. He learned to lift his sternum and pull in his buttocks by rotating the pelvis. He learned how to stand a bit sideways and rotate his chest and shoulders in a unit, as Samuel said. He learned more in five minutes than he had learned in fifteen years of trying to get somebody else to hold still for him long enough to get a shot.

“Where is your shirt?”

This seemed like an odd question.

“Uh, over there.”

Samuel scuttled over to get it.

“Here, hold it in your hand like this.” He draped the ends, one length shorter than the other, and displayed it.

“What, are we selling shirts?”

“Yes! Something like that. That is a good way to look at it.” Samuel went to the camera, made adjustments, and seeing how it looked. “We are selling shirts, my good fellow! Ah, ha!”

He seemed very full of life and optimism.

He made Brett move this way and that way. Sometimes he stood beside the camera and made a pose, which Brett interpreted as best he could.

Samuel took what Brett estimated to be about twenty-five or thirty pictures.

“Thank you, thank you, my friend.”

“No problem, I guess.” Brett began doing up his shirt as Samuel put away all the lenses and filters he had used.

“Here. Take a look.” Samuel handed him the camera and he scrolled through the shots, keeping the screen out of direct sunlight so he could make it out.

It was a bit of a let-down in some ways, as some shots clearly weren’t very successful. One thing Brett noticed was the dark beard of shadow under his chin. It showed up in a lot of the shots, and Samuel had deployed additional flash and even a reflector on the ground under him to take that away. It was definitely interesting. He gave it that much. And Samuel was a kind of genius in that there were two or three shots that showed Brett as he saw himself but knew he wasn’t, perhaps a little more rugged-looking and filled-out than he actually was.

Samuel had caught something of the character, and that was something Brett found surprising.

He’d never seen himself through the eyes of a photographer, which sounded like bullshit. Those shots were very good indeed—assuming you weren’t just lying to yourself. But too many catalogue models looked entirely generic, without any character at all visible in their faces.

Perhaps that was just as well when you were selling shirts in a catalogue!

Samuel was filling out a simple form with the date. He took Brett’s name, address and phone number. The model release was simple enough. Samuel put that away, Brett folding his copy and stuffing it in a shirt pocket. Samuel pulled out his wallet with a smile.

“Twenty-five dollars for the man with the hairy chest.”

Brett laughed.

“That’s one way of looking at it.” He wondered what Samuel would think of the college model idea.

“Oh.” Samuel rummaged in a side pocket of the sagging photo bag.

He pulled another business card.

“There’s a guy in town. He’s a friend of mine. He does a lot of clothing shots.”

Brett took the card.

“Tell him Samuel sent you. He will probably laugh at that. Don’t worry, he’s all right. He’s got some contracts. Lots of shirts and pants. Shoes and socks, and toasters and microwaves. You might look good holding a tennis racket, you know?”

“How much does that pay?”

“Oh, God. Probably no more than ten bucks an hour. Not much, that’s for sure. But go see him anyway. Don’t shave for two, maybe three days. Promise me that, for one thing. Then go see him, okay?”


“Sorry. I almost forgot. But you are wondering about the pictures, no?”

Brett nodded. The guy had pretty much read his mind.

“Do you have an email address?” The fellow whipped out his notebook again. “I send you a few, and if I sell one, I will let you know, okay?”

Brett gave it to him and he wrote it down.

Imagine that: I might end up illustrating some ladies’ magazine or catalogue somewhere.

What an odd thought that was.

They were pretty much done and not much more to be said. After a final quick look, and a nod from Samuel, it was over.

They shook hands and Brett headed for the trail, as Samuel was staying behind to take a few shots of the sunset.

What the fuck, eh.

What a long strange day it had been.

You never knew, did you?

Anything could happen to a guy in this life, anything at all.

Brett felt unaccountably better about things all of a sudden.

It was a question of your attitude—and maybe not wasting your time.

A man had to do something with his time after all.


The above is basically just a short story, which I enjoy doing from time to time.

This is To Love Again, a bit of a romance, here on Barnes & Noble. Available in other fine stores as well.

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