A Nice Visitor
The weather is curious in Northern Europe. Two or three years ago, we had a hell of a lot of snow. I noticed because I had to shovel it all. Last year, we didn't have a lot of snow, but we had four whole months of frost. And then this year, we have had almost no snow, and very little frost. Further, you can't trust the weather from hour to hour. Immigrants know this best. The natives sometimes think that just because it suddenly looks like spring in late February, that it is spring. But then it of course starts snowing and freezing again. Just as we had started hoping to see mini-skirts in March. Oh, well.
Personally, I like it. I would hate to live in a place where the weather is the same every day for months at a stretch. Anyway, in the middle of a blast of snow, my doorbell rang yesterday. I poked at the fire and went to answer. Against the background of the swirling whiteness, a small, carefully wrapped figure stood in my door. Inside the hood, a pretty face smiled at me.
Now that is the kind of Sunday surprise I can live with. A strange PYG turning up at my doorstep. I invited her in, and took her coat. She was very nice. A melodious voice, a bit deep for such a young girl, and what seemed to be a nice figure. (Have you noticed that it takes a LOT of clothing to hide a good figure? Somehow it shines through. Also how you can judge the approximate age of a girl even at a distance and from behind. It is interesting.)
Now naturally, I offered her a cup of warm cocoa. She gracefully accepted, and while I was making it, she was admiring my exhibition of my own art in my hall.
While I was placing the tray in the library, I heard her voice from the hall. "This is interesting," she said. I went to her, and she was looking at a black-and-white print of a girl sitting on a chest of drawers. I asked her why that one was particularly interesting. She said: "Don't you have a photo of a girl with dark curly hair, and that same chest in the background?" "Maybe I do. Somewhere," I told her. "Do you know it?" "Indeed I do," she smiled. "The girl is my mother." She explained to me over cocoa. Her mother had lived in South Africa in the fifties, in Joburg where I had a portrait studio for three years. She had been a teacher in math and in dancing, and I had done some nudes of her demonstrating dance steps (since it seemed a bit undramatic to photograph her in the nude demonstrating math formulas). I remembered this woman well. Very intelligent girl, very purposeful. Her daughter seemed much like her.
Equally pleasant was the news that her mother had treasured those photos a lot. Sure, they were good, and she seemed happy when she got them, they always do, but they were really important to her. That was nice to hear.
Sadly, her mother died last year. Sally (this girl) had gotten over it pretty well, being strong, and she had suddenly gotten the idea of getting similar pictures taken of herself. Perhaps to honor her mother, but more importantly because it just felt like a good idea. Then to her shock, while she was still playing around with the idea, she found the name Stobblehouse in the directory, and recognized it from the old photos. She couldn't believe it, that was 40 years and two continents away. Additionally, I lived in Copenhagen like her, so she just went calling, believing that I would probably either be my own son, or retired. Well, art never sleeps, and I'm still kicking.
"I can't believe it," she said. "Are you sure you're the original Stobblehouse?"
"There is only one," I said. "So, how about I photograph you? After all, who better to emulate Stobblehouse than himself?"
Her face lit up totally. "No way!" she said. "You are still working?! Can we do it now?!" And she practically started undressing right there.
"Oh, gee, hold your horses, I " The idea had not occurred to me. People don't normally operate so fast. Then I thought for a minute, and realized that I had just planned to spend the afternoon in front of the fire with my current favorite book, a task that could surely be postponed in the face of such enthusiasm and beauty. "Tell you what," I said. "Let's do it." Fortunately I had used my home studio recently, so it was quick to unpack. I used the quick-heater, and drew the shades from the big windows. And she "unpacked" herself. She was a beauty. I almost stopped in my tracks, just looking.
"Oh, you're lovely," I said to her. "I am happy you came to me." She looked at me, a tiny bit shy, but also very proud. "Yes, aren't I?" She ran her hands over her breasts. "To be honest, that is why I want you to photograph me. It would be like wasting a resource, otherwise." I stepped over and pressed her hand warmly. "So pretty, and so wise, too! You are my friend."
She pressed my hand. "I believe I am," she said. "Shall we start?" And she stretched her strong body. Gee. Naturally, I did not still have the same chest of drawers as in the old photos, so we had to do with a shoddy substitute. We took some pics similar to her mother's pics, as far as she could remember them. (I could not recall whether they where amongst all the stuff I lost in the great Stockholm fire.) Then I got the idea to photograph her against the swirling snow outside. If this sounds like a great idea to you, then you are a poetic soul, and probably not a photographer. Swirling snow looks marvelous, but is damn near impossible to photograph. Either you can see nothing but white (which looks bad), or it turns out gray (which is worse). It is almost impossible to get a good contrast in the snow and other things at the same time. Add to that trying to light anything standing indoors against that When we called it a day, I was exhausted. I fear that I was not much of a conversationalist after that point, but I did my best as we ate dinner at a nearby restaurant. She kept it up though, and she gave me a hug when we parted, which I really liked.