We have been shooting for just more than two years, over more than 12,000 photographs, when she brings her own outfit. I don't know where she got it. She's never worn garters before. And she says she has something different to do for her make-up, and we agree that I will watch and shoot as she does as she wants. The Russian Girl sets the tone this time, and I will become a spectator for the next two hours, and then for the next five months, until she decides I am looking at her as an object and refuses to shoot again.
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25th shot, five minutes into shoot
She notices the spots on the mirror and I fetch the Windex, but she won't let me do the cleaning. "Shoot," she says, "I'll do it." I wait to catch her hand in the lower mirror before I click the shutter. In the edit, I leave the umbrella in the picture along with the edge of the black chair to emphasize the ordinary mess of a studio rather than the protruding rump, which is what she has decided to shoot. There are several dozen pictures during the course of this shoot where the Russian Girl coolly examines her butt in the mirror between flashes, passing judgment on it as she might on a vase of flowers. She cleans the mirror for more than two minutes, and I shoot 19 times during the cleaning.
After mascara, before eye shadow
This is 17 minutes after we have started shooting. The mascara and eye-liner is done, and this is the first time she looks at herself to see what transformation she is making of her face. Disguise or design? She is a quicksilver thinker, and this is a glance, not a pose, before she applies eye shadow.
My hair is silver, suddenly. I am in my prime, but I am not young. I am not documenting youth, or trying to capture the explosive changes in personality of a woman shedding the girl she has always been. Shooting has become a drama for me, after years of documenting. The images always serve a story of mine, since photographs have lost their currency as art: they are confetti, everywhere, as permanent as a millisecond of radio static. They mean almost nothing, singly or in collections, outside of journalism, and even in journalism they have lost urgency, and become simply evidence. So as I shoot, I do not think in pictures, but cook ideas about this young friend of mine, fearless, trying to harness her powers. What story can I tell about her? How about her blossom as a metaphor for 200,000 years of human anxiety? Where once we were animals like all other animals, we have become existentialists, ruining our living by preparing for dying. How can this bright young thing in garters looking at herself in my mirror be made into an allegory for my own birth long ago and death looming?