Sunday, 7 August 2011

'Photo Finish'

by Sandrine Lopez


Morning snapshot of a cityscape, a moment frozen forever in time, behind the shutter of a 35mm SLR.

Katherine had grown to love photography. Proper cameras with film and grain, not the pixel shit of the digital age. There was something more intimate, personal, about negatives, exposing them in a darkroom and seeing the image - your view and cropped framing - developing, nurtured, in the tray. It was a creative process, and she was a woman with vision.


People this time, crowds of faces milling about in rush hour, their likenesses now trapped on acetate and silver halide, like insects in amber . She wondered if some historian or archeologist, thousands of years in the future, would see these images and ponder on their significance. A preservation of now, for some time hereafter.


One face stood out. A guy had spotted her, perhaps a flash of the lens caught his eye? Was he wondering if she's focussed on him? Picked him from the crowd. He pointed at himself. Me?


It was now. He posed meaningfully. Katherine smiled.


The motor whined. End of film. One disadvantage against digital, the handicap of being limited to 24 or 36 shots, wasting time changing cartridges. As Katherine wound back the film, released it and fed a new cartridge in, the guy was nearly upon her.

Katherine pointed the lens up at him as he shadowed over her, sat on the wall beside her camera case. She focussed and got a close-up of his grey eyes, dirty blond hair and enchanting smile. One for the personal folio, she thought.

"Am I that interesting?" He asked, "To be picked out of... so many."

"Luck of the draw." Katherine replied, "The right time, the right place..."

"The right person." He added. Katherine smiled again, liking his candour.

She extended a slender hand, "Katherine Sade."

He took it, raised it to his lips like a gentleman, and kissed her fingers, "Christopher Parfitt". With a returned smile and slight mock bow, he added, "Model extraordinaire, at your service."

Katherine may only have been a talented amateur but she knew the market. He wasn't young enough, or beautifully sculpted in the trade sense, to be a model but that didn't stop him from being exceptionally and instantly attractive to her, in looks and personality. Katherine was aware she had snatched him, visually and socially, out of his journey. While not wanting to, she found herself saying with a blush, "I'm sorry. I must have stopped you from wherever you were going."

Christopher spread his arms, "I'm a free agent. Well, today anyway."

A snapshot of here and now. A moment frozen in time.

"I guess I am too." Katherine replied.

Suddenly, Christopher had the SLR out of her hands. Before she could protest, the camera was being turned on her. Katherine hated having her photo taken, which was why she preferred being behind the lens, not in front. And especially now, no make-up and just in a frumpy, comfortable jumper and long denim skirt. Fuck, I haven't even washed my hair...


Katherine held up a hand to stop more being taken but Christopher was already offering it back to her.

"For posterity," he told her, "and, if I may be so bold, for me to have a print sometime?"

Now Katherine was really blushing. Her heart pounded in her chest.

"And in return for so gracious a gift," Christopher added, "Might I buy you a coffee or something?"

She had no choice, and laughed coyly at so obvious but welcome a proposition.


Starbucks was too crowded so even though it was throwing caution to the wind, Katherine took him back to her place.
Am I usually this bold? She asked herself. No, but this may be a one and only opportunity...

Over coffee, she probed a bit. Was Christopher married? No. Girlfriend? Between relationships. Tactfully put. Katherine felt a twinge of possibility, beyond this single day. For now she was more concerned about getting some portrait shots, in her spare bedroom-come-studio. Christopher may not be a model but he had looks enough to spare and with the right lighting and angles...

She couldn't help shutting one eye and forming a mental crop round his head and shoulders. In return, Christopher winked back.

Stop thinking like a photographer and act like a woman, you stupid cow! She chided herself.

"Sorry," Katherine blushed, realising what she had provoked, "Force of habit."

"Winking at men you just picked up off the street?" Christopher was teasing her.

"Framing." She explained, "I was hoping to... "


"Take some more photos?" Katherine grimaced inwardly. That sounded almost cold and impersonal.

"Sure," Christopher smiled. "Why not?"


Christopher, model or no, was a photographer's dream. It would be too easy to call him a poser. He knew instinctively when to freeze, allowing Katherine the luxury of just snapping away, not even having to say 'hold it' or 'smile'. He did these as naturally as breathing. And what a heart melting smile too.

Katherine was in a creative heaven, the adrenalin flowing and heart pounding as Christopher went from simple lit portraits, to taking off his tie and loosening his shirt for a more casual look, before actually stripping to the waist! Katherine giggled shyly at being in a room with a half-dressed guy she barely knew, taking photos. It verged on the decadent, the immoral. She had to stop, think, and made more coffee as she let her whirling, buzzing senses try and find the ground once more.

Christopher didn't even bother putting his shirt back on, and Katherine felt she should avert her lingering gaze as she sipped from her mug.

"So, how did I do?" He asked, sensing her awkwardness.

Katherine smiled with burning cheeks, "Wonderfully."

"I said I was extraordinaire, didn't I?" He put down his mug and held her arms, guiding her to the stool in front of the spots. Katherine winced, please God no...

But she didn't move from where Christopher had perched her. A bird in a gilded cage of light.

As he moved behind the camera on its tripod, he winked. "Framing"

Katherine had to grin at the touché.


"Perfect." Now Christopher raised a hand and made a fluttering movement with it. "Watch the birdie!"

Katherine laughed.


Christopher sent up the whole male photographer/female model scenario for her. Doing what Katherine thought she would have to do with him but hadn't needed to. He made her smile and laugh, told her to make luurve to the lens - *click*click*click*click* "Ooooh yeah baby!" - and instinctively got her to relax where being in front of the camera usually freaked her.

And when that cartridge finished, Christopher surprised Katherine further by expertly rewinding it, flipping it out and loading a new one as he'd done it all his life too. Barely moments lost before he was getting her to pose, no... just be... naturally, unselfconsciously, again.

"You've done this before, haven't you?" Katherine had to ask.

An enigmatic smile. "Perhaps."

Katherine gave a half exasperated, quirky pout of the lips.



"I am so not." A frown.


"Beg to differ."

"If I had a chance to scrub up, maybe."


"Fine as you are." Christopher stuck his tongue out and crossed his eyes.

Katherine laughed so much, tears rolled down her reddening cheeks.


"Okay, now take your jumper off." Nonchalantly requested, as if the most natural thing in the world.

Katherine swallowed. "What!?"

Christopher stood up, gestured towards his chest. "Hey, I'm topless. The least you could do is return the favour."

"You've got to be fucking kidding!" Katherine was half-horrified but half-tempted, because he had been making her feel very good about herself. "I'm so self conscious."

Christopher exaggerated closing one eye, looked at her through a box made with his fingers, mockery of photographers framing, and said in a cliched French accent, "Nat evern eef ah zay 'make ze sweeet luurve to ze lens' non?"

More silly giggling. It was so stupidly awful yet enticing Katherine gripped the bottom of her jumper and slowly pulled it up over her head. She was half way when she heard another click.

In her newly discovered bravado, Katherine had forgotten there was nothing on underneath. She froze.

"No-one will know." She heard Christopher say, "Just us. Just this once. This single day."

Katherine's head popped out from the stretched neck of the jumper, her chestnut hair every-which-way.


So was that the pay-off? The price for all this? That after he would be gone forever? His way of saying goodbye already. Katherine's wasn't sure she wanted that. Her smile melted off her face.

Christopher saw it instantly. "Did I say something wrong?"

Fuck, Katherine thought, I barely know this guy, who's a dream in front and behind the lens, knows how to make me love myself, and I'm already committing before the sun sets on us.

Christopher released the shutter.


"I'll name that one 'melancholy'..." he told her.

A tear rolled down Katherine's cheek, but not one of laughter, or joy. Christopher adjusted the lens, zoomed in on her face.


"And that's 'sadness'... " He said, "Going the whole emo range here. What an actress."

Katherine glared at him, "I'm not acting!"

Suddenly, in one swift move, Christopher was in front of her, holding her in his bare arms, naked chest against exposed heaving breasts, hot skin on skin. This close, Katherine took in his aftershave, mingled with his own natural musk, a heady cocktail for her to become intoxicated on.

Make love to the lens, he had told her, when perhaps all along he had been suggesting, make love to me.

And terrifyingly, she wanted to. This perfect stranger, captured in her photos, her dreams, and now perhaps - for a single day or night only - her bed. Better to have loved and lost, than regret always?

It was like one of those cliched romantic scenes, where a man holds a woman in his arms and there's moments of indecision... do they or don't they? Kiss or bed? Katherine's head whirled again. So decadent...

Their lips met.


Christopher still had the end of the remote cable release in his hand. He had captured that moment forever too.

"What do you want to call that one?" he asked.

The touch of his lips on hers meant more than her heart was pounding. Deep in her gut Katherine felt burning needs, deep desires. Her thighs trembled.

"Possibility..." she murmured. And brought his face to hers, snogged him meaningfully.


Something was clicking alright, and it wasn't just the camera.

The film had ended.

"Let's see what develops." Christopher suggested, and pulled himself slowly away. A gentleman still.

Flushed with torn indecision and bemusement Katherine pulled her jumper back on and, as she tugged the wool over her breasts, so the old self-consciousness covered the new bolder, daring version of herself.


Colour photo printing had to be done in almost total darkness, so sensitive was the film and paper. Small phosphorescent strips marked out corners and equipment for when the main light was off.

Katherine developed the films and made a contact sheet. There, next to her photos of Christopher, were his ones of her. Smiling, laughing, thoughtful, crying... the ones of them kissing, first tentatively, then with her passionate craving. For someone whose experience was confessed to be 'perhaps', he had framed their bodies perfectly, caught the moment.

Even if she and Christopher didn't go beyond this day, the preserving of that instant took her breath away. The potential was still there, not lost but on hold, like the camera shutter half-pressed, waiting to be released.

There was a knock on the darkroom door. "Anyone in?" She heard Christopher ask. "Coffee, and guy, going cold out here."

Katherine wasn't sure whether she should let Christopher see those ones, just yet, but she pinned up the contact sheets of him to let them dry, and opened the door. The others, as yet unfixed, she slipped in the bin.

Christopher, thankfully back in his shirt, looked at the small images of himself. "Hey, I look pretty good. Even unscrubbed." He looked round. "None of you then?"

"They... uh..." Katherine bit her lip, lied badly, "Didn't come out too well."

Christopher spied the crumpled sheets in the bin and picked them out. Shame-faced, Katherine didn't stop him or meet his gaze as he looked them over, slowly solarizing under the light.

"You don't like my work?" he asked.

"It's not that... " she began, knowing full well Christopher could sense she didn't just like the photos but loved them. Were they the beginning of something, that shared breath, or was it an ending? As far as it should, or could, go? "Is it just... some kind of work to you?"

Christopher shook his head. "I used to be like you... a talented hobbyist. Then other things got in the way... life, work, career. You brought some of that fun back." The contact portraits of him were darkening with overexposure, but the few of them embraced held out. A sign possibly, picked out in light and shadow on paper.

"A day not thinking about where the money is coming from. Hours of just me... " He continued vaguely, not in particular to either of them, "And, suddenly, you as well."

Christopher hadn't needed to include her in his confession but he had. That moved her.

"Fancy making love to the lens again, Katherine?" he asked.

She shook her head. "No cameras this time. But... "

The rest didn't need saying.


It was now mid afternoon, and the brightness of the sun backlit the closed curtains of Katherine's bedroom. A small chink of amber light streamed like a spotlight through the uneven gap where they failed to meet, painting golden highlights over Christopher's naked body on the bed.

No cameras, Katherine had said, but she ached as much to immortalise him to a photograph, a reclined god-like pose on her sheets, as she did to have him beside her, on her, inside her...

Stop thinking photographer and be a fucking woman for once, you silly bitch! Just... this... once...

But she was still the same self-conscious self as Christopher knelt up, peeled off the old woolen jumper to free her breasts again, and undid her skirt. It fell to the floor and she stood there, just in panties, covering her exposed body with her hands in a vague semblance of the Birth of Venus.

Christopher stuck his tongue out and crossed his eyes again. It hadn't failed to make her laugh before, and it didn't this time. It broke the stupid, solemn seriousness of the moment, made it fun again. Forget the work, the studio, the camera... just be. Just once.


That wasn't the camera, it was their chemistry, like the dev in the darkroom, bringing the potential of exposure into vivid visual reality. Something that could be seen and felt.

Christopher leant down and brought his lips to Katherine's navel, and planted soft kisses down the pale skin of her stomach to the thin elastic top of her panties. Took it in his teeth and stretched it out with a mock growl. Katherine giggled, as he then rolled on his back with the fabric still in his mouth, and tugged them down her thighs. The pull unbalanced Katherine, and she fell with a whooop on the bed beside him, her head perilously close to his cock, which was hardening and extending, like a living zoom lens.

Make love to the lens...

Christopher scooped her legs up, and eased her undies off, so they lay panting, naked, facing each other's sex. Another moment of indecision.

"Ladies first?" Christopher offered, though it wasn't a gentlemanly suggestion. It was decadent but Katherine wanted it anyway. She closed one eye, and mentally framed his cock, now at its fullest size, as hard as it could be. Then she leaned forward, kissed the tip, took a deep breath and slowly drew him between her lips.

In return, she felt Christopher part her thighs, continued kissing where he had left off, until he found the soft fluff of her muff. And what was beyond, hidden... camera obscura, her darkest room. The heat of his tongue was like that chink of sun, soft comforting warmth. She suppressed a giggle, as much of one possible with Christopher's cock in her mouth, at the memory of his tongue waggling to make her laugh, now buried deep inside her cunt. Both thoughts relaxed Katherine. Made her open like the iris in the lens, his light flooding through and illuminating her.

Aperture f/1.8... as open as possible. Setting for low light levels... longer exposure...

They changed positions and, like his studio poses, Christopher instinctively seemed to know when to pause for Katherine, let her capture that moment in her mental camera. They may not be committed to film but these snapshots would live on in the album of her mind. She wondered how much Christopher was committing, for afterwards.

Christopher lay Katherine back, half sat up against her pillows and, with practiced precision, slowly entered her. A pause again, for her to take in the view of him.

A fluttering of eyelids before her gaze met his, fixed on each other. Then their two bodies were moving as one, as equal but complementary opposites, like light and dark, brightness and shadow.

The sun had set by the time their opposites cancelled each other out, exhausted but satisfied bare bodies lying together, entwined in the grey of twilight.


Katherine woke alone in near darkness. The curtains were open but it was night outside, the silver orb of the moon now her spotlight.

Christopher had gone. There was no sound or light elsewhere in her flat to suggest he remained. All she had were memories and a cosy, glowing ache inside.

Katherine flicked the bedside lamp on, and was startled to see a large photo print taped to the wall beside her. It was a montage... soft vignettes of her faces smiling, laughing, frowning and sad in each corner, framing the central image of them kissing. As a colour multiple exposure onto paper, it was flawless, like art. Christopher must have spent hours on it, or he was even better at this than he gave away.

It also seemed to mean goodbye.

Katherine pulled it from the wall but as she went to toss it to one side, she saw some writing on the back.

Dear K, I didn't want to disturb you but I had to leave. You looked so blissful it seemed a crime to wake you. Please send me some prints and call me. Love, C.

- with an address and telephone number.

Well at least it wasn't over. He could have just made his own prints and gone. The next move was hers to make, should she choose to.

The room's night air was cool, and she shivered, still naked under warm sheets, even if glowing from their faded heat. Katherine clambered out to find her gown, and flicked the main light on. And started again from the two large photo prints stuck to the closed bedroom door.

One was of Christopher, sitting in all his naked glory on the studio stool. He must have used the camera timer, and it brought back happy remembrances of their fun photographing each other. Not a god-like pose, as he had seemed earlier on the bed, just a man. But what a man, though.

The other was of her, lying naked and asleep on her bed. As she hadn't been disturbed by a flash it must have been a time exposure, using natural light only from the sunset. Christopher had been right... her expression, in soft focus, was one of an angel who had found inner peace and contentment. No wonder she had slept so soundly for hours.

Katherine studied the photo with her more critical, photographer eye. Christopher had got her good side. Not just physically - she didn't really think she had one but he had made sure her nudity was tasteful and not voyeuristic - but emotionally. That knack of making her relax before the camera, his lens, the one she had made lurve to. The calm after the physical and sensual storm.

Let's see what develops... Christopher had said.

The photos were a preservation of then, but perhaps an echo of what might be as well, yet to be shared.


- - - - - - - -

Sandrine's notes:

This was my second submission for UStar's story competition. I drew on my long-dormant experience in photography (I'd studied some at college, more than 20 years ago) and used that as a theme, while holding back on the two main ideas I was going to pitch for the novels, had I been accepted.

Longer than most submissions at the time, which limited me to under 2,000 words, this one ran to 3,500, and allowed me to explore the characters a little more in this (no pun intended) vignette of a first meeting and start of a relationship.

Victoria Blisse's Sunday Snog