Artist As Witness

Entry by: CMK

18th June 2015
He longed to join them. He drank it all in with the greedy insatiability of the inebriate, intoxicated by the tinkling laughter and low, conspiratorial voices of the attendees. Together, they appeared to form a tableau, worked into an intricately woven tapestry stretching back to feudal days. There was something unreal about them, something iconographic. To him each was like a beautiful object, glittering and incomparably valuable. He himself was surely not of the same species; there could be no denying this fact. There was an unbridgeable void between them. They were the exalted, dangerously dynamic, while he was a static creature separated from them by the sheer chance of birth. The soft murmuring of their voices rang with the steady assurance of undisputed class, of privilege and opportunity. He stood stiffly and silently, pressed into the corner of the room, the victim of a self-imposed marginalisation.
The suggestive squeeze of an arm, the intensity of a glance, the plump, Cheshire grin of stained, bloody lips, these details were seen in high definition through the voyeuristic glare of the lens.
Unnoticed, he coveted this world. With the camera pressed to his unblinking eye, he was able to deconstruct the minute detail of the scene. Viewed as a unified mass, the crowd was overwhelming. The individuals within the group organism were indecipherable. The combination of the rich colour of sweeping dresses, the clinking of glasses and the low urgency of conversation was too much to absorb. The power of the lens, however, was an advantage. The momentary touch of an arm and the resulting wry smile of a lady in green was analysed in extreme close-up. Across the room, a seemingly indistinguishable whisper into the ear of a severe man was reconstructed through the zooming precision of the camera. Incapable of contributing to such a world, he chose to scrutinise and dissect that which was inaccessible to him.
He longed to step out of himself. A cerebral and awkward young man, he had never been comfortable in social situations and took refuge in his imagination. He visualised himself striding up to the circle of men and fearlessly introducing himself. Again and again, an idealised episode played out: a gruff handshake, a nod of approval, a satiric comment about foreign policy. Alternatively, he would offer a girl a drink, something sophisticated, he didn’t know what- perhaps she would suggest something herself. Smooth and charming, he would dazzle her with several intelligent remarks about French Realism. She would, of course, be fascinated and utterly infatuated with him, despite his lower class and undeniable plainness.
While these scenes played out in his mind, he remained a spectre in the corner, engaged but unengaging. He was a shadow, parasitically latched onto a world that he could not be a part of, a world that he was paid to immortalise in pictures. Candidly. Not mere commercial photography, but art. He was an artist. The camera was his simultaneously his livelihood and his defence from the vivacity of life.
Face. Click.
Face. Click.
Face. Click. Flash.
The flash was an unexpected jolt, suddenly illuminating the room with a harsh white light. Heads immediately snapped round to look at him, disapproving eyes narrowed. He felt exposed. His gaze fell to the ground. He was ashamed and drew into himself, wanting not to be seen, inviting people to turn away.
‘Excuse me, please could I have a photograph?’
The voice was low and musical; the face was wide and beaming. Without responding, he acquiesced, careful to make certain that the flash was switched off. He expected the girl to disappear back into the crowd, and was surprised to hear her speak again.
‘What’s your name?’
He looked at her very hard. He knew his voice would be harsh from negligence. He knew, also, that his conversational skills were not sparkling. He was not a self-deceiver. She returned his stare for a moment, waiting expectantly for a response. He wanted to give it, he was determined to do so. His lips parted slightly, the word caught in his throat- struck dumb, afraid to speak, pressed into the wall, he was mute. She raised an eyebrow, turned slowly and deliberately, and walked away from him.
‘What a rude man’, he heard her say loudly to a friend.
Harry put the camera back to his eye.
Face. Click.