There was a time when photographs were honest. When the misery that is everyday life was reflected – full tilt – in the pinched and sour faces of the subjects. Women with aging jowls and men with weathered foreheads, children adrift in the painful confusion that is childhood, all of them with hands folded like wounded doves in their laps.
These days, photographs were bright, jarring stills of life on some alien planet where everyone is happy all the time, men trailing behind their joyous wives, children on their shoulders, girls in matching dresses, boys in matching plaid. And the light, for fucks sake. Who needs that much fucking light?
These are the thoughts Nigel was having as he cozied up to the bar at the Viceroy and ordered a pale ale and a plate of rogan josh. His client would arrive soon, the one from the department store up the street. "Lifestyle photos," he’d said. Nigel was an artist, but his business advisor, the one he’d hired at his girlfriend’s urging, had said he could go commercial with his work, just for a few jobs, to make the cash he and Elizabeth needed for the new apartment.When the client arrived, well-dressed man with gray loafers and a chiseled chin, Nigel ordered him a beer and pushed the photographs across the corner of the bar towards him. Fuck the chit-chat, this was business, not art.
Benny, that was his name, flipped through them silently, his face void of reaction. Nigel respected a poker face and gave his full attention to the plate of food in front of him, and when he was done with that to the wall of portraits above the bar. Stone faced men in high collared shirts or full military dress, sad-faced women in tortured gowns. Nigel approved. Felt a kinship, even, with the men and women staring down at him.
“Is this a joke?” This was Benny, pushing the photos back across the bar.
Nigel explained his philosophy, about honesty and photography. “I don’t use digital photography,” he finished, a statement he felt didn’t need an explanation.
“I’m trying to sell something here, Nigel.”
“Be an honest businessman," Nigel told him, "Take a risk." Nigel felt people would respect Benny for this, and he told him so.
Before Benny walked out the door, he told Nigel, "People don’t want to see the misery of their own fucking lives in photographs. That’s what mirrors are for."
Nigel ordered another beer and wondered how the fuck Benny thought cameras worked in the first place.
Elizabeth texted to ask how it went, her face flashing bright and clean across the screen of his cell phone, her teeth impossibly white. Nigel slid the phone into the dark well of his portfolio case and drank his beer.