I’ve heard (and said) Go ahead and take off your clothes now several (read: 100? More? Probably more, if I’m being honest. A lot more. If I’m being honest) times in the last year. Usually a preamble (prelude?) to sex. Sometimes with a stranger. Sometimes with a boyfriend. Sometimes with a boyfriend who was (remains?) a stranger. Why is it that relationships begin and end with the same status: stranger? I digress.
Last night, I agreed to pose naked for a photographer. I’m not one to pose naked for a photographer. Once, in college, Holly and I played around with sex and photography. Handcuffs. Automatic timer. In those pictures, we’re both mostly clothed. And once, with a stranger, (actually, now that I think about it, twice) I agreed to a picture, but again, I was clothed. But last night, for a stranger, I agreed to take off my clothes, sit (vulnerably sit, if I’m being honest) on a blanket-covered floor, and let him strap a mask to my head. Sometimes to the front, and sometimes to the back, and once to the side.
He positioned (read: molded) my body to fit his vision, an assignment about telling stories using visual cues. I was (am?) the fourth model to pose. The three before me: two princes and a sun god. As for my role in this photographer’s story? The trickster. Seriously. The trickster. I’m no prince. No sun god. Not even the kindhearted ruler of some faraway kingdom. No, I’m the frequently powerless trickster who surprises everyone by what he can do.
I apologized (as I find myself doing a lot, before; after, there are no apologies, for there is no need for an apology after) for not being as flawless as the men who posed before me (for he showed me the photographs of the other men, and I thought at the time, who will see these photographs of me, and then I answered myself: a teacher, maybe several teachers, and students, more than several students, and who knows who else, as this photographer plans to print the series and display them in a local coffee shop). And the photographer said I had no reason to apologize, that my body is just fine the way it is.
You have to say that, I said. You’re the photographer.
I don’t have to say that, this photographer said.
But I think he did.
I posed for maybe an hour, bending my head and neck and arms and legs in the direction (sometimes several directions) as the photographer dictated. He had warned me before that he was a harsh taskmaster, and that sometimes, his models left in the middle of the shoot. I had no problems bending my body. And even holding the poses was easy. I thank yoga, actually, for my ability to sit statute-still, holding in a breath, waiting for the shutter to click click click click and capture.
Me. Captured. On film. Digitally, rather. Naked. Exposed. Arms wrapped around my legs. My back curved into a C. The mask facing the photographer. Its eyes open. Its mouth a scar of a leer. My eyes and mouth closed. Not breathing. Then breathing. Not breathing.
I would never have posed naked for a photographer before, in my before life. Do I think of before as my before life? Maybe. But if I do, I would be hard-pressed to tell you the moment separating before from now (not after, not yet). Coming out to Holly maybe? Is that the moment? Maybe.
Not breathing. Breathing. Not breathing. Eyes open. Then closed. Hand outstretched. Then closed.
I stood up to get some water at one point, and I walked (naked, still naked) across the studio to get the water I had brought, and I knew the photographer was looking at me, and I half expected him to take pictures of me as I walked for the water I had brought, but he didn’t. And when I turned around to look in his direction, he was not looking at me, but was looking at the back of his camera, at the pictures he had already taken. So he was looking at me, or at moments of me. Masques.
The photographer wore a medallion around his neck of the goddess, Kali.
Wear it all the time?, I asked the photographer.
He looked at me as if the question was strange, and maybe the question was strange, is strange, but I asked the question nonetheless, and the photographer told me that he always wears the necklace, except when he’s in the shower.
His using the word shower convinced me that after we were done, we would have sex in his studio, in the studio where he goes to school, where next door, and down the hall, and downstairs, other students were taking pictures and editing pictures and printing pictures. And we did. Of course we did. For a while. He had the studio until midnight. We didn’t use the space for the entire time, but close to it. I didn’t wear the mask. I didn’t have to. I was already exposed, and had been, and I kind of liked being exposed, even though before, in my before life, I would have done anything to avoid such exposure.