beauty begrudged refuses to pose again
It started on a sunny day on a rooftop in Ebute Metta, after he impulsively went out to get a ten-foot-tall mirror. In front of it, he swayed from right to left, his arms outstretched, and posed; then he stood at attention, clamped both arms by the hips and posed; squatted and posed; pursed his lips and posed. This adventure began as a counter-exercise after he watched Susan Sontag with black shades on, sitting for a portrait, a scene in Regarding Susan Sontag, and he’d extracted that comment about photography bringing to light the truth about oneself. As someone quick to be contrarian, he didn’t like how this settled. Whatever truth the light captured, he didn’t want this to come from the photographer’s gaze. He was intent on exuding a vibe, a visual frequency absolutely his. And even though her essays would have more nuanced views about photography’s reality—the constructed, atomized, aggressive imposition of the camera lens on moments, how it fed the illusion of fixity—he was not aware of this and so ran with his initial conceit: make every portrait a selfie, make every image the internal image of himself.
At a party he went to with his best friend, his obsession continued to spill, this very elemental preoccupation. She knew if she did not indulge him, he was going to continue being prickly about it. So, she said of course the photographer and the photograph can individually bring to light some truth. It didn't have to be an all-surrounding or captive truth. In her case, being small in stature, reserved and modest, the shyness within showed. In the tension around her eyes, as though she was going to cry, in the way her arms were always folded across the chest or awkwardly frozen. Perhaps if he didn’t let himself be so driven by an internal aperture and need for control, he would have seen that photography could be an act of relation. In Midé’s defense, this relational proposition is a thing of the future, a thing one has to understand and work towards. The history he’s—and we’ve—known is the camera as an extension of a gaze, the gaze itself a tool of power.
It was fun. Each night trying to capture something; exhaustion, desire, being on the receiving end of desire. Only that he wasn’t the one doing the capturing. Beauty aware of its gift made performance easier, to sit on a one-night stander’s couch and not make it artificial. So after exhibition openings, and galas and press conferences, the day he was lucky to find a love interest that was a photographer, he framed himself according to the image in his head. All was fun and went according to plan till it did not.
He should have known the scarlet envelope spelt trouble when he received it. Or the fact that the photograph came in print, from A. who he had an uncomfortable crush on. He hated it immediately, in his hands was a terrible subtraction of what he thought of himself. The whole adventure came to a halt. Midé declined invitations to be photographed, even as he garnered little fame. The internal image, now distorted, forgot how to realize itself in poses, expressed begrudge by an explicit refusal.
At the end of the year, even though the exercise had ended, he met someone who talked to him about everything except photography. He liked this one in a different way, the way he touched and looked at him. It was in the pit of tenderness, one of those rare mornings after, this one asked if he could photograph him.
I like this morning light, stand against it, he said.
It was the first time it wasn’t about him. Sometimes a portrait wasn’t really a question of the gaze anymore, but what the subject, in the moment of being photographed, thought the gaze wanted from it. So Midé agreed, refusing to pose in any expected, qualifiable sense. He knelt on the bed. In the eventual print he requested, he looked keenly at the image, a moment so crisp he wanted to enter it. Faint smell of the air was present. The gush of wind blowing the white linen curtain made a curved bridge beneath his shoulders. His body merely contrast, merely form, merely an obstruction of light. Ridges and creases in the white bed sheet gave a texture, like waves. He is beautiful again, this time a sum of everything including him. A beauty decentralized, diffused into scene.