I’ve been a photographer, on and off, for a few decades, and I’ve worked in different cities and countries. As a photographer, I have met many people, some more memorable than others, and not necessarily for a good reason. What follows is the account of a private photoshoot, I did in Vancouver when I lived there. I was used to walking into people’s homes and lives, but nothing had prepared me for this client. I refer to him as the King or Lion King, so as not to reveal his true identity.
He is a man of small stature. His demeanor, by contrast, is that of a King. I am a hired hand and have been ushered into the private quarters of his highness, to immortalize him on celluloid. This was before digital cameras existed.
The king roars, and a woman clad in a long colorless robe enters the quarters with a tray bearing a traditional Lebanese coffee set. She silently hovers the tray over to the table and exits without a sound, her head bowed down from start to finish.
“Have you ever seen such a beauty?” Asks the King.
I look back at the woman as she exits the room, “yes she is stunning.”
“Yes, a real beauty she is. This is a Kalashnikov, do you know it?” The king is cradling a machine gun. I’m not sure how to react.
“I knew you could appreciate it, even as a woman. See, just like you, I point and shoot.” He aims the rifle straight at me from across the room.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to shoot you, at least not till you’ve done your job. Then we’ll see.” The king is roaring at his own joke.
I am not exactly laughing. He swiftly moves across the room with his rifle in hand. I jump back a little.
“Come here, what is wrong with you?” He grabs my upper arm and ushers me towards one of several armchairs.
“Today you shoot me and not the other way around. Now sit down and have the coffee before it gets cold.” The man doesn’t know how to speak unless he is gloating or ordering people around.
“I’ll pass, thank you. I’d rather get started with the photo shoot. I’ll set up the equipment. Where would you like me to shoot you, sir?”
“I think I would like to use the spiral stairway. Me coming down the stairs or up the stairs? Which is best? I want this to be perfect. Yes, you can shoot me as I am moving down the stairs. Good. You set yourself up and I will be right back.” He leaves the room. I hear him barking at someone in the giant marble hallway where the stairwell leads to the upper floors.
I head out to the front hall and grab the equipment I need to set up. I cross paths with the silent dark-robed woman. I’m moving very rapidly. I have no intention of staying any longer than necessary. The dark-robed lady is on her knees, wiping the individual steps with a lint cloth, in preparation for his highness’ descent.
Fresh-cut flowers have been placed in 2 large gilded porcelain vases which sit gayly on either side of the staircase. The walls are lined with white and gold pinstriped wallpaper. A larger-than-life oil painting of the king, encased in a lavish Rococo gilded frame, adorns the main wall of the foyer.
“He looks much taller in the painting than in real life, don’t you find?” I say to the woman.
She cracks a smile and to me, it feels like a conquest.
The king can be heard as he makes his way down the stairs. The dark-robed woman takes it as her cue to leave.
The king appears clad from head to toe in military uniform and regalia. “I want you to shoot me with this beauty. ” He is holding a different weapon. This one has an unusually large scope on it. “This is AS Val, designed for Russian special operation forces. You know what the added value to this model is?”
“No sir, I don’t”
“It has an integrated silencer. I like my weapons and my women better when they are quiet.”
If I were a guy I guess I would be laughing and going along with the joke. I just can’t find it in me. “I’m ready if you are sir. Shall we?”
“Shall we? What kind of talk is that, this is not a Shakespeare play. Where did you learn to speak like that?”
When I get nervous, I step out of my usual crass and confident style of communication. I throw on a cloak of politeness, which transports me back to some turn-of-the-century period in time. My manner of speech alters. I’ve always known this. But now is not the time to self-analyze.
“Sir I’d like to start you up at the top of the stairs, so I can shoot you as you are on the move, as you’ve requested.”
“I like it! An action shot.” He comes barreling down the stairs, zig-zagging and aiming his rifle straight at me the whole while.
“Excuse me, sir. You need to go a little slower and if you zig-zag like that it’s difficult for me to get a good composition.”
“And you call yourself a professional” Only when you can shoot and hit a running target then you can say you are a pro.”
What a jerk. Right about now I’m wishing I was shooting bullets instead of pictures. I am evidently feeling out of place, but I remind myself that a photographer is also a director.
“I can do that sir, I can shoot you running, flying, or fucking, if you’d be so kind as to trade me your AS Val for this Nikon.”
“Now you are making jokes, haha. I will do as you say, ok you are the boss.”
“Good, so try and follow a straight line as you make your way down. Oh and try not to hold the rifle up so high, or we won’t see much of your face.”
“Right, okay, is this better?”
I had temporarily tamed the lion king. Long enough to get the job done.