First off, I want to apologize for being MIA last week and then late with posting this week. One was because of vacation, the other was because of health. Hopefully I’ll be pretty regular with the stories the rest of the summer, though 🙂
This week’s ethereal picture was sent in to me by photographer Kimberly Hanna. Her pictures have so much beauty in them and fuel the imagination. I highly recommend you check out her Instagram account! @kimberlyhannacreates
Here is, ‘What the Viewfinder Reveals’:
Someone once said, “If only the eyes saw souls instead of bodies how very different our ideals of beauty would be.”
That is how that quote starts, as if it would be some kind of great gift to be able to see souls. Well, I can see them—at least in a way—and I can tell you it is no gift.
Take the model in front of me right now. She’s what the world would call perfect. Perfect olive-toned skin. Perfect black hair falling down her back and shoulders in cascading waves. Perfect body in its tall leanness. Perfect smile in all of its blinding whiteness.
The camera talks to me as I go. Click, click, click. It responds to the pressure on the shutter-release button. A more than willing partner in this work. Probably more willing than I.
“Greg, is it better if I put my hand here,” the model places it on her hip, “or here?” She moves it further down her leg.
I look through the viewfinder so I can answer her, trying to look past her soul on display so that her question can be properly answered. If this had been just a few years ago, I would never have been able to focus on that hand of hers, my attention wholly focused in awful terror at that crimson cloud surrounding her. But I’m older now. I’ve learned how to ignore the souls for the most part. For the really bad ones, I still have to work a little at it. Hers isn’t that bad, though.
“Hip,” I tell her, watching as she makes the necessary adjustment.
The shoot only takes another fifteen minutes or so. When it’s over, she walks from the set and stops in front of the full length mirror by the studio door. Her hands run down the front of the floor-length, black dress, and a small smile appears on her face. If I was looking through the viewfinder, I know what I’d see. Since I’m not, I turn away from her and begin to flip back through some of the pictures I’ve just taken.
“Next,” I say into the room that looks empty, but really isn’t. My assistant, Garrett, is hiding behind something somewhere. He’s terrified of me, but insists on hanging around at least a year for the sake of his resume.
“She’s not here yet,” comes a muffled voice from behind some spare, hanging backdrops.
I sigh, letting myself really feel the annoyance. Of course she’s not.
The door opens with a whoosh, letting too much of the heat from the summer temps outside into my freezer box of a studio.
“Shut the door,” I growl to Jenny, the young blonde woman who steps through the door, light reflecting off her diamond earrings onto the wall. “You’re late.”
“I’m so sorry!” she gushes out as she usually does, because she’s always late. “I had… somewhere to be.”
It’s the way she said it. That pause between the beginning of the sentence and the end. I remember when she hadn’t needed to think carefully about her words. When she had always arrived on time, words pouring out of her like champagne, bubbly and intoxicating. All of that has been changing over the last few months, though, so that now she’s only a shadow of the woman I remember. Her outward appearance alone doesn’t show the change. The cloud around her does, too.
“Whatever,” I grumble, grabbing my camera from its spot dangling around my neck and making some adjustments. “Where’s the stylist? The hair and makeup people?”
“Just this dress today.” Jenny looks down at herself, then back up at me, “They spruced me up and sent me over alone.”
“So everything you have going on right now,” I motion to her general person, “is how they want it?”
“Yep, good to go.”
“Fine. Garrett, swap out the background. All white this time.”
There’s a shuffling sound behind the spare backdrops before Garrett’s pudgy, red face appears.
“You got it boss,” he says, a small tremble in his voice because he knows I’m frustrated.
It only takes a couple of minutes for my assistant to put the white background up. I motion for Jenny to stand in the middle and snap a picture without looking through the viewfinder. This one is just to make sure I don’t need to make any adjustments. No need for me to see her red cloud before I have to.
“Okay,” I say on a sigh, lifting the camera toward my face. “This is for the spring line, right?” When she nods in agreement, I say, “Begin.”
She places a hand up toward her chin, positioning the other arm across her body in what I can begrudgingly admit is a nice pose. The dress is shown off nicely, and her face has a pleasant smile, as if she feels like a million bucks.
Not able to delay the inevitable any longer, I place the viewfinder to my face and ignore the turning in my stomach. Red. So much red. Bloody red, the kind that makes you almost go cross-eyed if you stare at it too long.
“Everything ok?” she breaks into my thoughts.
“Yeah, Why?” I ask. I refuse to take my gaze from the viewfinder. If I do, I might not be able to get myself to look through it again. I feel like my heart gets a little more shredded every time I have to focus on that red cloud.
“You seem, I don’t know, peeved or something.”
“I’m always peeved. You know that.”
“More so than usual.”
“Hmm.” I barely stop myself from asking the questions that have been on my mind for at least four months. What are you up to? What have you been doing? Why is your soul so red now? “Go back to that first pose,” I say so I don’t let one of those questions slip out. Maybe I should let them slip. Maybe I should face this thing head on. But goodness knows I have no right to meddle.
She complies, and I begin snapping pics, only half focusing on my job as the other part of me continues to study the soul that terrifies me.
The session is over before long. With Jenny only modeling the one dress, there’s no need to snap more than a hundred or so pictures.
“Tomorrow morning, Brackenridge Park,” I growl, avoiding her eyes because I just can’t get myself to face her right on. “Simone’s Boutique wants me to shoot that new jewelry line they’re releasing next month.”
A smile stretches across her face, causing creases at the corners of her eyes. My heart feels like it stops at that smile. I haven’t seen one like that in a long time on her. Not since that scarlet cloud showed up.
“What time?” she asks.
“Nine. Picnic table fourteen.”
“I’ll be there. Thanks for letting me get in on this.”
I nod and pretend to be studying another picture. When I look back up, she’s gone.
After a near sleepless night, I decide to stop fighting and just get up. Getting to the park early will be advantageous anyway. I can get an idea of how I want the shoot to go.
My job as a photographer has taken me all over the world a few times over in the past twenty-five years. Despite that, Brackenridge Park is still one of my favorite places to shoot. I grew up in San Antonio, and some of my best memories are of times spent at Brackenridge. The nostalgia of being there never gets old.
I pass the swing set where I pushed my screaming and giggling daughter on her sixth birthday. That was the same day I told her that I was leaving to travel for work. That also happened to be the same day her mother and I signed our divorce papers.
Okay, so maybe there weren’t only good memories.
I turn my face away from the swings and walk on by.
As I approach picnic table fourteen, Garrett comes running up to me with a large iced coffee, his face even ruddier than usual, his breathing heavy.
“Extra… extra creamer,” he huffs, holding out the cup, which I unceremoniously snatch out of his hand.
“The models?” I turn and lean against the table.
“I told them to meet us here. Simone’s requested simple clothes. Black tanks, jean shorts. She said it will make the jewelry stand out.”
“You told the girls?”
Within an hour, all three models have arrived. They fidget with the necklaces, earrings, and bangles that Simone has placed with care on them. Jenny seems particularly enthralled with the piece around her own neck, one that looks like it should have her falling forward. The gold metal is shined enough that I can see my reflection when I get close to her. With her wide eyes and fingers running over the piece of jewelry, she looks more like an enthralled child than the model she is. For a moment, I almost forget about the cloud that surrounds her. The one that is always there, even though I won’t be able to see it until the camera meets me eye.
I start with the two other models, using Jenny as a second assistant while we walk all over the park, snapping pics whenever a suitable spot catches my eye. I tell her it’s because I’m going to wait until the sun is a little higher to pick out the striking features of the necklace she’s wearing. In reality, I’m in no rush to see that soul of hers. It’s a kind of torture I’ve put myself through again and again. To ease myself of misery, I should stop using her as a model. That way I’d never have to see that red cloud again. But then I’d never figure out what she’s done to put it there, and I really want to know.
When I know I can’t put it off any longer, I tell Jenny, “Let’s start at that group of trees over there.”
“Sure!” She’s excited about her chance to shine, and she should be. Models are a dime a dozen. Every new shoot gained is something to be proud of.
“Have her sit,” Simone says, arms crossed over her chest as she studies Jenny. “I want her to look like a wood nymph newly awakening to the forest.”
Resisting the urge to roll my eyes at the boutique owner, I sigh and say, “Fine. On the ground, then.”
Jenny settles in, and I can tell she’s trying to muster her best inner-nymph. She pulls out her first pose. I can no longer delay the inevitable. Before the viewfinder reaches my eye, though, there’s a commotion nearby.
When I look to my right, I see four San Antonio police officers approaching, hands resting on or hovering near their guns. Their eyes are fixed on Jenny, and I know, they’re here for her. Whatever she’s been doing that turned her soul so crimson red has been discovered.
“Jennifer Godfrey?” one of the officers asks.
Jenny’s face drains of all color. From ten feet or so away, I can tell she’s shaking. The wood nymph has been replaced by a terrified woman.
“Yes?” she says, her voice hardly more than a whisper.
The officers converge on her, yanking her up from the ground as I watch in dumbfounded horror.
“You are under arrest for suspicion of murder,” one of them said. “Place your hands behind your back.”
“Wait,” I manage to get out as they begin to lead her away. “Wait! Where are you taking her?”
They give me no answer as Jenny turns to me with frantic eyes, her mouth moving, but no words coming out.
“Don’t worry!” I call after her. “I’m right behind you!” And I am. Without another word to a stunned Simone, I throw down my equipment, bark an order at Garrett to get everything back to the studio, and then move for my car.
I don’t get to see her for five hours. Five hours of pacing the police department, trying to wrap my mind around what had happened.
Murder. The officers had said murder. I don’t want to believe it. Even though I had seen her red soul, I refuse to believe she was capable of something that sinister. If she had killed someone, there had to be a good reason for it. There had to be.
An officer calls my name and motions for me to follow. After being shut in a room with him and listening to everything Jenny is accused of, I can only sit there and gaze at the plain white wall, willing the situation away.
“Can I see her?” I ask. My voice sounds foreign to my own ears.
I’m following again, and when we stop, I see her, sitting on a metal chair, cuffed to the metal table in front of her. She looks worse than she did when she was arrested at Brackenridge. Her eyes are red, lips trembling. When she looks up and sees me standing there, I can’t tell if the relief or terror is greater in her expression.
Taking a deep breath, I shake my head and pull out the chair across from her. I sit and stare down at the hands I’ve folded in my lap.
“Jenny…” I shake my head again. “I don’t even know what to say.”
She sniffs and shifts in her chair.
“You can’t say it was much of a surprise,” she whispers.
“What?” My eyes snap up to hers.
“I know you could see it,” she says, shifting again. “My soul. How red it was.”
“Then why did you let me photograph you?” I can’t keep the accusatory pain out of my voice. Once, when she was young, I had gotten stupid drunk and told her what I saw every time I looked through a viewfinder. She hasn’t mentioned it since, and I assumed her young mind either hadn’t believed me, or hadn’t remembered. “If you remembered me telling you, why did you let me see that?”
“Because I knew you wouldn’t say anything.” She looks at her cuffed hands. “You never do.”
“I knew that, even if you didn’t say anything, you’d at least stay. I could stand knowing you saw if it meant you didn’t leave again.”
She’s right. The only reason I didn’t take off again for work was because of what I had seen when I snapped a picture of her at her last birthday party.
And then it hits me. The fact that I’m a very large part of the reason she’s sitting here in a police station, accused of a half dozen murders I know for a fact she committed. If I hadn’t left her on her sixth birthday, she probably would have never gone down this path. If I had just said something all those times in the past few months I took a picture, she might have told me what was going on. Things wouldn’t have escalated so far.
The bile rises in the back of my throat. I close my eyes and take deep breaths, trying to come to terms with this new knowledge.
“They were suffering,” she says. Her gaze wanders, and I know she is back in the past with those people she killed. “So much suffering.”
“That didn’t give you a right to do what you did.”
“You’re not sorry about doing it,” I continue. “You’re sorry you got caught. You’re sorry about what this means for your future.”
She shrugs again.
How many other people have I seen with red souls that have done similar things? How many people have died because I didn’t have the guts to say anything about what I saw? How many other parents have I condemned to this hell I’m in because I didn’t act?
I stand to my feet, grabbing onto the table to steady myself when dizziness overcomes me. When my legs are stable, I turn without a word and head toward the door.
“Where are you going?” Jenny asks behind me.
Without responding, I place my hand on the doorknob.
“Daddy?” There’s a hint of the little girl in her voice. The little angel that I always used to push on the swings at Brackenridge.
When I turn, there is new fear in her eyes. It’s clear. She doesn’t want me to leave her. My heart breaks all over again, and I have to turn my eyes to the ceiling to keep the tears from falling. When I feel my emotions are under control enough to speak, I say, “To work.”
I walk out the door, my destination the studio. I’ll stay by my daughter’s side throughout her indictment to make sure she knows I love her. To make sure she knows I’ll be there for her. But right now, it’s time to put that viewfinder to my eye and begin using this gift of mine for some good.