A Barely Acceptable PortraitbyFrancine-frcxa©
Ellen Morrison sat thoughtfully, as was her custom, as the vicar concluded his sermon. Beside her was her husband of thirty three years, Alistair. They stood for the singing of the concluding hymn, as Ellen smoothed her dress and smiled at the younger woman standing beside her.
After the benediction had been pronounced, she spoke to her neighbour in a friendly voice, inquiring, “Will we be seeing you at the Guild meeting on Tuesday, Ann?” “Let us hope so,” the younger woman responded, “though I shall be working late that day. I may not be able to be on time!”
Ellen turned to the other worshippers, greeting them as she moved to the door. As Chair of the Women’s Guild, she felt an obligation to appear outgoing and welcoming, especially to the women who were less diligent in their participation.
She greeted the vicar warmly, and walked with her husband to their car. “Are you going to make the Guild meeting, yourself? I thought you were driving to Manchester Tuesday to visit the bookseller there?”
“So I am. I’ll look in on the publisher, and check on the big store to see just what’s selling well, perhaps order a few items for the shop. But, I should be back in time for the Guild meeting in the evening. If I’m too late, you’ll find something to eat. The house is well stocked.”
Alistair Morrison shook his head at his wife’s activities. “Ellen, in a few years I hope to retire. But you - you run a book shop, you manage the women’s guild, you’re always hauling your grandchildren somewhere, you volunteer for more projects than I can keep track of - I don’t think you’ll ever retire! You’ll need me to keep up with the projects you take on!” It was a family joke. Alistair, an architect in a small firm, spent his life designing houses for other people. He looked forward to the day when he might create a retirement home for himself and Ellen. But Ellen never seemed to have a minute to spare. Her time went to her bookshop, the church Guild, collecting and delivering her grandchildren and advising her two daughters on their upbringing - efforts too often regarded as more meddlesome than useful.
Indeed, Ellen was a woman of energy. She was not, however, an efficient housekeeper. Housework had never appealed to her, and her home was only in order when she hosted a meeting of the guild officers or when the vicar came to visit. At other times disorder prevailed, a condition Alistair had learned to accept as the price of having a wife who had become a respected community leader. At times he reflected that had he not been a passably good cook in his own right, he would have been compelled to learn by reason of his wife’s constant involvement in affairs that often meant she would not be home to eat, let alone cook.
Their two married daughters lived not far away, close enough for Ellen to be conveniently called on when emergencies arose, yet distant enough to minimize her unwelcome intrusions to micro manage the affairs of her grown children and young grandchildren.
Alistair had a certain interest in his wife’s enterprise, a bookstore she managed and partly owned, but he left its operation to her. Knowing her assertive characteristics, he rarely involved himself in the business or made suggestions about it. Yet, he was rather proud of his wife, who kept her fingers in many pies, maintained her independence, and seemed to command the respect of their friends and the community.
“You’ll be leaving early Tuesday?” he asked her. “The car has a full tank. You should be able to be home by dark, if you’re not delayed.”
“I’ll hope so. If I’m late, I’ll go directly to the Guild meeting. You can manage, can’t you?”
He was quite used to that. In fact, it seemed sometimes that Ellen spent little time at home. The picture of good taste and respectability when she was out or in her shop, home was the place where could relax. Order and decorum, important to her at other places, did not carry over into her home life. Ellen had better things to do than housework. She was not a meticulous housekeeper, in fact she was somewhat untidy. Some might say she was sloppy. For guests she made it presentable.. When only she and Alistair were at home, there tended to be a fair amount of clutter about. If he took note of it, he was apt to be reminded that he could clean it up if it troubled him.
It really troubled him little. He accepted her the way she was, in fact he rather liked it. He had been accustomed to the relaxed side of her, something outsiders never glimpsed; it drew them together in a way that was not particularly intimate, yet very personal.
Tuesday morning, Alistair noted his wife was up and gone before he was dressed. He knew she would have a busy day, and he contemplated picking up from a take out on his way home. He wondered if she would make it home with time to share it, or if she would only arrive home when the guild meeting had finished.
Ellen drove into the area of the city where there was a large bookseller. She at times visited there, where she knew the manager, to look at what was new and selling well, before ordering items for her shop. Also, the store often had good exhibits, which she liked to view.
She greeted Fiona, the manager, and the two of them shared a brief social time over coffee and biscuits. Fiona pointed out that a photographer was exhibiting in her store, as part of a promotion for some of his work.
“Photography books don’t sell well in my shop”, Ellen noted. “They seem to be like art books - people buy them, if at all, as coffee table items, to dress up a parlour or a waiting room. Few people in our area seem to go for such luxuries - the books seem to be too expensive for their tastes.”
“Have a look, anyway, Ellen. He’s doing a book signing, today. He does have some interesting ideas. He’s even asked some of my customers to model for him! Imagine - quite ordinary people, ones I would never think of as models!”
Ellen browsed around the shop, then found the exhibit in a side room. A middle aged gentleman, perhaps forty five, greying but slender, sat at a table. A customer had made a purchase, which he appeared to be autographing.
Curious, she went to the side room, where an exhibit of his photographs was placed on easels. She noted the rather curious title, simply, “Contrasts”. The pictures, some black and white, some in colour, seemed to arranged in pairs. She looked at them, trying to understand the logic of the juxtaposed pairs.
As she stood there, the photographer cum author came over to her.
“Mrs. Morrison?” he asked, extending his hand. “Fiona told me you were here. I am pleased to see you - always looking for a new outlet for the books I might be able to sign. Are you impressed?”
He gestured toward the mounted pictures surrounding them.
“Quite an arrangement, really. Now I am not much of a fan of books on art or photographic art, simply because they seem not to sell well in my store, but these are interesting. I am trying to understand just what it is you are attempting to depict.”
“Allow me”, he said, moving to the first display.
“First of all, I must tell you that this is a display of what might be called a work in progress. It has not been assembled into a book, in fact it is far from finished. I hope that it will soon be completed, but I am still working on it. In fact, as I think Fiona may have told you, I have persuaded several local people to model for me.”
“You are using amateur models? Tell me what your project is like.”
“It is called simply, ‘Contrasts’ . In away, that tells it all, yet not really all. I look for a model who is generally perceived in a particular way, and I attempt to capture that person on film as he or she is ordinarily seen or perceived, or perhaps wants to be perceived. Then, I look for a completely different, unexpected, aspect of that same person, which I then attempt to capture, also. The two are then joined in the exhibit; two views of one person. First, as we usually see them, and then, that other person which he or she is also, but which may starkly contrast with the first.”
“Rather the professional appearance, as opposed to the private self? Is that the idea?”
“Perhaps, in away, but it is more than that. Look at these; we have the bus driver, in his uniform, efficient, orderly, responsible; then we have the picture of him jogging on a footpath- not driving, no uniform, his propulsion his own feet, not the vehicle, and then his personal appearance - hair untidy, sweating, rather carefree.
“Here’s another. This one was an army officer. We see him in uniform, the picture of authority as he calls orders to his troops; a martial figure in military attire, armed, disciplined. Then, here we have him with his children on a picnic. It is they who are in charge as they pull him around interplay, while he is jovial, relaxed, totally unorganised.
“Here is yet another. See the nurse, in her uniform, on duty in a hospital. She appears fit, capable, clean, one who physically cares for others. Then, we put her in a hospital gown and into a bed, as a patient might be. We see her not as one who does the caring, but one who has needs which must be cared for. The contrast is striking, yet she is the same person.”
“Fascinating”, Ellen observed. “You have a gift for seeing the different aspects of people, and recording them so clearly.”
“The gift is mostly work. I am constantly on the lookout for models who can show the different aspects of themselves. You will note the pictures are always anonymous - I do not divulge the identity of the models. I want them to bethought of as what the pictures show them, not as names. Thus the lady is, to the observer, a nurse, a patient, but not Mary Smith!”
Ellen spent a few minutes taking in the exhibit, and then a few more exchanging thoughts with Mr. Hunter. He seemed quite interested in her, where she was from, what she did other than operate a book store. He seemed to exude such charm and interest in her that she spent more time with him than she had planned. Soon, though, she had to go on to her other business. Before leaving the store to visit the publishing outlet, she took her leave of Fiona.
As she headed for the door, Mr. Hunter again came up to her.
“I am so impressed with you! Fiona told me a little about you. You are such a lady of style and grace, I hope we will meet again.”
Flattered, she answered with a gracious, “I do hope so, Mr. Hunter; and I wish you well with your project!” She went on, leaving for her other business. Her errands took her some time, and she stopped for a short lunch after. Then, thinking of a purchase she might make for her daughter, she visited some nearby shops. It was late afternoon when she headed back to her car. She passed by Fiona’s store on the way, and, on a whim, decided to go in again and have another look at the photo exhibit. Something likeit might just make a good promotional event in her own shop.
As she entered, Mr. Hunter greeted her again.
“Mrs. Morrison! I am surprised to see you back so quickly! I am honoured!”
“Yes, Mr. Hunter. Frankly, I was quite interested in your exhibit. It seems to be attracting quite a number of people. Do you do it in many places?”
“Some. Right now, I have booked to show it at three locations next month. But, I do want to expand it. It is not nearly finished, and before I show it in the more prestigious locations, I would like to add some additional items.”
“I was thinking, Mr. Hunter,” she went on, but he interrupted her, “Please, Geoffrey. We do not need to be so formal!”
“Geoffrey. Would you consider showing it in something like the shop I have? It seems to get a lot of attention. Of course, I don’t have so big an area for it, so, perhaps before it grows too much--”
He thought for a moment. “Mrs. Hunter, I really think it better not to book further showings until it is more complete. I want to devote my time to finding additional models to include. It is a challenge, as you can understand.”
“Yes, I quite understand. Well, perhaps at some future time we might think about it!”
“Perhaps. But, there is another matter. I am so impressed with you, your appearance, your style, the work you do. Would you - I hardly know how to say this, but would you consider being one of my models?”
“Me? A model? Geoffrey, I am a grandmother. I am not young and pretty, certainly no model. Whatever possesses you to think I would be a good subject?”
“Because, Mrs. Hunter, you are just the kind of person I try to depict. You are a person of standing in your community, you have character, you are - as you say - a grandmother, a leader in the community, a business woman. Now, you are an example of style and respectability! I would love to be able to make you one of my contrasts!”
“And what, Geoffrey, would be the contrast?”
“Ah, madam, that is where I have the challenge. In some way we must show another side of you.”
“Well, Geoffrey, when you think of it, do let me know. It does intrigue me. Now, I must be getting home. I have a distance to drive, and a meeting of the guild this evening!”
She made her farewell, and was soon on her way.
It was late that evening when she arrived home. She had gone directly to the guild meeting, and Alistair did not see her until she pulled her car in front of the house. He opened the door for her, and greeted her as she came in.
“Did you eat?” he asked her. “You had a busy day!”
“Indeed I did”, she replied, kicking off her shoes, and shooing the cat from a small table on which she proceeded to rest her feet.
“Care for a touch of curry? I stopped at a take-out on the way home. I only ate pasrt of it.”
“Sounds good. Would you put it on something for me?” she asked.
At home, Ellen put comfort ahead of decorum. Being orderly and proper was almost an obsession with her when in public or at her shop, but at home she cared little for it. While Alistair warmed her snack, she stood and divested herself of her blouse and skirt, then, assuring herself the window blinds were closed, she sat down at her kitchen table in her bra and half slip to eat what her husband now offered her.
She went over her day with him. As she finished her food, she recalled to him the photo exhibit she had seen, and the interest Mr. Hunter had expressed in her.
“Can you imagine? He wanted me to be a model for his project. Me? A model? “
“You should consider it” he told me. “You might become famous! The new Mona Lisa!”
“Hardly!” she answered. “His models are all anonymous. He doesn’t use any names, just the photos themselves. His idea - contrasts - is what makes it interesting. Really, it was intriguing, to see people shown in such different ways. He makes you think about a side of a person that would one would not think of.”
“What kind of a contrast would he use with you?” Alistair pondered. He thought for a moment. Then, he answered his own question.
“It really wouldn’t be difficult. He could show you as everyone sees you each day - that style you show, every hair in place, everything just right, everything in good taste, and you busy, working, the lady of impeccable taste, always doing the right thing-”
“Alistair, you are making a joke of me!” Ellen retorted.
“No, Ellen, I’m not. Everyone sees you that way. You have a sense of style, you always try to be in the right place, saying the right thing, making that wonderful impression you always make!”
“Good taste is not elegance. It’s just being proper, and trying to keep a good sense of proportion. Anyway, what is the contrast you thought of?”
“The way you are right now! Look at you! The lady of style and good taste, the one who always doing everything the proper way; flopped in a chair barefoot, in a bra and a half slip that’s riding up her legs showing her underpants, munching on a plate of curry on a paper plate, and spilling it on her leg!”
Ellen looked down at the drip which had just fallen to her thigh. She looked at her husband and laughed.
“Alistair, that’s just when I am with you. I wouldn’t be like this with anybody else! You know that!”
“Which is exactly what makes it the contrast! It’s the side of you I know about, but you’re public never sees!”
“Like my sloppy housekeeping?” she asked, throwing her empty plate to a rubbish bin, and missing.
“Like the way you are at home. Ellen, everybody has a private side. Maybe that’s what your photographer is trying to show. It can be so different from what we show as our public face! I love your private side - I know you can be messy, untidy, and sit around in your underwear. What would I do with you if you were always prim and proper around me?”
He smiled at her, as she considered his thoughts. “So you think I should pose for him in my business suit in my office for one picture, and in my sloppy house dressed in my underwear for the other?”
“Well, it would be a contrast. A quite real one!” he noted.
“I may never hear any more of it. Thanks for your thoughts!” she concluded.
Ellen had no real expectation of hearing further from Geoffrey. She thought about his exhibit from time to time, wondering just what kind of contrast he might invent for her.
After a week, she received at her shop a phone call from Fiona.
“Ellen”, she began, “do you remember Geoffrey Hunter, the photographer or artist or whatever, who had the exhibit here?”
“Of course. I looked at it and had quite a conversation with him!”
“You must have made quite an impression. He asked me how he might get in touch with you. He really would like to have you as a model for his project. Did you give any thought to it?”
“Yes, Fiona, he did mention it. We didn’t pursue it, I thought he was just making polite conversation. Is he really serious?”
“Indeed he seems to be, Ellen. Serious enough to want to talk to you about it. Would it be all right with you if I gave him your shop telephone number, so he could ring you up? If you don’t want to be bothered, I’ll just tell him so!”
“Go ahead and give it to him,” Ellen responded, without hesitation. If he rings, I’ll see what he wants. It just might be something interesting!”
Ellen waited for the call she knew Geoffrey would make. It came the following morning.
“Mrs. Morrison?” the voice inquired, “Geoffrey Hunter here. Do you recall our conversation about my project?”
“Yes, I do”, Ellen replied politely. “Was there something further about it you wished to discuss with me?”
“I would very much like you to consider modelling for me for my project. I have thought over all that I have learned about you, all that I saw, and I just think you would make a perfect contrast. Would you consider it?”
“I have thought about it. First, what would I need to do, and second, just what would the contrasting pictures be like?”
“You need only be yourself. We would need to agree on a time I could visit in your area. I would want to make several pictures of you in your shop, your office, wherever you usually function, dressed as you ordinarily would be. No special preparation needed; in fact, I would want none. I would try to capture you just as your are; self-assured, with that style and good taste that seems always to surround you.”
“You flatter me! But what of the contrasting view?”
“Of course, it would be quite different from the way you usually appear. You know that, because you know my theme. I would not need to do the contrasting pictures at the same time; we could schedule another time for that. I have thought t through, and I know how it should be done.”
“I would need to explain it to you when we do the first group. You understand I would make several photos, from which I would eventually select the one that presents the image I want. The contrasting ones would, of course, need to be very, very, different. I would not expect you to be completely taken with the concept if I explain it over the phone, but when I see you I think I can show you what would best illustrate my theme.”