tagMind ControlThe Magic of Camerawork

The Magic of Camerawork

byblkngry©

"Let's squeeze together, now!" John said, giving his practiced smile. "Get those teeth ready!"

JC Penny's was a mess of wandering families. Children whining, running on the slick white floors, sliding around corners, knocking over racks of belts and ties. There was a constant hum. Like wasps.

"Okay, remember to sit up straight!" he said. "Now, look this way—no, right here toward the camera lens—wait, your daughter is running—oh, there she goes..."

There were grandmas trudging through the aisles, peering near-sightedly at price tags, ignoring the proffered assistance of salespeople and managers and passersby as they struggled to push their nearly empty carts.

"So you said this is a family photo, right?" John asked. The woman snatched up her cat as it tried to escape for the fifth time.

"Of course!" she said, sitting by herself as the feline scrambled and clawed. "Don't be an idiot, just take the picture!"

Teenage girls prowled through the stacks of hung clothes, picking up, putting down, holding up to a mirror, consulting, taking seven outfits into the changing room and leaving all of them. They laughed and snorted and said, "Oh my Gawd!" and snickered as they looked sideways at other teenage girls.

"Okay, let's...come on guys, it's a fun camera!" John tried over the cacophony of not one, not two, but three children crying, sniffing loudly as their mother tiredly shushed them and their father, neck bursting at the seams of his over-tight collar shirt, glared in baleful silence over the proceedings.

The father sneered at him. "Aren't you supposed to be a pro at this? Get them smiling, or we are out of here."

Then there were the babies. Babies everywhere. Shrieking, gurgling, wailing, being breast fed, being used as battering rams from their strollers by mothers not content to let propriety, politeness, or the risk of head injury stop them from slamming their infant into the crowds just to get where they were going ten seconds faster.

John set his camera carefully on the table to one side of the picture booth, and sank gratefully into his chair. "God, I hate Labor Day weekend," he said.

He buried his head in his hands, rubbing his eyes until sparks of light started to form on his vision. Not even five seconds later, someone loudly cleared their throat.

John resurfaced, trying to blink his vision back into focus, and stared up at the source of the sound. The man was squat, round, dressed in a tweed jacket and mustard yellow collar shirt buttoned to the top with no tie, sporting a large black mustache and a combover. His face was red, and his neck basically wasn't there.

"Hey," the man said shortly, voice raspy, "if you're done with your little vacation, I'd like my picture taken."

John felt his jaw tighten, but he stood with a smile. He was happy to tower over the other man. John didn't have a physique like a German power lifter, but he was tall and wiry.

"No problem," he said, hunching a little to get on the man's level. "Come on inside if you'd like, I can take care of you, no problem."

The man scowled up at John, mustache twitching, and without a word whirled around and stalked inside the photo studio.

"This looks like it'll be fun," John muttered, and reaching down to sling on his camera, followed Squatty inside.

The man was already seated on one of the high stools used for posing—the highest one. His feet barely reached the little cross support on the stool's legs, and he glared at John, fingers tapping on his thigh.

"I want three 16 x 20s," he said crisply, his voice crackling as he straightened his jacket over his blue jeans. "Take it from an angle from my left side. This is a formal picture, so no funny business with smiles or poses, you hear?"

"Yes sir," John said lightly. He adjusted the lighting a little, and raised his camera. "The picture I take will appear over here on the screen," he said, pointing next to him to the monitor set up portrait style behind the lights, facing the photo area. "I'll take a few shots. You just tell me which one you like."

The man grunted. "Yeah, yeah, let's get on with it."

John nodded, his sentiment exactly, and framed the photo. The man suddenly drew himself up, sucking in his gut, throwing back his shoulders, sucking in his cheeks. John paused a beat, and managed not to sigh. The camera flashed. Then again, and again.

The man deflated, and glanced at the screen. "That the first one?" he asked.

John nodded. "Yes sir."

He scowled. "No."

John blinked, glancing at it, but shrugged. "Okay, how about this one?"

"No."

"This one?"

"...no."

Johns smiled. "Okay, how about we do a few more than for you?"

The man only glowered. John raised the camera again, the man contorted, and he took a dozen photos this time, each from slightly different angles above, below, and to the side, framing the tweed jacket into classic three-quarter views. The man sagged, and then glanced at the screen.

"No. No. Definitely no. No. Terrible. No. No." He turned back to John. "All no. Again. Get it right this time."

"Uh..." John started. "Maybe you can clarify a bit what you're looking for? Is it something with the lighting? Do you need a different background, or a closer zoom?"

"I told you already," the man ground out. "Now do it right."

"Ah... sure, no problem," John managed. His smile hurt. He raised the camera. The man went into his slimming pose.

"Maybe," John said after a moment, "relax a little bit more? You'll look a lot more natural if you ease up a little."

"Just take the picture," the man growled.

"You can still sit straight, you just have to imagine like there's a hook right here in your sternum, pulling up, and—"

"Take. The damn. Picture."

John stared at him a long moment. He shrugged. "Alright."

He let loose a barrage of flashes, angles, distances, frames. He dimmed the lights, maxed them, added a golden glow, put the camera on a stand for a long-exposure with no flash. The man's face went steadily redder, until it had a purple tint on the cheeks.

Finally, the tweed jacket gripped tightly in his hands, he let out and explosive breath. He stared at the screen. John cycled through for him, showing a dazzling array of photos.

The man turned to him. "You," he barked, "are the worst fucking camera man ever. A monkey with a polaroid could have done better."

Johns jaw tightened shut. "I'm sorry you feel that way," he said through his teeth. "Maybe—"

"All I ask is one damn picture. One. And despite blinding me, making me sit in this god-awful chair, you can't produce a single one. You are pathetic."

John stared at the man for a long moment. He drew a deep breath. "You know what? You're right. I've been doing this all wrong."

He turned, and sitting quickly behind the screen where the computer was set up, he pulled up the editing software.

"This is what I should have done from the beginning," he said. "How silly of me. A thousand pardons."

John dragged one of the pictures into the editor. "I mean, this probably what you were looking for right?" Pulling up the quick edits, he added a huge sombrero to the man's head, and put on a mustache that put the real one to shame.

The man drew a breath. "You—"

"Oh, I'm sorry, how about this?" he said, pulling in a new picture. He added big, sparkly eyes, colored the lips red, pink plush, and a blond wig with bows. "That's more what you're looking for, right?"

The man bared his teeth. "You fucking little—"

"Oh, no no, that's not it, it's this, right?" He took a new picture, and in big black letters, typed 'Asshole' across the man's forehead.

The man leaped off the chair, face a purple hue, his shoulders threatening to burst out of his jacket. "You son of a bitch, I'll kick your—"

John stood, threw back the curtain, and pointed. There was a security guard standing there, looking large but staring glassily into the mall.

"You'll get kicked to the curb, asshole," John snapped, pointing at the exit. "No man on earth is paid enough to take a picture of you. Maybe you can ask your mom when you pick her up from the red light district tonight."

The man went dark purple. "MANAGER!" he roared. "MAN. AGE. ER!!"

***

Kathy opened the door, and sidled inside. She sat across from John in the little office room, and sighed. Her golden blond hair sparkled with highlights, and her eye's had a deep blue that reminded John of warm oceans. She had one of those pristine faces that meant either she had a great complexion, or she was a whis at doing her makeup.

"Alright," she said, plucking absently at her tag that always hung lopsided on her tiny white blouse collar, showing a professional but significant slice of cleavage. "I managed to convince him that you're going to be suspended once you finish your shift today, pending a review. That mollified him just enough to leave."

John felt his stomach sink. "Um... does that mean I'm suspended?"

Kathy blew out another breath, and straightened her dark gray jacket. It struggled to hide that huge rack of hers beneath it. "Well, no. But honestly, it is tempting. You could use some vacation; you haven't taken any since Christmas."

John spread his hands. "Oh, I totally agree. Maybe if someone you hire would stay for more than two weeks, I'd get the chance."

Kathy nodded, full lips tight. "You're not wrong. You're the only photographer with an ounce of skill I've managed to keep on. But at least take an early lunch. A long one. Cool off, go to your happy place, and come back in a better mindset. When's your next appointment?"

John checked his watch. "In an hour. Walkins just ended."

Kathy rolled her eyes. "Well, go and take a nice, normal lunch, and come back in a better mindset. Okay?"

John took a deep breath. "Okay."

Kathy smiled. "Good. Look, I know that guy was an asshole. One of the worst I've seen. Don't let him poison your whole day, okay?"

John smiled a little back. Kathy's smile often help improved his mood all by itself. As did her cleavage. "Sure, boss. I'll do my best."

"Great." She stood. "Now, I've got to get back out there and fight off those mobs. Just give me a wave when you're back in."

Kathy paused, and gave him a flat look. "And as I'm always telling you: my eyes are up here."

She turned, her tight pencil skirt framing her curvy ass for just a moment before she disappeared through the door.

"If you wanted people to look at your eyes, you'd wear a normal blouse," John muttered. "You know full well nothing mollifies an upset male customer like a big pair of tits to stare at." He sighed. "God, what I wouldn't do for a private photo session with her." Then he stood, and marched out into the mall. He pressed two fingers to his forehead. It ached like crazy.

***

John had just a few minutes before the first appointment was supposed to show. He hurried through the crowd, dodging kids and ramming strollers. Thankfully, his height made it a little easier to wade through back to the tented photo studio. He ducked inside, and reached for his camera.

He stopped cold.

Instead of hanging on the peg like it always was, his camera was resting on the table. He always, ALWAYS hung it on the peg. No matter what. It was more than just a habit. It was professional; it was practical; it was his livelihood.

He grabbed the camera quickly, looking it over. He checked the lens, the screen, and the body. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary, but—

"Hello?" a woman's voice called from outside. "Is anybody in there?"

John glanced at the curtain, and then back to his camera. He made a face, gave it one last look, and stood. "Yes, I'm here," he said quickly, pulling back the curtain with a smile. "Sorry about the wait, come right in!"

The woman outside was dressed formally, with a Sunday dress in forest green and her hair in a bun. She had a nice figure, though, and although lined with wrinkles between her eyebrows, her face still had a good bit of her old beauty left. She smelled like roses. Behind her trailed five kids. They were also dressed up, three boys in tiny suits and ties, and two girls in silky dresses of green and pink.

They were also yelling, fighting, giggling, wandering, and tugging on their outfits. The smallest one was eating something off of the ground.

[God help me,] John thought, and led them inside.

After five minutes of calling, badgering, and dragging, the mother managed to get them all roughly in the photo area. She barked commands that they obeyed, but the moment she was focused on another, they'd start to backslide.

"Okay, everyone," John said loudly over the chaos. "If you could just— everyone, line up here, and— hey kids, over here!"

John sighed, strapped on his camera, and pointed it at them.

"Okay kids," he yelled, "everyone quiet down and look at the camera!"

And then, after just a slight pause, they all did. They turned and swiveled toward him from wherever they were, gazing steadily at the lens. John blinked.

"Uh, okay, let's line up by age. Oldest to the left, youngest to the right. Mom, you stand behind them."

They shuffled into position. Their gazes wandered again, though, so John said. "Alright, eyes up here again. Follow the little black lens!"

Their eyes snapped back into position. "Okay, everyone, act like I just said a hilarious joke," he said, framing them properly. "The one with a lawyer, a trenchcoat, and an octopus."

The whole family burst into laughter, all grins and giggles, and the shutter closed. John stared down at the image for a second, and then turned and looked at the display. He turned back to the mother. "Uh... how's that one for you?"

She quickly made her way across. She stared. "My God," she said. "It's perfect." She turned to him. "How'd you do that?"

John shrugged. "Hey, you've just got great kids."

She gave him a long look. "I think magic is a more likely reason." She looked back at the photo. "Well. That was the easiest family picture ever. Let's get this ordered right now. I don't want to blink and find out that this was a mirage."

John shrugged. He helped her order the prints she wanted, informing her that they should be ready for pickup in an hour. By the time they finished, her children were already spitting in each other's faces, wrestling, patty caking, and eating something *else* off the floor. He watched them go, frowning.

"Well, that was odd," he muttered. He checked his watch. He now had a nice 20 minute gap until his next appointment. He sat down, putting up his heels. It felt nice.

***

"Okay," John said, focusing the camera. "Now go ahead and give me a nice head tilt. Play with your hair a little. Right, exactly, flip it, move like you just got off the runway. Now squinch your eyes just a little and..."

He took the picture. The girl leapt right out of her chair when she saw it, pigtails bouncing, her mouth wide.

"Is... is that me?" she asked.

"Sure is," John confirmed. "See, you look great when you try."

He mother gawped also. "How did you get her to do that?" she asked.

John glanced at her. "What?"

The mother shook her head. "All that. The posing. The smiles. I can barely get Jen to stay in a picture frame, she's so shy. She wilts in front of a camera. But you just... how did you *do* that?"

John frowned.

***

"Now, everyone kick up your right leg. Come on, fellas, it's not a funeral, it's a can can! Smile!"

The biker gang grinned, kicking their legs, arm over arm with leather jackets gleaming. John took the picture.

"Something funny is going on here," he said under his breath.

***

"Alright, let's see some gang signs. Throw it up, ladies! Yeah, own that!"

The three old ladies threw up various gestures, giving the camera their best stank face. Their white hair glowed in the flash.

"Okay, I got it. Want to take a look?"

They relaxed, peering at the photo, adjusting glasses and cataracts. They broke into gentle laughter.

"Very nice," one said, waving a hand. "But maybe let's do a serious one, too."

"Fine, fine, but I'm getting four of those," another said. "I want to see the look on my son's face when I send it for Christmas."

John watched them file out, chatting happily, practicing their gang signs. "Alright," he said, "something weird is definitely going on here."

He frowned down at his camera. He turned it over in his hands. He took off the lens, squinting through it. He pulled out the battery, put it back in, and peered into the shutter and the SD card slot. Nothing seemed wrong. But hefting it, he felt that maybe it was just the slightest bit... heavier than it had been this morning? But it wasn't so much that he couldn't chalk it up to just being tired.

John held his camera up, looking through the viewfinder. He panned it across the store, until a familiar face crossed into the frame. He frowned.

"Here goes nothing," he muttered, and then louder he said, "Hey, Bruce!"

Bruce, the security guard for this section, blinked, clearing some cobwebs, and focused on John. He narrowed his eyes, shifting his bulk uncomfortably.

"Come on, John, you know I don't like my picture taken," he growled.

"You'll be fine, I'm just trying a setting," John said. "Just ignore me for now, act like I'm not even here."

Bruce frowned at him a moment longer, but then turned away again. Almost immediately, he got that glassy look back. Instead of glaring and threatening until John put the camera away, like he usually would.

"Okay, now give me a pose," John said. "Puff your chest out, and put your hands on your hips, superhero style."

Bruce puffed up and posed as requested, head held high with a confident smile. John hadn't even asked him to do that. With how much shoulder and chest Bruce had, he sold it perfectly. John took a picture, because he couldn't resist.

"Okay, great. Now, go ahead and put your arms up like you're flying, and run back and forth making whooshing sounds."

The site of big Bruce running and whooshing made John's jaw drop, and he lowered the camera. When he did, Bruce abruptly stopped. He glared.

"Look what you're making me do," he snapped, going red. "Now point that camera someplace else or I'll feed it to you."

John stared at him, and started to back away. "Uh, sorry, I just, uh..." he raised the camera again. "How about one last smile and wave? Like you're going to run for office."

Bruce's death glare melted away, and he gave a magnanimous smile, waving John off. John took a picture, and backed slowly away, not pointing the camera away until he disappeared back into his tent.

He stood there a moment, listening to his quick breathing. Then he peaked out the curtain. Bruce was standing there, but not glaring darkly at the photo tent. He was standing with his chest thrown out, smiling and waving as kids passed.

"Holy shit," John said.

It seemed like people did whatever he asked them to when the camera was pointed at them. When the camera wasn't on them, it seemed to wear off but... Bruce just now seemed different. Maybe it was because he took the photo in that state?

John told him not just to do something, but to BE something. And taking the picture sort of... made the suggestion stick?

"Holy fucking shit," John said.

"ExCUSE me," someone's voice said. John started, pulling back the curtain and turning toward the sound.

The woman was a little past her prime, but not so far that she didn't cut a nice figure. She had nice tits and long hair dyed reddish, and she wore a wide-colored western shirt, jeans, and a wide belt. A crucifix hung on a chain around her neck. She fixed John with a scowl.

"I'll thank you not to use that kind of language where children can hear," she told him levelly.

John stared at her a moment, blinking. "Sorry, I just, I..." then a lightbulb went off in his head. He pointed the camera at her.

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