Brace yourself, this one is long.
I now know I have a dirty mind. Sure, I’d like to think it is no more than an average male’s imagination, but after recent events, I can say with confidence that even my passing thoughts could make a sailor blush. My perception has shifted, almost like a lens that is changing focus, and if there is one thing that I can speak about with confidence it’s that perception is indeed everything. It can change the simplest meanings of the most simple things. Red becomes crimson. Sweat becomes tears. Or sex becomes incest.
Maybe a more accurate term would be filthy mind? It’s all just semantics, really. Just one point of view much like that of a photograph, which is appropriate really, for that is indeed my profession. Though it wasn’t until recently that this darker side, this id as Freud would call it, started seeping into my work, subconsciously controlling what I shot and how it was viewed. What’s really funny is that the origins of this dark journey were so innocent too.
You see, photography for me was really a hobby that turned into something greater. A camera was a part of our lives growing up for my family. We had more photo albums lying around the house than books. Every single major life event, and even the minor ones, had visual documentation to mark its importance. Everything from my sister’s first steps to my graduation, Birthdays, Holidays, and Family Vacations sealed in cellophane in binders on shelves. My Dad was always the one behind the lens, snapping away any chance he got. Sometimes I think he missed the experience of these moments viewing it all through a lens instead of with his own eyes. Don’t get me wrong, he was incredibly talented, but it’s funny thinking back because most of my childhood memories of my father include the sound of something clicking and flashes of light.
Regardless of what apprehension that may imply, photography was ingrained in my day-to-day and became part of my life. I guess I inherited my father’s eye, because the moment I laid hands on a camera, I was a natural. Lighting, framing, everything was all second nature. So much so that when I got my first SLR at the age of 16, I stayed up all night memorizing the manual. ISOs, F-Stops, Shutter Speeds, it all made perfect sense to me. So, naturally, this became my calling. Even when the world turned digital, I evolved right alongside, though my passion stayed with film.
As the years rolled on, I graduated college with a degree in photography and instantly started selling my services freelance. It wasn’t easy at first, but I had a great head start thanks to a couple of my projects in senior year being published in a several local, and one national magazine. And with that, I moved out of my parent’s house just outside of San Francisco and moved into the City. Fortune kept rolling my way and I had a great flat large enough to double as a studio and home. So, as you can tell, it appeared I had all my ducks in a row, but of course, every now and again things can throw you off course.
Every Sunday was Family Dinner night. It was something that we have maintained in my family for years now. The four of us were there, scrambling to set the table and pleasant chit-chat carried from one person to another. I was pouring the wine while joking with Dad about my recent photo shoot when I overheard my mother.
“Have you told your brother yet?” she asked Kelly as she set down the pasta.
“Mm-Mmm.” Kelly shook her head looking at me.
“One sec Pops.” I turned to my sister. “What’s up?”
She rolled her eyes as we she took our seats. “Well, I was going to wait until after dinner so thanks Mom. Kinda’ let the cat out of the bag there.”
“What’s going on?” I asked again.
“Your sister had a little bit of an opportunity,” said my dad as he began to serve himself.
“Let her tell him, Charles.” My mother took a sip of her wine as she settled in.
Kelly took a big breath and turned to me. “You know how I have been dabbling in designing clothes? Well, I’ve been having a great time at it and I’ve been getting some great feedback. It’s kinda like you and photography; I’m a natural. I’ve got a great eye for style while keeping it flirty and kinda fun; especially for women with bodies like Mom and me.”
“Something for girls with curves,” Pops chuckled as he raised his glass.
“Charles!” Mom smacked him with her napkin causing Dad to flinch.
Regardless of how it was taken, Dad’s comment was pretty spot on. I hadn’t really studied their figures before, at least not on purpose, but both my mother and sister were shapely gals. They were in no way what you would consider thick, thanks to yoga, but both have curves where men like to look. Some credit due to their regimen and some to genes.
“So anyway, like I was saying, I’ve been really diving in deep on this, and last week one of my professors passed on a few photos of my work to a contact of hers and they loved it! They asked to see more and I want to really blow them away.”
“Holy crap, Kelly! That’s awesome!”
“I know, right!” She was ecstatic. Her green eyes sparkled as her grin stretched across her face. “Right now, they’ve only seen a couple of my pieces. A summer dress, a couple tops and shorts, and a swim suit. What I want to do next is show off what I can really do and step it up a notch both in style and presentation. Soooo… Jason.” She started to push her silverware around her plate. “I was wondering…”
“You want me to be your photographer, don’t you?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll totally pay you. It would mean a lot to me and you are the best photographer I know.”
“Sis, don’t worry about it. We’re family; I got your back.” I laughed. “So what you thinking? Day shoot, night shoot, studio?”
“You know I was thinking something like at the beach. I figured it’d be the best way to show off a spring and summer look. It’s just an idea.”
“No, I like it.” I smiled. “Have you thought about models yet?”
Her eyes went wide. “Oh shit, no I forgot.” Her eyes went wider as she covered her mouth. “Sorry Mom! I keep swearing around you.”
Mom waved it off. “Honey, I keep telling you; you’re twenty-one. You’re an adult.”
“I know. It’s still weird.”
“When did you want to do it?” I asked, straining to get back to the topic.
“What?” Kelly turned to me. “Oh, I was hoping by the end of next week. I don’t want the offer to grow too cold, you know?”
“Gotcha,” I said, deep in thought. “I don’t know who I can grab with that kind of notice. How many girls do you need?”
“Just one. I want to keep it simple.”
“What about you?” Dad asked Kelly. “It’s your line. You’re a pretty girl. Couldn’t you do it?”
“Personally I don’t have any issue doing it. Hell I wear the clothes anyway but isn’t that a little tacky to showcase your own line like that?” asked Kelly.
I shook my head. “I wouldn’t recommend it. You want it to appear like your line is for anyone and everyone. That message might not come across if all they see is you in your clothes.”
“Hell, then use your mom.”
“Charles!” She smacked him again.
“What? Why not?”
My eyes quickly darted up to our mother. I never really looked at her in detail either, but she is where Kelly gets most of her charms. She possessed many of the fair traits of both her Irish and Japanese lineage. Deep and dark red hair she kept cut just below her shoulders. Green, almond shaped eyes with a fair complexion and rosy cheeks, though that may have been the wine. To be honest, she’d be perfect.
“Oh that would be so awesome Mom! Please! It’s just a couple dresses and swimsuits!” Kelly pleaded.
“Swimsuits, nice!” I joked.
“Jason!” Mom glared at me.
“Hey, don’t mind me. I’m just the photographer.” I laughed. “I’m sure they’re not bad anyway, Mom. It’s not like your daughter’s been spending hours on end crafting bikinis.”
Kelly appeared to shrink in her chair as silence filled the air.
“They’re bikinis, aren’t they?” Mom asked.
Kelly replied with a sheepish nod.
I looked from Kelly to my mother. I could sense glimmer of apprehension. “Well Mom,” I said with a shrug, “I’m down if you are. It’s always exciting working with a new model. You game?”
She glanced my way, giving me just a moment to see a sparkle in her eye. With a smile, Mom shrugged her shoulders. “The things I do for my kids,” she drained her glass in one gulp and nodded.
An hour later, glasses refilled and bellies full, Kelly and I were down in her workspace; our former basement. The walls were newly painted and now holding clippings from various fashion magazines. Several sizing mannequins and sewing machines were residing now where my first dark room used to be. Oh well, C’est la vie.
“They’re right over here,” she said as she grabbed a rolling garment rack and flipped through the hangers mumbling yes’s and no’s as she selected her line-up. Finally with a handful, she laid them out on her work station.
“Alright,” she sighed. “What do you think?”
“You did all this?” I asked picking up a red summer dress.
“Yup.” She fidgeted and sipped her wine. “That’s one of my favorites.”
I set it down and picked up another. “This is incredible, Kelly.”
“Yeah. Absolutely. I’m impressed, seriously. Are you sure you have enough time to size them all to Mom?” I asked.
She smiled. “They shouldn’t be too far off as it is. You see that dress form?” she asked pointing to a mannequin embedded with sizing dials. “I call her Lucy.”
I raised an eyebrow. “A dummy named after Mom, huh. Let me guess, Mom was your first model.”
Kelly smiled proudly. “Yes indeed. Sized it right to her: Course that was a little while back though. I tend to use myself for most of my work now but we aren’t too far off from each other,” she said as she examined herself in the mirror.
I raised an eyebrow as I held up one of her bikinis. “That’s convenient, because you don’t really have much room to work with on some of these.” She looked up at my reflection as I examined the piece of garb.
“Not ashamed of showing off a little skin, I see.” I said.
She smiled. “Hey, you know me. If you got it, flaunt it.”
“Well, Mom’s gonna’ be the one flaunting it so I hope you’re okay with that.”
She shrugged. “If it sells my goods, I have no problem with her showing hers,” she giggled
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes as she laughed.
Her eyes softened as she looked at me in the reflection.
“Thank you for doing this, Jason. It means a lot to me,” she said. “And, even though she won’t say it, it really means a lot to Mom too.”
“You’re welcome,” I said as I hung the clothes back, and then stopped. Something she said was off. “Wait, why do you think it meant a lot to Mom? Isn’t she-“
She shook her head, scolding herself as she turned to face me.
“It’s nothing,” she said. “Forget I said anything.”
“Wait a minute Kelly. Come on. What’s going on?”
She took a deep breath. “I don’t know. It’s weird,” she said. “It’s like… She’s just happier when you’re around.”
“Mom? But she’s always happy.”
Kelly shrugged. “Honestly, Jason, I’m not sure. I mean she appears to be more so around you, but you’re not here most of the time and Dad’s here just a little more than that. I think there’s something going on between the two of them.”
I set down my glass. “You think they’re fighting?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know… Actually that’s not true, I know they are because I can hear the mumbles through the walls, but they never do it in front of me.”
“They seemed fine at dinner. I mean, they were acting like they always do.”
She looked me in the eye. “Even though they say we are adults, they still try to keep things from us. They want to appear composed, I guess. I don’t know what’s going on, but I can always feel this tension in the air. Mainly from Dad, to be honest. He comes home late from work, then goes out, then comes home late again. He always spends the night here, but… I don’t know what it is. I never see them spend any time together anymore unless you’re around.” She shook her head in disbelief. “Seriously, it’s gotta be frustrating for her. I don’t even think they’re having sex anymore. They were noisy as hell after you moved out for college, but nothing for the last year.”
“Thank you, Kelly. I wasn’t expecting to hear about our parents bedside manners, but now I can sleep good tonight.”
She smacked my arm. “Jason, I’m serious. I’m concerned for her.”
“And not for Dad?” I asked.
She remained silent for a moment, tapping the side of her glass. “Not really.” She looked up at me. “I know it’s kinda’ fucked up to say that, but I feel like he’s leaving her high and dry here.”
I sighed. “It’s an awful lot of speculation.”
She shrugged. “You’re right, it is.” Kelly said. “But I can’t explain it any other way. Mom’s always the happy-go-lucky one and I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s the only reason they haven’t gotten divorced. She’d want us to stay together as a family.”
“You might be right.”
“I think I am,” she said staring in my eyes. I was surprised not to see any tears. “That’s why I think it’s good that she’s doing this.” Kelly stirred her glass. “You realize she wouldn’t have said yes if you didn’t agree to as well.”
“What makes you say that?”
Kelly shrugged. “She just… You’re her boy.” She took a large swig of her wine.
I smiled, “Thanks Kelly. I’m going to try and not put too much thought into the fact you said our undersexed mother has a thing for me.”
“Argh!” Kelly groaned in annoyance. “That’s not-“
“No, it’s fine. Like water off a duck’s back,” I said to which she smacked me again.
“You always joke.”
“Hey, I can’t help it! It’s just my thing.”
She rolled her eyes then downed the rest of her drink. “Fuck it. Thanks for saying yes,” she said as she headed back up the stairs.
I followed suit, but joking aside, the conversation stuck deep in my gut.
Between the three of us, we worked out the details for the shoot. Kelly used to style hair and makeup before finding her calling with fashion so we had that covered. For the location, we settled on heading up to a cove north of the city where we’d be able to get some great shots of the waves breaking against the rocks. We went there years ago for a family camping trip so the area was somewhat familiar.
A week passed and the day of the shoot was here. I had a quick gig in Oakland early that morning so I got to the house just before we needed to head out. Our goal was to get both bright sunlight and sunset shots before we called it a day. So far, everything was looking peachy.
“Hellooooo!” I bellowed as I entered the house.
“We’re back here,” I heard Kelly call.
I found them in the master bath, both sitting on stools facing each other. Mom in a white robe and Kelly in black yoga pants and a pink tank top, focused on applying Mom’s mascara.
“Hey Bro. You get my message,” she asked focusing on her task.
“No, what’s up?”
“Your dad can’t make it,” Mom said. “His client is having a… I don’t really remember. He won’t be there.”
“Oh well, sucks for him.” I checked my watch. “How we doing here?”
“Just finished her hair and I’m just touching up her makeup.” Kelly tilted Mom’s chin up.
“How’s it look?”
I knelt beside them. “Not bad,” I said.
“What a charmer,” Mom smirked.
I chuckled. “No seriously, you’re stunning Mom, you know that. What we need to do now is accentuate her best features. Really make it pop, you know?”
Mom looked up to me. “And what are my best features?”
I gave her a once over, though I really didn’t need to. “I’d say… your eyes and lips are the first things that stand out. They’re captivating, alluring. Even a natural pout.”
“And what about beyond my face?” she asked raising an eyebrow.
I winked. “I’ll leave that one to our fashionista here.”
Kelly studied Mom’s face. “Okay, so focus on the eyes and lips.”
“Let me try something,” Mom said. She stood up and grabbed her a couple items from her kit. With some quick flicks and gestures, she turned back to us. “Better?”
I studied her one last time. She looked flawless.
She smiled and blew a kiss at me.
“All right, let’s pack it up.”
Five minutes later, we were in the car.
We couldn’t have picked a better day. The sky was partly cloudy with bright pillars of light piercing through any opening it could find. The three of us, in the mean time, were huddled together in my SUV for the hour long drive; me, your friendly driver, Kelly in the back seat flipping through my portfolio, and Mom was in the passenger seat staring out the window as we traveled along the winding coastal highway.
“Damn, Jason you really got a range here,” Kelly said.
“What are you talking about?” I replied, glancing at her in the rearview mirror.
“All these crazy photos you’ve done. Models, Foods, Nature… Is this a riot? Where was there a riot?” She looked up at me.
“It wasn’t a riot. It was a protest. I took that one last year when I went to Madrid with Garry and Elliot. I got you that statue, remember?”
“Oh yeah.” She looked back to the photos. “It’s on my dresser… Holy shit I’ve seen this one before! You didn’t take this!”
Looking back, “Which one?”
“This Lady Gaga one.”
I couldn’t help but chuckle. “No that’s me. They got published and I think that’s how you saw it.”
“Bull,” she said.
“It is! I was friends with an aide and she passed on the recommendation. Kinda like you and your gig. It’s all in who you know.”
I could see Mom smile from the corner of my eye.
“Wow you must be blowing up then. How many shoots do you do a week now?” Kelly asked.
“It varies. On a busy week, anywhere from five to six. Slow week, one if any. Keep in mind I tend to book things further out than just a week.”
“Well, yeah. That’s a lot. There’s a lot of work between shoots. Setting up and planning prior, not to mention the time it takes to edit afterward.”
Kelly closed the portfolio and bounced in her seat. “So what’s the craziest shoot you ever did?”
I looked back to her. “Craziest? What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. Whatever,” she smirked.
“Craziest…” I had to think. I could see Mom shift in the seat beside me, gaining interest it would seem. “You know, probably that Lady Gaga one.”
“Really? That’s it? Nothing spicier or anything like that?” I appeared to have disappointed my sister.
“Spicy? Well,” I had to think. “I’ve done a couple swimsuit ones before.”
“So swimsuits are considered spicy then?” Mom asked.
“No, not really, but sometimes… I mean…” I looked back at Kelly. “Wait. What do you mean?”
“You know, like lingerie or… no lingerie.” She giggled.
“What you mean like boudoir?” I asked.
“Yeah. Ever done it?”
I glanced an eye to our mother who chuckled to herself.
“You know I can’t say that I have. Never really crossed my mind to be honest with you.”
“Bullshit! You totally thought about it.”
“Need I remind you that our mother is in the car.”
“She said I could cuss.”
“That’s not what I was getting at.” I fidgeted. “I don’t think we should talk about this with her here.”
“Don’t use me to get out of the questions.” Mom seemed to be enjoying my discomfort.
Kelly beamed. “See? Mom wants to know!”
“Jeez, what’s with you two? Okay so, yes, maybe I have thought about it. Okay. It’s just not high on my to-do list. Happy?”
Kelly’s brow furrowed. “Why not? If some chick was willing to pay you to take photos of her in the buff, you’re telling me you’re not interested?”
I looked at her through the mirror. “You know what; I don’t feel too comfortable having this conversation right now. Let’s change the subject.”
She sank in the seat. “Fine, but don’t think that I’m going to forget about this.”