Friday, 1 January 2010

An Office Duet

I used to see a woman, but I never saw her hands. Bunny wore bright- yellow washing-up gloves - all the time - everywhere. We used to meet in Peter Jones’ cafĂ©, where she’d suck her coffee through a straw and speak in a whisper; she thought the lightshades were listening to our conversation! One time, there was an old man (about her age) seated with his back to us at a nearby table. He was bald, and like many men of his age, somewhat shrunken - withered, to the extent that his jutting-out ears looked gigantic in proportion to the rest of him. Bunny stared at the back of his head for some time before turning to me and whispering “Look at the size of his ears, do you think he’s musical?” 

I was reminded of Bunny (she died a couple of years ago) when recently, and quite by accident, I came across an old photograph of mine: Roy and Alicia: a duet. The problem is, I have no recollection of taking the photograph, and even less of an idea as to why I took it!

What do I know? It was a long time ago. What can I remember? Their names: Roy and Alicia. The date: 1984? What was our relationship? We worked in the same building, beyond that I hardly knew them at all. What did they do? No idea, except they shared an office: their job had nothing at all to do with mine. Why did I photograph them? I only photographed them on two occasions: the colour portrait was done as part of my job. One of my tasks was to photograph everyone who worked in the building. The photographs were for a notice-cum- picture board, hung in the entrance to the building.

Of the torn, monochrome image: I’m certain that I didn’t just walk into their office, find them thus engaged and take a snap – a la Winogrand. I can only assume I asked – whilst I was taking their ‘official’ portrait’ - if I could direct (conduct?) Roy and Alicia performing a photograph, an image I’d composed for a duet: Roy, label licking, accompanied by Alicia on the Smith Corona? Roy was on warfarin (rat poison). One of the side effects of warfarin, are prolonged, painful erections. I doubt whether Roy divulged this fact though. Alicia, who drove a red Alfa Romeo - an Alpha sud - lived alone, except for her dog, who’d occasionally accompany her to work (see the colour portrait). The only other thing I know: Alicia had some kind of problem with her hands – they kept clawing-up uncontrollably - and the condition was getting worse.

I must have learned this information about Roy and Alicia during the ‘duet’ session. But what I don’t know (have no recollection whatsoever of) is: why did I want to take (fake?) such a photograph in the first place? What was my intention? The scissor markings seem to indicate that I was going to make some kind of a montage: I’ve never made a photomontage! The image is so unlike anything else I’ve ever concocted, and studying it now (after 26 years), I’ve absolutely no idea - beyond the obvious improvised dualism - what it’s about. My journals of the period show no drawings, plans or notes relating to the duet; but the contact-sheet of the shoot is interesting: all thirty-six exposures – the entire film – show the same scene, the duet – photographed from one fixed viewpoint. Furthermore, all the photographs are identical; Roy and Alicia must have held the pose for 36 photographs!

Holding the same pose? licking the post? hiding the photograph? I’m no nearer the truth. The only thing that makes any kind of sense is the record-cover I chose to store Roy and Alicia in, all those years ago: Miki and Griff’s ‘I want To Stay Here’ (Roy and Alicia stayed there, undiscovered for a quarter of a century); a couple within a couple; a hidden relationship.

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