“Art itself…is a compromise between imagination and reality; it deals with real media but implies an inability to find complete satisfaction with reality and creates a new world ‘nearer to the heart’s desire.’” – J.C. Flügel
She’d posed for Giorgio a few times, but that was before his Dolce & Gabbana phase, before he’d gelled his black hair into a thick screw, fastened at the nape of his neck by a clear elastic. Today, his neon green and black, geometric-print shirt—unbuttoned one, or maybe two buttons too many—was tucked, haphazardly, into his fitted leather pants, secured with a grossly-oversized belt buckle blasting the logo of his brand du jour.
“Give it all to me. Show me where the danger resides,” he said, oversized-ring-clad fingers snapping away, creating a kaleidoscope of pixels that would be retouched and airbrushed until Paulette more closely resembled the alien-invaded body of her second cousin twice removed than herself.
Stifling an eye-roll, she clung to an imaginary snake. Earlier, she’d held a real boa, but it kept getting tangled in her teased, blonde afro, enticed by the sticky sweet smell of the hairspray that suspended her stick-straight mane into the wiry wisps of an electroshock therapy patient.Now the serpent coiled in its tank, leaving her alone on the white muslin half pipe, naked except for a pair of snakeskin underwear.
She draped the imaginary serpent over her breasts, placed her hand under its pointed chin, and let its tongue reach for her puckered lips. Then she licked its diamond-bellied stomach, perhaps precluding it from licking her protruding pelvic bone in the final image.
“We don’t want it to be too graphic, just enough,” Giorgio had said before he morphed into his role as photographer. Now, left with his barking commands, she imagined she was posing for Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, the victim of another of The Artist’s insecure ejaculations, a broken-down prism of a woman because for him, the virile artist, the real thing was too intimidating.
“Darling, you’re per-fect,” Giorgio said, getting instant gratification from a glimpse of one of his images on the camera screen. “Now show me that nai-Eve, that schoolgirl.”
She shifted from seductive vixen to innocent maiden. She was suddenly coy. She covered her chest and turned her back to the snake, glancing over her shoulder with faux shock, with a Where did my clothes go? look. Then she released one arm, reaching for the serpent with inquisitive, floating fingers.
Occasionally, Giorgio would call to Bruce, his emphatically homosexual assistant, “Number 5-78, mark it,” or “Trash those, they’re shit,” editing his work as he went along.
“And that’s it,” he finally yelled, dropping his camera into the hands of one of his minions, his fingers now free to flutter, palms up, summoning Paulette to him. She trotted over, as was expected, air kissing him on either cheek and once on the lips, because that was his thing, how they do it in Italia, or so he said. An assistant came and placed a silk robe over her shoulders.
“Bruce, that’s so not i-it,” Giorgio sang as he guided her toward the oversized computer screen where her likeness was fractured and morphed into the dozen boxes of the digital contact sheet.
“Well, get up,” he said, shooing Bruce out of the white Eames desk chair and ushering her into it.
“I know you have an eye for these things.” His eyes stopped on hers, for just a moment, the candor reentering his soft expressions as his stage presence dissolved. “Show me your ideas before I have to fire another assistant.” He scanned Bruce from his sculptured afro to his too-tight skinny jeans and wing-tipped Ferregamos. Then he winked, his eyes turning back to the screen.
Ignoring whatever power play was going on between them, Paulette began clicking through the images, showing him where she had imagined the snake, coiling down Manhattan skyscrapers overgrown with a tangle of vines, then wrapping around her body.
She could see why they liked her look. Long, lean legs with arms to match, like she’d already been stretched and augmented in Photoshop. Her asymmetrical face, highlighted by two bulbous eyes, added an androgyny to her façade that complemented the marketing instinct of the sartorial medium.
Unlike the rest, Georgio sometimes remembered to see her for more than she appeared. He’d asked her opinion on a few projects, let her share her ideas with him. She didn’t get credit for this input, only for being a body, a figment of the fashion unreality.
Like Giorgio, she played a roll on a much more public stage. Her face and body found their way into fashion magazine, onto billboards and busses, selling merchandise she couldn’t keep track of. And Georgio, he fell into the trends of designer after designer.
She was hoping at their next shoot it’d be Tom Ford. If she was lucky, Georgio would latch onto the designer-turned-momentary-director’s weighty pink lights, the ones from A Single Man that would highlight the freckles on her cheeks and the strawberry in her hair, that was if she didn’t get clobbered by the makeup artist first.
“Wretched, bellisima,” Georgio exclaimed, swirling her around in the chair to face him. “With this heavy black makeup,” he said referring to the swarm of charcoal pigments that clung like magnets to the skin around her eyes, “you look positively horrendous. You’re the snake. But you’re you.” He caressed the sharp angle of her chin bone, “…so it works.”
He let his hand linger, for only a moment before he snapped his boots together. “Okay, caio bella.” He dismissed her with a snappy, double handed bye-bye. Then he turned, eying the studio, foraging for another assistant to yell at.
He left her to spin around, watching the workers take down lights, cart off the snake, and dismantle today so they could construct a new one tomorrow.
Brianna J.L. Smyk earned a Master of Professional Writing (MPW/MFA) from University of Southern California in 2015. She is a former culture journalist for Nola.com and her fiction work can be found in “The Human Touch Journal.” Brianna is Editor-in-Chief of “Exposition Review” and the former Nonfiction Editor and Associate Editor of “Southern California Review.” She holds a master’s in art history, works at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, and teaches yoga. Find out more about Brianna on Twitter: @briannasmyk.