Le photographe

Submitted by Nate Laspina to Contest #14 in response to: It's about a photographer, who is a rookie.... view prompt

BEEP! BEEP! SMACK! “Ugh” groaned the teenager and he rolled out of bed. After stumbling his way to the kitchen and ignoring the near-distant yelling of his parents outside, which at this point had become like white noise to him, he found the remains of a pop-tart and began to start his day. His mother then came into the kitchen saying, “Let me make you some eggs instead”, as she rubbed small tears from her eyes. David’s parents did not have much and the divorce would soon drain them of nearly everything. David’s feelings towards his parents had not turned to apathy but rather helplessness. They had kept him in the dark about everything. When his parents finally told him of their separation, he was all but prepared. He simply accepted his role as freeloader and went about his days “wasting his time”, as his father would say, sleeping until 11am and taking pictures with a disposable camera. David and his family lived in an apartment within The Bronx in New York City. He was 16 years old, left school after only finishing 10th grade (his father’s decision) and had no job. David’s father worked as a welder in the city and this week he had spoken to his boss about getting his son a job cleaning up after the construction crews. For a whole week David woke up at 6 am, collected the dust and bits of old insulation for the trash, went home to sleep, then did it all again, all for $10 per day. He did his job dutifully but hated it. He could feel his soul tugging at his arm to leave this job and just do anything else. One day while at work he caught a glimpse of a group of teenagers around his age walking past the construction site with the most expensive looking cameras he’d ever seen. Curiosity urged him on and he slipped away from his job, just for a moment, he told himself. He saw them meet up with another group and they went on and on about traveling to Italy and Paris. David rolled his eyes at their privileged lives but perked his ears up when he heard ‘photo contest’. When they left, he saw the poster advertising the details of the contest were plastered on the brick wall adjacent to where he was hiding. The words ‘contest open to the public!’ filled him with excitement and the prize made his jaw nearly hit the pavement. Without even thinking, he ditched work for the day, bolted back home and started to choose which of his pictures would win this contest. All the cameras he used were disposable and he had no formal training to speak of, but he did have an insatiable passion. His room was a mess of overdue library books on the history of photography, notes on technique and lighting as well as a dresser stuffed full of clothes and prized photos which he had taken himself. As he reminisced over his old pictures to see which might get him the big prize, he rediscovered a very old one he had not taken. It was of his parents and him when he was an infant. Seeing his parents smile in the picture pushed a single tear to the corner of his eye, but he kept his feelings at bay. He was determined to win that contest prize, become famous and make his parents proud. Disposable cameras didn’t take the best quality pictures, but maybe the content of the picture could wow the judges enough so that the quality of the image wouldn’t matter as much. He ran out the door again, camera in hand, and spent the rest of the daylight hours taking photos of birds, tourists and finally the sunset. A dull set of photos if he was honest with himself, but it beat working at the construction site. He came back home to find his parents fighting again in the living room, but this time it wasn’t about money or the house, but about him. David could see on his father’s face he had had an especially hard day at work, probably made worse by the fact that he had to explain to his boss why a few other workers said they saw his son walk away from the job site to go play photographer in the park. Ashamed, David accepted the brunt of his father’s anger. He went to bed that night deflated, hungry and truly guilty for potentially putting his father’s job at risk too. The next day David’s father was able to convince his boss to give his son a second chance, there would not be a third. He was unofficially labeled a “lazy dreamer” by the rest of the cleaning crew and so let him keep to himself. He droned on with his sweeping in the hot summer sun, his motion kicking up dust and small fibers of insulation which made him cough as few times. The whole scene made for a truly worthy punishment in David’s mind. Then he heard the unmistakable sound of a camera going off. He looked up and saw no one. Then the sound went off again. He tried going back once more to his sweeping while maintaining the cloud of misery over his head, but the feeling of being photographed annoyed him. The sound went off a third time which made him break his concentration. David spun around to find an old man sitting in a wheelchair, only a few feet away, with a big camera covering his face. The old man lowered the camera and bid him good morning with a heavy French accent and a smile, then went on his way down the street. David’s eyes narrowed, not at the old man, or even for being photographed without his permission, not really, just that today had been a perfectly good day to sulk and feel sorry for oneself, only to be rudely interrupted with a ‘good morning’. David quickly caught up with the old man to sharply ask “What, pray tell, is so good about it?!”, surprising even himself as to why he felt the need to seem witty by adding ‘pray tell’ in his sentence this one time in his life. He stood on the sidewalk behind the old man while also attempting to maintain his annoyance, mostly with the hope of earning a quick apology and a bit of respect. The old man slowly turned himself around and simply said: “Ah, my apologies. I only meant to convey my excitement for how beautiful this morning appeared to me and hoped for you to confirm the same to me. You looked hard at work and I could not miss the chance to take a picture of one so gloomy on such a gorgeous day. The irony was killing me!”, the old man chuckled at his own joke. David felt his annoyance fade, then offered his own apology and turned to go back to work when the old man said, “How did your photos come out yesterday?”. Slightly stunned, David spun around again, this time truly seeing the old man. He had small black sunglasses, a straw hat that was too big, a well-tailored suite with a pink handkerchief and an almost comical looking mustache to match his very French accent. Then his teenage brain quickly reminded him he should probably introduce himself at this point. He did so and the old man repeated the name back to him with an odd amount of excitement. “Davide!” the old man laughed, “my father’s name was Davide as well. Bonjour, Davide, my name is Elliott, it is a pleasure to meet you. I had seen you taking pictures in the park yesterday and was curious about how they came out”. David still couldn’t wrap his brain around the conversation he was having, but thankfully his mouth politely replied, albeit with less enthusiasm “It’s nice to meet you, Elliot”. David then went on to explain that he hadn’t yet seen them either as they still needed to be developed. As he finally came to terms with having a conversation with a senior citizen on the street about photography, he became a little more relaxed. He even let slip that fact that he had skipped work to take the pictures, gotten his father in trouble at work and then gotten yelled at when he returned home. The old man nodded as he listened and at last spoke to explain that his father also disapproved of the hobby and placed an honest job over simple pleasures, like taking photos. As David was talking the old man saw that one of the workers had given him away to a man who certainly looked like the boss at a construction site. The large man then came walking over toward David, but the boy hadn’t yet noticed. The old man quickly understood this poor boy’s difficult situation and resolved to help him. Firstly, he would spare him from another scolding. The old man rolled past his new friend and David quickly turned pale as he saw his father’s boss come down the street to yell at him. The two men met and within a few minutes, both looked at David, looked at one another, had a chuckle, then shook hands and parted. David was truly confused now and incredibly anxious about what he thought had just happened. The old man saw the boy was about to go into a state of panic, so he quickly put up a hand and said “Davide, there is no need to worry. I spoke with your Father’s boss and we both agreed you are a very poor construction worker” he said with a smile. David looked back at the old man and his annoyance started to return, thinking he had just been fired by this random old guy in a wheelchair. The old man continued “You will instead assist me with getting around this city so that I may see all of its beauty before I go back home to Paris. I want to see as much as I can and, perhaps, take a few photos while we go. In return, I will pay you your $10 a day and I can teach you everything I know about photography. What do you say?”. David didn’t know what to say. He knew his Father would never approve, but this deal certainly sounded better than anything else he had going on. After all, he needed money and he had just lost his first job in less than two weeks. David agreed and for days he pushed this new friend all over the city. He decided to tell his parents he had gotten a new job assisting an old man with his groceries, they seemed to take it well. Even David’s father admitted it was better than nothing, however David couldn’t bring himself to tell his parents about the photography lessons. There was no need, they wouldn’t understand. David soon realized he was getting personalized attention from a real master of the art. When David saw the pictures which the old man had taken his eyes widened in awe. They were incredible. David couldn’t understand how the old man could take such seemingly uninteresting scenes, such as of a family buying ice cream or an old woman feeding birds and make them look so captivating. The old man explained he wasn’t merely pointing a camera and pushing a button, but rather, telling a story. He then showed the photo he took of David the day they met. It was a brilliant image. David saw himself working away with dead eyes fixed to the ground and the dust around him dispersing the morning sunlight in all directions. He could see the harshness of the work conditions deafening his senses to the cries of a beautiful day, now lost. David looked at the image for a long time, then thanked the old man for sharing it with him. The two later had coffee at a nearby café that day and, at the old man’s behest, David again shared his family’s trouble with money and his parents’ divorce. The old man’s heart sank into his chest as the boy spoke, but they were both brought back to reality when a very well-dressed couple interrupted their conversation. The couple exclaimed how excited they were to meet the old man. David was very puzzled but tried to understand what was going on as they seemed to be fans. Although he couldn’t tell because the couple were speaking French and David had no knowledge of the language. The old man looked slightly blushed and thanked the couple, then introduced David. The couple shook David’s hand as well and said only “Very lucky! “and then went on their way down the street. Seeing that his protégé deserved an explanation, the old man finally told the story of his own past. He had been a very famous photographer in Paris for the pictures he shared depicting what it had been like for soldiers who fought in World War II. David said he was surprised that the army let him do such a thing, but the old man quickly interjected. The old man explained that he too was in the army but refused to fight. Instead he used his camera to tell the stories of countless French soldiers, it was very likely that many of them would never get to tell it themselves. His commander eventually seized his camera and returned him to the front line where he lost both his legs in an explosion. Before pity could make a home in the young man’s heart, the old man said losing his camera hurt more than losing his legs. Thankfully a friend had gotten most of his pictures out to the public and, when the war was over, the old man had a bit of fame and fortune waiting for him to retire on. David was blown away by this story and did indeed feel incredibly lucky to be in his presence. A month of site seeing and learning from a master artist held back reality for a while, but eventually the stress of his parents finally separating caught up with him. David felt like the old man’s lessons were becoming more akin to intense schoolwork rather than for leisure, which was true. Without the foundation of formalized training much of the advanced lessons which he was receiving felt overwhelming. David started to worry that he might not have a winning photo in time for the contest and instead decided to take the picture the old man had taken of him the day they met. When the old man found out, a fissure had formed in the relationship and the two did not speak for several days. David now lived solely with his mother and she could see her son was starting to lose his passion for the art. With the final day to submit a photo for the contest soon approaching, David went back and forth in his head about what to do. His mother, uncharacteristically, opened-up to him and told him how she also would have loved to be a photographer and travel the world, “but” she said, “not at the cost of losing a mentor who cared so deeply”. After one of the longest talks he had ever had with his mother, David decided to retract his name from the list of contestants and return the photo he had taken from the old man. When the morning of the contest finally came, David went to the park and stood in view of the contest’s stage where most of the judges were seated by now. A crowd was slowly gathering to get a glimpse of this year’s winning photos. As David looked on in anguish, the same group of wealthy teenagers he had overheard the day he learned about the contest walked by him. From his perspective, they seemed to pass by as if he didn’t even exist. Then David heard the very quick snap of a camera behind him and turned to see the old man in his wheelchair smiling away. “Bonjour, monsieur” said the old man. “Bonjour, Elliot” David replied, and he walked over to greet his mentor again. “I apologize for taking your picture without your permission, but the irony of seeing a highly skilled starving artist next to a group of overly privileged teenagers would have killed me, had I not taken the shot,” said the old man. The two laughed. David began to apologize and was reaching for the photo he had taken from his friend, but the old man lifted his hand in protest at the offer. He looked over at the contest stage as he spoke: “You know, I have never really enjoyed these contests when I come here. They never did install that handicapped ramp to the stage I have been asking for…” He turned to David. “Here, Davide.” The old man handed over his prized camera to the young boy. Holding the old man’s camera up close made him realize that this camera was the grand prize he had seen on the contest poster. ‘The old man was one of the judges for the contest’ David exclaimed to himself. He looked back at the old man with complete surprise and could only speak a single word: “Why?” The old man simply smiled back at him and said: “They never select the right artist to win anyway. Tell a story, my friend”. 

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9 likes 2 comments

00:03 Nov 15, 2019

Wonderful story. I suspect this was written by a professional of story telling art. I was engaged, and what more can you ask of a story.

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15:10 Nov 15, 2019

Thank you! :)

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