“I want to thank you all for coming. I offer these one night stands to hopefully increase your ability to provide the best photos possible for one of the most memorable moments in people’s lives that they wish to preserve for the rest of their lives.” Oscar’s one and only introduction to Photography 101.
Oscar Brand taught photography at the U of M for over thirty years. He retired several years ago; semi-retired actually. He was never one to sit around doing nothing. If he had one flaw it was he didn’t know how to relax. It wasn’t that he didn’t enjoy whatever he did, it is just that it had to involve him in a way that at the end of the day, he had something tangible he could hold up and say, “I did this.”
Oscar is, was an old friend of mine. He didn’t just disappear one day, move on, go to the other side, all the euphemisms used to disguise the natural conclusion of life; he changed.
Oscar’s image and reputation were considered impeccable, but then most people didn’t know Oscar, only of him and what he allowed them to see. Oscar was a deviant; not in a bad way, but in a way that was manufactured to promote an image that had no relation to the forced smile and gentle demeanor Oscar sported.
Oscar although a teacher by day, was a wedding photographer at the weeks end. It may have had something to do with the fact he’d never married, or even dated as far as I know, and found weddings to be his surrogate for a life he wished he’d had, but didn’t.
Oscar was an extremely shy person. I had always assumed I was his only friend and confidant, until the funeral. The small chapel was packed with those who believed the same thing. Apparently Oscar’s escape from the realities of his life, was keeping his relationship with people private to the point of being seemingly nonexistent.
I listened to many of those at the visitation ceremony. Many of them were introduced to Oscar at their weddings. His talent, if you could call it that, had more to do with photographing what people didn’t see for the most part. He took the traditional pictures, brides, grooms, cakes, vows, riding off into the sunset in a chariot decorated with shaving cream paper flowers, but those were not the pictures that had come to gain prominence in the hearts and minds of those who participated in the ceremony, or later at the reception.
Oscar’s primary focus was the thing that was often dismissed, as the obvious. The boy eating cake under a table, his face a mask of ice cream and frosting. The old man sitting alone in a corner asleep or dead. If Oscar had been asked, he would have informed them he took pictures not pulses.
The woman dancing by herself to the music only she heard. The visions of a past floating like clouds through a memory of what was and what should have been. The parents looking stoic in their costumes, remembering the promises that failed to materialize because one or the other, did not live up to the expectations imagined.
The stories traditionally passed amongst those who shared a remembrance of who they believed they knew, understood, and had come to say their final farewell to, although varied, were similar until Niels Simons. Niels was a mortician in the only remaining mortuary in town. He had survived the onslaught of cremation, flash freezing, composting, or becoming a part of the latest reef refurbishing project in a dying coral environment of anywhere you chose to look.
Niels was introduced to Oscar by a deceased member of the menagerie he called friends. Niels, although not a traditionalist in any sense of the word, would have been considered over the top, even by those on the outskirts of progressive exaggerational thinking. Niels described himself when asked, as a traditional conservative with an expanding vision of what needed to be lost to be found.
Niels had hired Oscar to take photos of those who didn’t have to be reminded not to move or smile, as nature had removed the possibilities in its effort to preserve the reality of eventuality. Niels was not a big fan of confronting the deep blue with the remnants of something they could not comprehend or appreciate.
Oscar had built a business and a reputation as a wedding photographer, but there was an underground, there always is an underground populated by those who believe that life can be, if not prolonged, made infamous for at least as long as they would care.
Oscar applied the same critical illusive eye when immortalizing a wedding as the unappreciated dedication of those behind the scenes at the mortuary. Making someone look like they are just sleeping, after they have had their ticket punched and wait skeptically at the Gates, is no easy feat. Oscar managed to capture not only the essence of the life that no longer existed, but the new life on the threshold of destiny.
I have to admit that lying there and having my old friend adjusting my tie, moving the hair from my forehead, and rearranging my hands around a rosary one of my more devout relatives believed would help me out run my reputation, as far as God was concerned. I found you have an entirely different perspective of not only friends, but life when you are attempting to decide in the absence of life, if it was all worth it.
I have to admit I was taken aback by Oscar’s underground activities, not that I was an angel, but I came to see in the cold darkness of reality that he wouldn’t have been taking the photos, attempting to preserve a memory, no matter the morbid underpinnings , if not asked by someone who need to remember a life if only on a celluloid level.
I wasn’t sure Oscar remembered me until he patted my head before turning out the lights. It wasn’t until later when I was able to visit his collection, of what some would call a troubled man’s infatuation with the alternative, that I realized his genius in capturing the essence of a reality only he saw.
I should explain. I am, and I am not, Niels. I have not been able to process the fact that you can be more than one thing at once: a you, and a you. Being confused is not really the word that describes being neither here nor there, but it is all I have.
There was not one picture of me in totality, per say; an ear here, a tie clap there, as an intrusive ant crawled across the make-believe clouds I was bedded on. I had no idea ants could smile. The closeup of the spider hanging just inches from my nose, and me an arachnophobiack. His attention to detail was, and is, documented somewhere in the basement of the mortuary museum at the U of M. If you are in the area stop by. I know you’d enjoy the ambiance, and I’d enjoy the company. See Yah!