Gil entered the photography gallery and smiled at the good turn-out. An unknown entity, no one noticed him. That suited Gil perfectly.
He drifted, avoiding eye contact. He wanted to suss out the crowd, to observe unseen. It is what photographers do. At last he could call himself that.
Besides Gil, the photographic exhibit featured the work of several local talents. But the photography at this popular semi-annual event, set the scene all the types, the fashionistas, the hipsters, the suits, artistes, the curious and hangers-on. People came to see, but also to be seen. It has always been this way.
And of course there were the discrete writers of checks.
A photographer, a hired gun, documented the occasion. Jane, the proprietor expertly used her events to promote her artists, herself and her patrons.
Gil avoided him. He hated paparazzi. They were intrusive. He could have been a model. But Gil wanted people to remember his work, not his face.
The wine flowed freely. The chatter and warm laughter bubbled above the plastic glasses.
Clusters of people gathered at this or that installment. Some moved about restlessly, wanting to see or be seen. Others seemed captured by one image or another.
Gil felt in good company. No two styles were the same. The place reeked of talent.
The seven framed enlargements were selected by Gil after close consultation with Jane. She provided him space near the rear of the gallery where more discerning eyes would discover them.
The crowd thinned as one penetrated the further reaches. Those who drifted out of easy access to the wine table had the eyes to see true quality.
Jane’s hand shot up and caught Gil’s eye. She wrapped up a conversation with a patron and rushed to him.
“Caught you! I saw you sneak in.”
“Hi Jane. Don’t bust me. I’m trying to fly under the radar.”
“Your secret is safe with me. Have some wine.”
Gil scanned the crowd. “Good turn out.”
“I’m thrilled for you all.”
“And for you, of course.”
“This may be my favorite collection yet. I’m so glad you’re here. You worked so hard.”
“I don’t want to be gauche, but…”
“It’s early, Gil.”
Jane touched his arm. “Though I do think you’ll do well tonight.”
“No promises, though.”
Their smiles said so much that couldn’t be said.
“No. Trust me. Never.” Jane smiled. “I promise never to promise.”
Gil blinked. “Jane, having a chance to show my stuff is a huge opportunity. I can’t thank you enough.”
Jane touched Gil’s arm, “So, get some wine…”
“I’ll let you schmooze.”
“Thanks, Gil.” She smiled and moved off.
Jane scanned the room. She donned her hostess smile, waved a welcome at some new arrivals and strode toward them.
‘She’s a pro,’ thought Gil as he drifted past other exhibits, toward the back of the gallery.
Gil pretended to examine a photograph as he observed others looking at his pictures. He thought about his heroes, Weston, Cartier-Bresson and Parks. Is this how they felt at their debut?
A young couple examined one of his black and white images. They held hands and took their time. Their murmurs confirmed they were impressed. The man pointed at a detail and said, “I can see your house.” The woman laughed.
The picture revealed the intricate fractal patterns of the veins of a fig leaf. It looked like a satellite photo of some generic suburb. Gil’s macro lens brought the subject impossibly close. The detail in the enlargement was impressive. It felt good that they spent more than a few passing seconds with his images.
Gil sensed a presence. Smokey, his old acquaintance and fellow photographer nudged him.
“Smokey, my man. You made it.”
They laughed and bumped fists in greeting.
Smokey glanced around. “Quite a party. You’re not drinking?”
“Maybe later. I just got here. Where’s your stuff?”
He pointed. “Over there. But I’m not sure this is the crowd for it.”
“You never know.”
Smokey nodded toward Gil’s studies of flowers. “These are yours, right?”
“Impressive. These aren’t digital.”
“No. Low grain film. I’m stuck in the past.”
“The pendulum is swinging, man. That detail is hard to achieve any other way. I like your color stuff, but the black and white rocks. So sharp.”
Gil smiled at Smokey’s compliment. His work was the best known and probably drew most everyone here tonight.
“What is that, a grape leaf?”
“Ooh, sexy! You were always drawn to biblical themes.”
Smokey pointed to an extreme close-up of an unfolding rose bud. Delicate veins of red ran through each pale petal. A bee clung to a leaf.
Smokey whispered, “I hope you got a signed release from him.”
“No problem. Standard boilerplate. But it’s a she. Don’t want to muck up the pronouns, my friend.”
They laughed. Gil slapped his back.
“Show me your stuff.” Smokey gestured for Gil to follow him. The crowd parted magically. The noise level increased.
Gil smiled at Smokey’s casual garb. He could get away with it. Always prepared for a shoot, his standard attire included cargo pants and a rumpled, unbuttoned shirt. If you ever needed a pocket, Smokey always had spares.
They rounded a corner and Smokey gestured dramatically. “Ta-da!”
Gil took in the stark, grainy street photography that made Smokey famous. His portrait series of homeless men and women filled one wall.
Another wall displayed images of the recent protests which had wracked the city.
Gil pointed. “I like that one, but it won’t go with my couch.”
Smokey shook his head and smiled wryly. “Not commercial, I know. But it’s what I do.”
“You know I’m joking. These are going to sell out, man.” Gil paused. “Not that you’re a sell-out.”
They laughed again.
Gil got serious. “This one is amazing.”
The large print revealed four young white men wearing black masks and hoodies. They stood as if ready to pounce. One held a club. Another had a scrawled sign demanding ‘justice’. One flashed a peace sign. If not for the masks they could be frat boys at a beach kegger.
Behind them, a dumpster fire raged. Smoke filled the scene.
Gil stammered, “You are a genius. How did you ever…?”
“Well, you know I shoot digital. It’s more forgiving. And I have to move fast.”
“No. I get that. Street photography is remarkable. Especially your night stuff. But I mean, how did you get these antifa types to pose for you?”
“I just talk to them, you know?”
“Like St. Francis and the birds…”
They laughed at the analogy.
Smokey said, “I wouldn’t say they were eating out of my hand, though. I kept moving.”
They quieted as several potential buyers entered the space. Somewhere toward the front, a woman shrieked with laughter. Gil’s and Smokey’s eye’s met.
Gil cocked his head at the photo. “I remember playing war in the park when I was a kid.”
“These guys aren’t playing though.” Smokey glanced at the picture. “They’re making history. Like Billy the Kid. It helps they know I’m not a cop.”
“You’re out there all the time. You know how to carry yourself.”
“You know that too, Gil. But it probably doesn’t hurt that I’m white. You go out there at night with your expensive camera… someone’ll think you stole it.”
Gil shut his eyes and smiled. It was too true.
He said, “You have a point, Smoke. I admire what you do, but it just isn’t my style.”
“I found my niche. I admit it. I don’t have the patience for what you do. Tri-pods? Waiting for the right light? Real film…?”
“I once spent two days in the dark room. I lost a full day.”
“I don’t know how you do it.”
“I never did find it.”
They looked at each other and smiled. So much in common but worlds apart.
It had grown quiet. The crowd had thinned.
Jane peeked around the corner. “Here you are! I hoped you hadn’t slipped out.” Jane frowned playfully. “You don’t have glasses? Come have some wine. I always over-buy for these things.”
The two photographers followed Jane to the wine table. The assistant poured Champagne into plastic flutes.
Jane raised her glass to them. “To my very talented photographers. You had a successful evening.”
“Indeed. I have deposits on several of your pictures. You will be busy. I’ll fill you in later.”
Smiling, Gil and Smokey looked at each other. They raised their glasses to the toast.
A flash filled the room. The event photographer caught them in the moment.
Gil turned to him. “You shooting film? What lens is that?”