Love’s Illusions

..

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all…

..

Her name is Liz and, as you can see, she’s beautiful, classically beautiful, a bit like movie stars Ingrid Bergman or Grace Kelly. When I met her I thought she was quite pretty. Then my camera loved her: her skin, her large, intelligent brown eyes, her long sweep of raven black hair, her sweetly full lips, her delicate, tanned shoulders, and her lean and lovely legs. When I first saw the virgin images on the monitor after our shoot I was overwhelmed. The pretty teenaged girl I had photographed had become a classic beauty on my computer screen.

As you can tell from the set, I spent a lot of  time lovingly processing the images. As is my wont, I used photoshop quite a bit. She didn’t like her freckles so in most of the shots I removed them, smoothed her skin, slightly enlarged her eyes  (in a few images), gave her eyeliner in a few shots. In the above photo I made her dress blue, gave her blue lipstick and made her brown eyes blue.

Working with her photographs, enlarging her face to fill the screen, zooming into those eyes, those elegant shoulders (and, um, her nicely tanned legs), I fell just a little bit in love with her, smitten with her enthralling beauty, particularly as I enhanced and modified it. Dazzled by the combination of her natural loveliness and my artful augmentation of it, Liz became an object of my desire.

They say beauty is merely skin deep. I suppose so; but most of us don’t have the ability to find someone’s spleen or large intestines alluring. “Hey, guys, catch the bodacious rack of kidneys in that babe!” 

Of course, the shallow and mindless view of beauty, and of sexiness, is most pronounced in the male of our species. I am no exception. When I first spy a startlingly attractive woman I react instantly with a mindless jolt of visceral desire.  For the brief time I am in her presence I’m entranced by her physical beauty, her sexiness, or both. Once she’s out of my sight she’s quickly forgotten. I suffer from no prolonged unrequited longing. (but see this post)

But when I spend hour upon hour upon hour gazing intently at a digital representation of my model’s face and body, and after more hours spent playing photoshop Higgins to my finely pixelated Eliza, her shimmering surface beauty seeps deep beneath my skin and I soon find myself embarrassed by a surging adolescent crush on my fair lady.

My first model, and still my favorite, was the Fabulous Redheaded Angela. Even before pointing my Nikon D50 at her I thought she was sexy. Once I spent hours and hours playing with her photos I found myself wanting her. A lot. Like a seething herd of poisonous snakes, dangerous fantasies slithered through my Hypothalamus. My saving antivenom was derived from chaste passage of time and my growing recognition of  her devotion to her too many children and her religious faith, her frantic frustrations with the family’s chronic lack of money and her often precarious health. The more human she became, the more I understood her messy, ordinary life, the less I lusted for her. Her digital avatar was enough.

When now my crush on the current feminine apple of my camera’s unblinking eye reaches an uncomfortably warm level – when I’m tempted to do more than look – I force myself to get a hold of myself, sober up, get real,  and remember my delightful images display nothing real. Alluring they may be, yes, beautiful, too, perhaps. But Real? No way! Emphatically not! I firmly tell myself once again the women charming me in my photoshopped images are no more real than a blessing of unicorns. Given the deliberate photoshopping I do to enhance my models’ beauty or sexiness, I must confess my images are not only unreal but they are often outright visual lies. White lies, perhaps; but I must not trust these depictions of flawless seductresses. They’re just pretty pictures and nothing more: light and shadows signifying nothing. I get downright stern with myself – “no more of this silly nonsense!” Sometimes I even stomp my foot.

But these strident lectures I deliver to myself in my best stentorian mental voice are frequently less convincing than I would like. It’s so very hard to disbelieve your eyes and so easy not to. I know The first photo of Liz above is false, a sweet flimflam; but in it she looks so beautiful to me, so innocent, so classy, so aristocratic, so sweetly serene. When I look at the image I forget what I know and I just want to drown myself in her big, blue lagoon eyes or softly embrace her delicate, tanned  shoulders. I yearn to hold her. I can almost smell her perfume, see her eyes looking into mine, almost feel the cool softness of her black tresses against my cheek. I can nearly hear her soft, girlish whispers, imagine the softness of  her caress, the passion in her kiss, the yearning of her flesh. My dream of having her, possessing this gloriously beautiful woman in my picture on my computer screen, grows alarmingly vivid.

But of course she isn’t real; the girl in my photos is merely a product of artfully placed light and shadow, proper angles and poses, and my photoshop skills. Those blissfully big, blue eyes? They aren’t real. I enlarged them. They were actually dark brown and were half surrounded by an unattractive swarm of yellowish red freckles smeared high across her left cheek and the left side of her otherwise patrician noise; the photoshop healing brush quickly wiped it away. Her eyebrows were jarringly thick and dark, almost mannish; I lightened and thinned them. I brightened shadows on her face and dimmed harsh light across her forehead. I warmed the color of her skin. I abolished a few zits and embryonic wrinkles. On the other hand, her shoulders are as lovely as they appear. In motion Liz seemed stick thin and more than a little coltish. Caught in the right pose and frozen in time and good light by my camera, however, she became both graceful and pleasingly ample.

Of course I know she isn’t just beautiful skin and elegant bones. She has major, and frightening,  health problems. She’s grappling with serious issues in her young life. Of course I know that. She probably has lots of worries – lots of things she needs or urgently wants to do. She’s only eighteen, after all. Life can be so threatening at that age. I remember how awful I felt so much of the time at that age. I bet she still gets acne. Of course I know it isn’t her shimmering surface, however beguiling I find  it – or make it – that matters to her; for her it’s the crazy whirlwind of what lies beneath.

 And of course I know she doesn’t dream of me, an old man who took some pretty pictures of her one Wednesday afternoon in July. Of course I know that. Whatever her unimaginable dreams may be, they have nothing to do with me. I am barely a bit player in her life. After all, she has no falsely alluring photographs of me. 

I know you cannot have a meaningful relationship with a digital photograph. I know you cannot have sex with photoshopped image. Of course I know that. Of course, too, I know the other side, the real side, of these women I photograph. Of course I know the truth: they are all, in fact, complicated, three dimensional, real people with complicated, three dimensional real and jumbled lives. I also know the women of my dreams rarely if ever inhabit the same wobbly world I call home. I am an adult and I know the score. It’s the lyrics I can’t abide.

But sometimes it isn’t easy to remember what I know (as I grow older it gets harder and harder to remember even those things I desire to recall). An unpalatable truth is easy to forget.  Some of the time – maybe even most of the time – I forget some really important stuff.

When I do forget the peril of believing in photographic fantasy, when I am worn out by all that complicated truth, then once again all my unblemished beauties, who exist in my artful photographic fables and nowhere else, become simply all too lovable and alive.

FLICKR GROUPS

Portrait  Beauty Women of Natural BeautyAestheteBeautiful WomenGlamour MagazineGreat Modeling PosesErotic Photo Manipulations Fantasy Females

Read all of VISIONS

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