The One That Got Away
I was naked the first time I met him. He arrived late at the evening art class, and waved a hand in my direction when the art tutor introduced him. Things were different in those pre swinging-sixties days, you couldn’t possibly look at a naked girl unless you had been properly introduced.
I smiled back at him, but he glanced away and fussed about finding a seat and getting out a sketch pad. I can normally tell the perverts from the artists. They won’t meet your eye, but seem to spend a lot of time trying to get the details of your naughty bits right. But I didn’t pick him for a lecher, just shy more likely.
After the class he stayed for a coffee. I didn’t usually stay myself. I can put up with being ogled at, but I can’t stand lame efforts to chat me up. But he looked a nice boy and I guess we’re all suckers for a pretty face.
I stuck out my hand, normal relations being restored now I had my clothes back on.
“Hello again, I’m Grace.”
“Tony,” he said, his eyebrows creasing. “I thought the tutor said your name was Lee.”
“That’s my modelling name. I haven’t see you here before, are you an artist?”
“No, I’m a photographer, but someone suggested art classes as the best way to learn how to pose the human form.”
“For glamour photography, is that what you do?” I smiled at the flush that spread across his cheeks.
“Yes, I’ve been offered some commission work with Kamera magazine.”
“You’ll be seeing a lot more of me then,” I laughed, seeing the shocked look on his face.
“I do some modelling there for Harrison Marks,” I explained. “Nude sometimes, but also lingerie and fashion shoots. As well as these life classes.”
“Oh, you must be very busy then?’’
“I am, and I’ve got an early start tomorrow. So if you don’t mind Tony I’ll head off now.”
“Oh, okay, see you then,” he moved aside to let me pass.
“I’ll look forward to it,” I replied, winking at him. “And don’t forget to bring your camera.”
Tony and I saw quite a bit of each other after that, either at the art classes where he turned out to be quite the draughtsman, with a good eye for my details. Or at Harrison Mark’s studio in Farringdon, which was better than saying in his tiny apartment. But the photographs that Harrison and his partner, Pamela Green, could conjure up there, with just a few drapes and artfully positioned props, were quite something. I knew that Harrison’s magazine was sold under the counter to men in dirty raincoats but, somehow, modelling for him seemed strangely normal. As if a woman clad only in her birthday suit striking odd poses in front of a couple of fully dressed men with cameras could be called normal. I had long since ceased to be bothered by it, that is until Tony started to appear at the shoots, acting as Harrison’s assistant. The way that Tony looked at me was, well different. Not leering, or unprofessional, it didn’t make me feel uncomfortable, it was more like having a devoted puppy gazing at me, and I began to wonder if he was falling for me. Which I wouldn’t have minded at all. I liked him, he was gentle and friendly, and made me laugh.
So I was quite happy when Harrison told me that he had commissioned Tony to take me down to Devon to a secluded spot of coastline where it was possible to take photographs out of doors without being spied upon.
We went down on the early train and chatted all the way. Tony was very excited with his first independent commission, and amused me with his fussing over the equipment, which, by the way, I had to help him carry, along with my own bag of props and the picnic I had packed for our lunch.
We took a taxi to the coast and arranged with the driver to pick us up again later. Then scrambled down the cliffs (the things we did for art in those days) to a sandy cove that would have been impossible to find unless you knew where to look.
We spread a rug out in the sun at the base of the cliffs and I undressed while Tony set up his equipment and looked for the right angles and interesting rock features. It took about half an hour for the elastic marks of the underwear to fade, and I fooled around on the beach watching his puppy dog eyes following me.
But when I turned to face him they went round with surprise.
“Whatever is the matter?” I said, wondering if he had forgotten the film or some essential piece of kit, and if would have to go back empty handed. Then I saw where his eyes were looking.
“Eyes up Tony, have you not seen one of those before.”
“Well, er, yes,” he stammered, “but not like that.”
I had a momentary impulse to cover myself with my hands.
“Lots of the girls are doing it now,” I said defensively. “It makes it easier for the developer, not having to paint out the undergrowth. And if you get the angles right there’s nothing unruly to offend the censor.”
“Sorry Grace, I’ll try not to stare.” He grinned sheepishly.
“You can stare all you want,” I said. “Let’s just get on with the shoot.”
They say the camera never lies, and sometimes it doesn’t. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and with the right filter it looked as if I was tanning on a Mediterrean beach before having to cool off in the sea. But if you looked closely at those photographs (you can find them on the internet nowadays) you would see the goose bumps and the stiff bits that were the trademark of the English summer. But I was a trooper and we got the job done.
After an hour we took a short break to eat our picnic. Out of the wind the sun was quite warm, so I tucked my legs up under me on the blanket and enjoyed a cigarette while Tony played mother, unwrapping the sandwiches and pouring tea from a flask.
It felt very comfortable sitting there with him, just like any normal couple on the beach enjoying a picnic, apart from the fact that I was starkers and he wasn’t. A bit like that painting by Manet in which two nude women are picnicking in a forest with two fully clothed men. It caused an outrage in Victorian times, and I’ve no doubt there would have been some busybody eager to rush down with a blanket to cover my shame. But that’s not what I felt. I was just in the state that nature made me, and why should I be ashamed of what nature intended.
“What does your boyfriend think, about your doing this?”
Tony’s question caught me completely off guard.
“What business is that of yours?” I snapped, before realising what he was really asking.
“What makes you think I have a boyfriend?”
“Oh I don’t know, beautiful girl like you. I thought there must be someone.”
There had been and I was not short of attention. But my type of looks seemed to attract the wrong sort, so it had been a pleasant surprise to find a boy who treated me like the girl next door, albeit one who just happened to work naked. But I wasn’t going to make it too easy for him.
“Even if there is someone, it’s still none of your business. But if you want to ask me something just get on and do it. I won’t bite.”
“I don’t know about that,” he grinned. “I’ve seen some of your other picture sets. I’d be scared if you had me over your knee like that.”
That was just like a man, to make a wisecrack in order to hide the fact that he felt emotionally vulnerable. Or perhaps that’s the difference between a good man and the sort that usually made a beeline for me. The good ones were afraid to ask for what they wanted, while the bad ones wouldn’t take no for an answer.
I reached out and took his hand and he looked up at me, gazing so deeply into my eyes that I felt as if he could see into my soul. “Look, if you want to ask me out, just do it.”
“Would you really? Go out with me that is?”
“What sort of way to ask is that?” I said, shaking my head in disbelief. “Where’s all that manly confidence?”
His grip tightened on mine as he screwed up his courage.
“Would you, go out with me please, Grace?”
“Yes, yes, yes. Is that enough? I like you Tony, so why shouldn’t I want to go out with you?”
His smile was like a ray of genuine Mediterranean sunshine. It melted my cynical heart and I bent forward expecting to kiss him. My nipples brushing against the rough wool of his sweater reminded me that I was naked, and … well I shouldn’t have worried, Tony sat back like a frightened rabbit.
“I can’t kiss you like that”
“Like that, naked.”
“You can’t kiss a naked girl. Why ever not?’’
“It just doesn’t seem right.”
“How on earth do you think Adam and Eve managed to populate the planet?”
“No, I mean naked when we’re working together. It just wouldn’t be right. I have to remain professional”
“Good grief, you men are such prudes. Just think of this as my professional costume.”
He continued to sit there with a silly, boyish grin on his face.
“All right,” I said, pouting and lowering my eyelashes. “If you won’t kiss me I won’t let you take any more photographs of me.”
His laughter pealed like wedding bells and his eyes glowed with mischief. I thought for a moment that he was going to wrestle me down onto the blanket, in fun, of course, as friends do. But instead he leaned forward, puckered his mouth, closed his eyes like a demure school girl and bussed me on the lips.
That was as far as he was prepared to go, but it was enough for one day, and we had the shoot to finish while we still had the light. He got some lovely shots of me perched like a mermaid on a tide-proud rock, with my feet dangling into a shallow pool where tiny crabs scuttled about my toes. Then it was time to pack up and get dressed. He held my hand and pulled me up the steep path to the cliff top where the taxi was waiting for us. On the train he bought bottles of beer and pork pies from the buffet car and we smoked cigarettes and giggled like love-struck schoolkids.
But I left him at the tube station and went home on my own. I’d felt like that enough times to know that one bright day did not necessarily make a summer.
I was busy for several weeks after that and Harrison packed Tony off to Scotland with another model, to have her goose bumps photographed in some freezing loch. He sent a couple of sweetly phrased postcards, and a saucy one of a naked girl on a beach playing tug of war with a dog for possession of her towel that made me smile. I missed him, which was a good sign.
Our next assignment together was a nude shoot in the gardens of Waldon Manor in Kent. It was a favourite location for Harrison Marks and he used it so often that I wondered if the owners had shares in Kamera magazine.
It didn’t take us long to get there on the train so we didn’t have a lot of time to chat, other than about the shoot. Tony fussed over the gear like last time and seemed to be in a tearing hurry to get on with it. So I wasted no time in getting my kit off, and pretended to be a naked nymph frolicking among the topiary while the elastic marks faded and Tony scouted locations and angles.
I could tell something was wrong as soon as he started shooting. The angles just didn’t feel right, and he hardly looked at me as he marched me through the poses we had discussed on the train.
“Let’s have a ciggie break,” I suggested after a frustrating half hour, wrapping a shawl around my shoulders and sitting on the blanket.
“Come and sit down.” I patted the blanket beside me. “And tell me what’s bothering you.”
It took a while to drag it out of him and I even toyed with the idea of putting my clothes back on, as if, perversely, my nakedness was making me unapproachable.
It was Harrison. He had not been happy with the beach shoot in Devon. Tony had not, according to Harrison, captured the essence of the girl that he knew me to be, whatever that meant. He had only assigned Tony to shoot me at Waldon because there was no one else available. From now on I was to be photographed by Harrison himself, or one of his other partners, and Tony would try out with another model.
“Well that’s all right, isn’t it?” I said, after he had poured out his misery. “Nude photography’s an art not a science and I can understand it if one man sees a girl in a different light to another. It’s just a matter of angles and perspectives. You interpret me one way and Harrison in another, it’s personal preference. But he’s the boss, he knows what sells. Anyway he didn’t say you were a bad photographer, he just thinks you might work better with one of the other girls.”
My heart sank at the expression in his downcast eyes and I knew what the problem was even before I set about getting him to articulate it.
“Don’t you want to work with one of the other girls?’’
He thought for a while. “Yes, I’m quite happy to do that.”
“It’s me isn’t it?’’
The question hung in the air between us. Finally I took the ibyx by the antlers.
“If you won’t say it I’ll say it for you. If you can’t work with me then you don’t want anyone else to, is that it?”
He nodded, those big puppy eyes stretching my heart strings.
“But that’s ridiculous, Tony. I have to work with whichever photographer I’m assigned to.”
“I know that, but… Oh God this is so hard for me Grace, I don’t want them to see you naked.”
I laughed, realising even as I did so that it was a mistake. “But this is what I do,” I said. “I take my clothes off and pose in the nude. The photographer gets to see me that way, and so do thousands of men who buy the magazine.”
He sat chewing his lip, looking down at his hands.”
“Look at me Tony,” I said. “There’s no need to be jealous. I like you, I’m happy to go out with you. We’re friends and perhaps, if things go on all right, we could be more. Just because I take my clothes off for a photographer doesn’t affect the way I feel about you.”
“Couldn’t you just give it up, stick to underwear or fashion?”
“I like nude modelling, Tony. The money’s good, the people are nice. I feel safer with my clothes off in a roomful of art students or photographers than I do walking home fully clothed after dark.”
“But what if I don’t want you to do it?’’
“Why not? Because you think it makes me look cheap? I’m not ashamed of what I do and won’t have anyone try and make me feel ashamed. Nature blessed me with the way I look and I’m proud of it, but if you can’t stand the thought of men seeing me the way nature intended, then it’s your loss not mine.”
He gathered up his camera and we finished the shoot. The pictures weren’t bad. Perhaps in his anger he saw me differently. Harrison certainly thought so. He touched some of the prints and then blew on the tips of his fingers as if they were too hot to handle.
I never saw Tony again, which is a shame as he could have been a keeper. I heard later that he had made a career in wildlife photography. Birds mostly. There’s some irony in that I suppose.