This is Desmond, He Takes Pictures
The Field School
He took his eyes off his neck and placed them gently on the bedside table. Removing a small microfilm cloth from his back pocket, the young man knelt down next to his eyes and gently polished their lenses. He continued until the flecks of dirty sleet from the London streets were replaced with his reflection in the glass, and the door to the hotel room as well as the minifridge all the way in the corner. Satisfied, the man turned toward the small bathroom and stripped down to his socks. He removed those too, and stepped into the shower. As the hot water began to pound against his back, Desmond tried his best to imagine a photograph. This was not easy, and it occurred to Desmond that imagining an image might be a contradiction. He tried harder.
An Off the Cuff Manifesto
As far as Desmond Gagnon was concerned, a photograph was the most valuable thing in the world. This idea was not born out of the sullen, pensive aesthetic that most other photographers adopted in order to market their pictures to the art-starved masses of social media and naturalist magazines. Desmond simply felt that a photograph of an object, person, or place held more significance than any memory of the same subject matter. In the smoke-and-mirrors of the human brain, he reasoned, the objectivity that a photograph preserved was lost to insidious personal biases and subjective interpretations that twisted and forced the original event into memory. Ravaged by time, experience, and neglect, the vibrance and significance of a memory would become more and more personalized until two different people witnessing the same event disagreed on its every detail.
A camera preserved everything as it was at the split second when the shutter opened and closed.
Most people to whom Desmond mentioned this philosophy would nod disingenuously and shrug their shoulders and proceed to ask about the time that he had fallen from a tree into the path of an irate tapir that he had been trying to get a good angle on. Or they would ask about the pervasive rumor that he had secretly been hired by Bradley Cooper to shoot him in the nude after his divorce. They might even ask him if it was true, as National Geographic had reported in an article on the Quebec photography scene, that Desmond had first taken an interest in photography after “forgetting” to put a Nikon D-60 back on the shelf and walking out of a Best Buy.
Desmond had stopped doing interviews with magazines after that. He had been competing for a sponsorship from Nikon when the article had been published, and shoplifting worked against him.
A Date to Keep
Desmond stepped gingerly from the comfort of his steam-filled cube of glass and onto carpet. It was wet and grimy, and he fumed quietly at the stupidity of shag carpeting in a bathroom. Glancing at the alarm clock by his bed, Desmond quickly dressed, combed his hair, applied cologne, gargled mouthwash, and headed for the elevator.
He hurried through the streets, occasionally doubling back or changing direction and consulting his phone for directions. While he made his way toward the dark wood tables and clay mugs that awaited him, Desmond mentally prepared himself for the evening. He was on his way to meet Kira, an old friend from year twelve. He had not seen her in nearly a decade. He was nervous.
Wracking his brain for anything that might meet the evening’s conversation quota, Desmond realized just how great the disparity was between his knowledge of Kira’s activities and her knowledge of his. For one thing, she had proposed this rendezvous apropos of almost nothing. He had not announced his visit to London primarily because it was nothing more than a layover on his way to Cambodia. Short of an Instagram post, he had no heralded his coming to the U.K. to anyone. Nonetheless, a direct message from Kira the night before had wrenched him from his hotel room and was currently dragging him past the curry joints and newspaper stands toward a woman about whom he remembered almost nothing. Anxious, Desmond kicked at a dirty snowbank, spraying grey slush into the busy road. If only interpersonal interactions came with visual aids.
All fairness to Kira, she and Desmond had been relatively good friends before they graduated. The primary adjective most of his teachers used to describe both Desmond’s academic pursuits and social life was lackluster.
But Kira took interest in the boy with the shutters for eyelids, She had acted as if his interest in photography were some higher calling, Desmond recalled. As Desmond turned another corner, he was struck with the memory of a conversation he and Kira had shared the night before their philosophy exam. He’d hated that course, and found no value in studying the ideas and self-righteous truths of other people. Kira had urged him to study for the semester exam, though. Mr. Renley, their teacher had structured the exam in the form of a debate. So the two debated.
On and on they had talked, sometimes shouting and other times speaking to one another in an urgent whisper. He dimly remembered her saying that he had an artist’s mind. Desmond had disagreed, and it was then that he espoused his beliefs on the purpose of photography and the significance of a photo. She was intrigued; she called taking photographs, his purpose. Desmond called it his excuse.
He now only had snippets of insight and pieces of what at the time seemed like sage truths that they pulled from one another, on that night and others. Attempting to call the rest of their time together to memory, he could see only her face, soft brown eyes and black hair. For all their talking and studying, he had no photograph of her nor any knowledge of what her life had become. Where she had gone to college? Was she married? Did she have children? What did she do for a living? When had she moved to London? And why?
One last corner, slick with black ice and apprehension, and Desmond had arrived. He entered the restaurant and, as the cold wind gave way to the room’s warm air, Desmond breathed deep the smell of spice and fire. London’s streets recoiled and retreated back out the door. He gave the host his name, now feeling an excitement he had not anticipated. No reservation was listed under the name Gagner, and for a moment Desmond feared she had married and changed her name. He tried Antar, and was rewarded with a server who offered to show him to his table.
Desmond saw her before she saw him. Black hair, longer than he remembered, brushed to one side so that it shielded her face from him. She seemed engrossed in the menu, a cup of something hot steaming in front of her. She looked up as he approached, and he grinned as recognition flashed across her face. She beamed back and began to rise, placing the menu next to her mug and her napkin back on the table. Green eyes, not brown, Desmond suddenly realized. She had green eyes. He stared as they sat together, attempting to commit her face to memory. But he had left his eyes by his bed.
This one caught me off guard–so clever, novel, and mature in its control of structure and imagery.
Zach Neville graduated from The Field School in Washington, DC in 2019. He is currently at Davidson College, NC. This is Desmond, He Takes Pictures was a final assignment for his English course at The Field School.
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