From behind the camera everything is different. You are displaced. You are looking at a focused, cleanly edged world, a splay of light and shadow and shape. It is easier to live, that way, taking the artistry of a still image, understanding life through the beauty of a single moment captured with film. Pictures are not continuous. They simple are, one flashing second in time.
Life happens differently than that. Life moves on, fast and unstoppable, and the sudden surprises are what make it so hard. When you are used to the studio, to life through the camera lens, real life grows harder. I learned long ago that the control I have behind the camera is something so, so much greater than my weak and pitiable power over my own life, and all that I want.
I see him now as the glint of pale amber eyes, proud and bitter, but revealing nothing. His eyes with their flecks of defiant gold do not see me. He is the perfect subject, seeming so ignorant of my presence, so unaware of the camera.
I see him now as the way his hair falls into his eyes, red-gold bangs blown in the wind, brushing his forehead, the bridge of his nose. If I tried to capture the details of his hair on a windy day on film, I would fail, despite his brittle and stony nature. The littlest things - the way his pale lashes catch the sunlight and tremble as he blinks - are too alive for the snapshots of memory.
I see him now as the curve of his wrist, his lazy splayed fingers against his pale cheek.
I see him as a curl of smoke from parted lips, cigarette held precariously between thumb and forefinger as he flicks ash in a flurry to the ground, legs crossed at the ankles, eyes closed and face lifted in rest and relaxation to the bright sun.
I see him as the man who paused my life, stopped it still while he sent my world crashing off axis and my heart on fire within my chest.
In the embrace of a dream, the fuzzy confusion the antithesis of photography but the soul of it the camera's own soul, I see him. He is younger and I know his intangibility, so that when I hold him it holds no comfort for my dreaming self.
Things are not so easy as black and white. Life is not so simple. I prefer my photographs to be colorless - it's easier to control, easier to get the result I'm aiming for. As a creator, I seek to portray the simplicity which my life lacks.
His beauty stuns me.
Umeda Hokuto. Sensei - or sempai. So different from our school years, and yet, something always told me he would be this way. The edges of him are tensed, yet worn. It is hard enough to make him come into focus. It is harder still to make him focus on me. Yet like a fool, I plunge onward. Yet like a fool, I do not give up. My nature, impulsive, but persistent. It is true that, on a whim, I left a wife and a world I had grown comfortable in, hoping that I could find more with him.
And where does this leave me?
From the aesthetic point of view he is a work of art. No photograph could capture him correctly, no still life could put into perfection the way that he moves with a lilting confidence suitably comfortable to his graceful body. When he walks a trail of smoke follows behind him. I do not care for the smell but it speaks of him, and now I find I have an odd sort of fondness for it, because of its familiarity. And his voice, though it is harsh and short, is deep, and strong, and I find myself imagining how it would sound speaking my name. I am a schoolboy again, dreaming about him, waking with my own hands on my own body, trembling with unspoken and dangerous desire. I cannot wash myself clean of this. I cannot hide from him. It is a longing that is sewn to my heels, indescribable and unshakable as a shadow.
I am left outside his window, snapping shots of the falling leaves. The air is growing colder, a certain sting to the breeze that was not there a week or so ago. Winter is coming soon enough, and the sun is striving to peer through the thin layer of gray clouds that cover the sky. Outside his window there is no warmth, not even when the sun is burning and there is not shade or breeze to be had in all the world.
"It wouldn't kill you, you know, to smile for the camera, just once."
He's there, sitting at his desk with his feet propped up against it and his eyes half shut, watching nothing at all. The beer can is held in his graceful fingers. He lifts it once or twice to his lips but does not drink deeply. The cigarette he has lit aimlessly smolders in the ashtray, filling the room with the bitter smell of its smoke.
"Shut up and take the pictures."
It is the way he spends his afternoons, when he chooses to be anti-social in private, rather than in a public venue.
I get behind the camera, professional, Akiha Hara with the name printed, glossy, on the white square of paper, my business, my business card. I see him as a territory of guarded but now-bared skin through the lens. With these pictures I make love to him as I cannot come close enough to touch him in life. I caress his shoulders and down the center of his abdomen. I can feel the muscles tense and shiver beneath my eyesight. I can see the way his ribs are faintly outlined beneath muscle and skin, can freely watch his neck tense and his eyes close and the lashes flutter and I know I will dream about this in slow motion, but the pictures will not capture the steady way his chest rises and falls with each unselfconscious breath.
I am a grown man, lurking outside another grown man's window.
"Right," I say, breaths coming too fast, snapping the pictures as quickly as I can manage. I'm going too slow. I can't capture the way his pinky shifts slightly against his collar bone, and how that somehow changes everything about him. His face tenses - I've caught it. His face relaxes - I've caught that, too. He tosses his head back, his hair out of his face, lips parting. Three pictures, moving faster, trying to keep the focus fixed on that face I know so well. But things are different from behind a camera. I capture the smooth curve of his cheek, and I want to touch it, so badly. I capture the light filtering through his hair, wish that sunlight were my fingers, the burnished gold in my hands like silk. I have pushed myself back, placed myself in another world. I am nothing more than a voyeur, here, watching him move, unable to touch him.
I throw my head back and laugh softly, not with but at myself.
You're beautiful, I think.
There are certain emotions you cannot express through the film. You can develop a thousand expressions but that is not emotion. The deepest emotions are buried beneath the face. The deepest emotions do not touch the features, but pump steadily through the veins. He is good at hiding, my sempai.
I love you, I think.
I am just as good at hiding as he is, if not better. I do not create the hiding place, and slip into it, and wait for those around me to come and search me out after enough time has elapsed. The mark of a true expert at this game is not letting anyone know they have to begin a search. The mark of a true expert is not letting anyone know you are hiding from them. A smile is better than a frown for keeping yourself hidden. A laugh serves as a better disguise than a curse or a shout ever will. After all I have sacrificed, I wonder to myself what it is I am hiding from.
"You can't push me away forever," I said once.
A leaf falls. The grace with which its body dances, tossed upon the wind, is something I watch from behind the camera, but I do not photograph it.
"Yes," he said in blunt, assured reply, "I can. Get out."
I like to pretend I have resigned myself to not having him, to living a life outside his window, or watching him pose for the camera with his face calm and smooth and my heart aching, my fingertips aching. I have loved him now for so long that it is a part of life, like breathing out after you breathe in, like the leaf that falls or like the curve of his wrist as he rests his cheek against it.
There are some things you simply cannot capture in a photograph.
There is a point where attempting to live your life as the film develops grows lonely and dry.
Photography is safe. You do not touch it. It touches you. What marks you leave upon the pictures are of your own choice, and then, it is done. It is almost - almost, but not quite - like life.
I have run out of black and white film. I decide to take a few shots in color. I open a window and his body on the bed is golden in the sunlight that streams in. Without his glasses he squints, half-blinded by near-sightedness, half-blinded by the bright light directly in his face. He shifts and the light shifts and I turn the flash off, and the sheets shift over his hips. I think, why would he be doing this? Does he want to torment me? Or is he playing hide-and-seek, waiting patiently for me to turn the right corner and finally find him?
The leaf falls at last, though the wind has born its lighter-than-air body. At last, it rests in the grass on the ground by my feet.
He stretches, lifting his arms above his head. I am out of film. We are out of time. There is something lonely about the way he moves, but neither of us will acknowledge it. Like two estranged lovers we move: him getting dressed, me packing my equipment to leave. All my power is gone. His hands linger on the buttons of his shirt. His fingers press his glasses up the bridge of his nose. These are the things my camera cannot capture. I love you, I think. I love you I love you I love you. I do not have the confidence to say it out loud. I keep that love and that emotion behind the camera lens, the barrier between me and him perhaps of his making, perhaps even of my own. If I got close enough to him to whisper in his ear, 'I love you,' brushing his hair aside so he could hear me - would he reject me, then? I do not know. I have never tried.
The way I am living is the way a photographer lives, when he tries to capture the fading of a shadow or a falling leaf.