“Serene, eternity waits at the crossroad of stars.” – Jorge Luis Borges
The actress was due in the studio that morning. She was a star and so every one of the assistants, hairdressers and make-up artists for the shoot were more nervous than usual. This was not a regular star, so I thought, but someone genuinely important; a human vision of culture. This was the reason why she was the choice of model for the anniversary celebrations of the fashion house. She epitomised all that it strove towards, even if only in the general sense of our world rather than the creative world that she moved within. Newton, the photographer, had concocted a surprise for this shoot; a small gift for the star, a memento from her past. Far from being a gaudy celebration of brand, this was as much a celebration of her and her work as the fashion house.
I was loading cameras with film when she arrived. She had a small entourage and everyone was astonished at its minute size. Much lesser actresses were never followed by less than ten people, all with questionable roles and importance. The star brought only two and one of them was simply a friend, keen to see the studio of Newton who had made a name as one of the great photographers of fashion. The night before, I had made preparations for the surprise and was tired from finalising the backdrop of the shoot. The surprise was to be a blown-up portrait from one of the actress’ earlier films; a great success from a decade or so before, made by an equally great Spanish director most noted for his surrealism.
The actress had become a symbol from this film, playing a woman turned prostitute but never losing the grace that her poise almost always demanded. Her hair was long, both in the film still and in reality, being of such a light blonde as to almost fade into the air like a spectral wisp that haunted her footsteps. I was finishing the preparation of various cameras when she was finally allowed into the studio ready for the shoot. She had not changed in the intervening years since the film. Newton showed her the backdrop with pride and the actress nodded with a passing smile of acknowledgement, before removing her coat to reveal an extravagant dress. The design reminded of a painting by Mondrian; there were already many conflicting spirits in the room. Newton lined the actress up against the backdrop, positioning her with the same strict directorship that had undoubtedly created the film still. In the photo, the actress is tied up against a tree, about to enjoy a fantasy of entrapment. She would not look towards the photo once acknowledged, standing almost rigid as if the memories it alighted were somehow too powerful to consider. She was stood with her hands behind her back, leaning upon her earlier memory as if it were a casual street wall.
The shoot progressed and I passed Newton various cameras, filling reels of film before long periods of stasis whilst the light and make-up were minutely adjusted. The contrast between the two eras of the actress, stood together like a paradox, was too much to resist. I had often snuck my own 35mm into the studios on shoot days, usually to document Newton at work in the hope of one day collecting them together, perhaps into a book. I was only, however, supposed to take photos at quiet points in the shoot and never whilst the photographer himself had a camera in his hand. Such a moment of stasis had arisen and so I reached for my Minolta X-700, a camera brand new that year. I was using a much cheaper stock than Newton and would never have dreamed of taking any of his; capturing what I wanted would not have been possible with his own raw materials. But, on this occasion, I could not help but be drawn to his subject rather than his working habits. Something unusual came about with the positioning of the actress across time. Her relaxed nature seemed to hide some deeper unease surrounding the photograph from the film, her body blown-up showing her dress and bra torn open, eyes closed in pleasurable illusions. Another assistant was taking a light reading whilst a slight adjustment was made to her hair. I quickly captured this scene, realising that there was another layer being added in the act; a third dimension to the moment. A moment of glass with infinite variables and reflections.
There was something alluring about this, like finding a mirror to be a traversable liquid that the onlooker can walk through. The moment was somehow opened by this act, already delicate by the clash of temporalities caused by the actress leaning upon her own memory. I became lost in thoughts of this, infinite thoughts that decreed an endless stream of photographs; a trap of mirrors that could catch us all in its stare towards an unreachable forever. The other assistants had finished their work and Newton was about to begin again. There was, however, no camera in his hand. He was merely directing the actress in regards to her movements and posture. He wanted her to lose herself in her memory, so he said, drawing her eyes closed and her body limp with a gesture of his hand.
I took another photo of this moment, the actress seeming in a deep dream. But the click of my camera brought her out of the trance instantly and Newton was furious. He came and grabbed my camera, putting it down with a slam upon the wooden table. No more, he said in his thick German accent before walking off to sort out some other detail. The actress also looked perturbed and came over. Newton was on the other side of the room, asking for adjustments with the lighting whilst the actress, this star, spoke to me gently. I don’t want more photos taken than necessary, she said in perfect French. This was not because she was an eccentric or a star who had excessive needs for privacy, so she said, but because of something else.
Can’t you feel it? she asked. This moment is delicate, we have made it delicate and we must be very careful indeed. She stared back slowly towards the still from the film on the wall and I briefly understood what she meant. I could feel the tension of the room, not just as a space but as a time, a period or a moment. Once I could feel it, nothing else mattered. The room felt on the verge of tearing in two, the potential gap drawing everything around it into a void. I looked down with embarrassment, like a schoolboy who had almost destroyed the world. The actress smiled faintly, picking up my camera to briefly look at it before Newton called her back over. They had got what they needed for the time being and were going to change the backdrop to something else for the next cover sheet. But, in that brief moment, time was strained to oblivion, the memory of a star caught thrice over almost tearing the world inside out.