A Little Bit of Me

Jottings and Writing, miscellanous misgivings

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Photographer sparks Fears

My name is Martin and I am misunderstood. The newspapers say that parents and the public have been warned that the controversial photographer Martin Patterson is stalking the city suburbs for young girls. They bring up an historic jail sentence I served in Australia nearly twenty years ago and frame it as sexual assault on a young female model whereas the reality is far from that. I’ll tell you more.

Some girls mature physically and sexually earlier than others. Some nine-year-olds are sexually active before their peers are even giggling over the boy-next-door. They tend to be social outcasts; outcasts from their parents and outcasts from their so-called friends. Girls, in particular, develop strong cliques, and woe and betide anyone who doesn’t belong. Constant giggling, harassment, even physical assault. For a young girl that can be devastating.  They usually develop addictions to alcohol and drugs, often go into prostitution at a later date, and often are in the company of older men. Boys just don’t mature that early. You probably know that in some cultures young girls of nine or ten are given in marriage to fifty and sixty year olds.

It’s a busy afternoon at the Duck-In shopping Mall in the outer city. Rose Holland is distracted as she rushes around the supermarket doing last minute shopping for a dinner with friends she and husband Vernon have planned at the last moment. In tow, and making Rose’s life hell are her three young daughters Charlene (14), Janelle (12), and Louise (10). They don’t want to be here and Charlene and Louise would rather be over in the games arcade where there are boys and excitement. They trail behind Rose and pout at passerbys, occasionally uttering some obscenity at the ones brave enough to make a comment about their manners and dress. Rose is tapped on the shoulder by a dark haired man with a camera hanging from his neck. The girl’s attention is drawn to him as he starts to engage their mother in an animated conversation punctuated with smiles and hand waving. They edge closer.

” …. and if they were to appear in say Charlie or even Teen View they usually pay. But you can’t give any sort of money for exposure like that. They are three attractive girls and with some artistic license could make them stand out form the crowd.”

The girls edge closer. It seems that this man is a professional photographer and is asking their mother permission to have them photographed for possible inclusion in a national magazine. This would raise their credibility with the school crowd.

It’s not common but children sometimes to displace abuse onto someone else. Sometimes the abuser is so powerful, so scary, that the child accuses someone who they are intimately involved with, but who has never sexually abused them. It might be a father who is imposing harsh restrictions on their social lives. It may be an uncle who has said something cruel to them. It might be a stranger who has taken them to a psychological space that feels exciting but scary. Sometimes the child is actually being abused, sometimes not. The law is placed in an impossible position in that it must protect the rights of a largely unprotected segment of the population. However, it has become to easy for men, in particular, to be accused and tried for sexual abuse without the rigour that might be paid to a case involving theft of property or murder. Even Martin knows this. Sometimes the games that he plays with young girls are deliberately designed to mimic abuse situations. Sometimes he pushes the boundaries of his art so hard that he may tip a vulnerable child into a false accusation. It’s a risk he feels he must take. It makes him feel alive. It’s essential to his art.

I like to think that I have an affinity with young girls. I know what they like and want. I keep my studio well stocked with things that will make them feel good about themselves and me. Parents can be cruel. They get it into their head that anything that kids like is possibly bad for them. Video games, magazines, certain foods, some drinks, music. I know from my girls that they would rather spend an afternoon in my studio than on a boring shopping expedition with their mother. Oh I’ve heard all them talk on video about how charming I am and how I use all these tricks to lure the girls to do things but I can tell you that I have never forced anyone to do anything they didn’t want to. Its only after they think a little about it and it suits them to kick up a fuss. Young girls can be very sophisticated in their likes and dislikes and I am merely giving them something their overprotective parents never would.

Her perfectly rounded young breast showed clearly through the clear black material of the bodice. Charlene looked back over her shoulder at the whirring camera as Martin slowly crawled towards her, adjusting his height and angle so get that perfect shot. Her white cotton panties were drawn tight against her pubic mound, the black of the blouse augmented by kohl makeup around her eyes. Her hair was piled on her head.

“No! Char-don’t smile. Just look at me as if I am something you have never seen before and you are faintly curious but wary of” Muttered Martin as he stood up and grabbed another camera off the table to his right. In the background Louise looked on in fascination whereas Janelle had the look of a scared rabbit. Janelle whispered in her sister’s ear

“I don’t think Mum would like this. I don’t like the way he is taking our photos. This is icky.”

Louise shushed her and pulled the top, that Martin had asked her to wear, a little tighter around her white shoulders.
“Just shut up you spoil sport. Can’t you see this is our big chance? If these photos do what Martin says they will we could be in the big time. Mum would want that. Its OK.”

Janelle started to sob quietly as Louise’s voice got louder. She felt very uncomfortable as Martin had asked her out of earshot of her two sisters to do a series of poses in a tiny short skirt and nothing else. She was very conscious of her body and hadn’t even let her mother see the extent to which her breasts had grown and she was in horror that a stranger, and a man, would be looking on here body which she, herself, had feelings of shame of. She had refused and Martin had merely shrugged and muttered something about later but the mixture of repulsion, dread, and something else she couldn’t put her finger on, stayed with her. Martin put down the camera and whispered in Charlene’s ear. They both looked over at Janelle and Martin took Louise’s hand and they left the room, whispering and giggling over some private joke. Charlene wafted over to where Janelle was sitting and lifted up the camera that Martin had been using off the table.

“Martin thinks that he puts you off wanting to pose and he wants me to take some pictures of you. Take your top off Janelle,” she demanded. Janelle couldn’t believe this was happening. She started to make a protest but her elder sister seemed oblivious to her protestations. Charlene shrugged and pulled at the sweater that Janelle had around her shoulders. It fell away and Janelle instinctively wrapped her bare arms around her naked body. She heard the click, click, click of the camera and the voice of Charlene urging her to raise her hands in the air. Reluctantly, almost in a dream, Janelle obeyed her sister, blocked out the voice in her head and the sounds around her, and raised her arms.

If only I was a fly on the wall I would see Vernon come home and see the unopened portfolio containing the photos resting on the floor where it had lain since being delivered by the postman that morning. I would see him reach down, a look of delight on his face, anticipating fresh, clear images of his three girls. I would see him eagerly tearing the zipper strip that sealed the bag and plunging his hand into the sheaf of clear 12 X 10’s and the single proof sheet. I would see him withdraw the contents and walk through the vestibule to the sunroom where he would lay the photos out on the polished mahogany table. Then I would see his brow furrow and I would see Vernon’s face changing colour from brown to white to red and I would see his hands shaking and I would see his body stiffen. Vernon would sweep his hand across the mahogany table and the photos would fly first in the air, then flutter down as they spreads across the room. He would hear the door opening and the sounds of his family coming home from yet another shopping expedition. I would see Vernon trying to gather up the mess that lay all around the room as the four females enter. Then I would hear and see no more.

I started off telling you I am misunderstood. This is what happened after the three girls had left the studio, happily chatting amongst themselves. Janelle, after initially seeming a little bit shy had joined in with her two sisters and at the end of the two hours was happy to pose in whatever position or clothing I suggested. They couldn’t wait to see the finished product and I assured them that I would have the photos to them before the end of the week.  Then, after they have only had the photos for a day, I have Rose on the phone and threats of police and the media. Worse, she calls me creepy, sinister, a predator.

“I sat down with my daughters after the photo’s arrived and asked them what had happened after I left you at the studio. They said you made them do all these things. Sick, sick things. Asked them to pose in their underwear, to wear suspenders and see-through clothing. You betrayed their trust and you betrayed my trust. I will make sure that you never ever work in this country again. I will make sure that no other mother will let her daughters be alone with you in a room. I will do my best to make sure the police get to hear about this. You are vermin. The ……….”

She must have slammed down the phone the same time that I did. Now I can tell you that I was furious as well. This is not the first time that this has happened to me. They wriggle and bat their eyelids at you when you first meet them and then they get together and plot and plan behind your back. Go figure. I think that its these people that see some sort of   because they have these secret cravings themselves. When I took those photos of Janelle, Louise and Charlene I saw the innocent beauty of a women on the verge of breaking out of her child-body and into womanhood. They seem to see something like ………..well I’m at a loss to understand why they get so upset. Like I said, I am misunderstood.

I am a photographer and dare I say, artiste, whose work is exceptionally composed, tranquil and, above all, mature. I consider myself alongside Jock Sturges and David Hamilton. Yet, I provoke a great deal of suspicion and even revulsion. But the more you look at the openness of my photographs, the harder it is not to feel that those reactions come from the misguided belief that acknowledging the beauty and sexuality of minors is the same thing as paedophilia. I think what I try to capture is the steady gaze of preternatural seriousness you see in Victorian photographs of children. They are not pornographic. The only pornography is in those who gaze upon the work of a genius and only see filth.

I watched the TV documentary the following week. I did not recognize the three women and Charlene as they posed in front of the camera’s steely gaze. The mothers looked as though they had had emergency Botox injections. Their skins glowed and the wrinkles that had been cruelly exposed under the harsh lights of the supermarket now had disappeared. They primly sat on their chintz covered sofa’s and ogled the interviewer, all the time muttering about perversion, pedophiles, and generally painting me as some sort of suburban monster. Charlene looked years younger and she was playing the sacrificial lamb to their Mothers of Mercy. Me! I was painted as the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Described as devious, manipulative, extremely talented then as a sickened monster. Like I said. Misunderstood.

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