Chapter 21: “Consider this part of your therapy.”

TUESDAY, 17TH NOVEMBER, 2009

As I ate my dinner, which consisted of couscous and leftover baked chicken, I phoned Niamh.

“Hello?” a scruffy voice answered.

“Is this Niamh Woodside?” I asked.

“Are you from Rogers?” she snarled, the dark, smoky tones of her voice coming through. “I already paid my cable bill, damn it.”

“No, I’m not from Rogers or anywhere like that. My name is Graziano Buonfiglio, and I hear you’re looking for models right now.”

“Who told you?”

“Some guy at Priape. He gave me your card.”

“Oh! That would be Lucas. His boyfriend posed for me a year ago. I did a coffee table book wherein I painted white models in dark chocolate and models of colour in white chocolate. It’s called Flavour of Love. You should check it out.”

“Ummm…” I didn’t know how to respond to that. “Okay.”

“Yeah, my latest project is about bodily imperfections. I’m looking for models that have scars. I assume that you do have some.”

“They’re mostly on my back and in various places.”

“Okay. Are you a model?”

“No,” I said. “I’m a former competitive bodybuilder and stripper.”

“Really? How would feel about coming tomorrow for an interview?”

“Sure,” I said, sitting up.

“Does noon sound good to you?”

“Yeah.”

“Splendid. I work at home, if that’s no problem for you. I’m on Annex Lane, just next to the subway station on Spadina.”

“Okay. I’ll see you then.”

“Thanks. Good night.”

“Good night.”

I hung up and finished my dinner. Brandon had a meeting at the university, so he wouldn’t be home for some time. Later that night, I saw some of Niamh’s work on the Internet. It actually looked quite tasteful. The guys had bodies ranging from “eh, okay” to “I’ll pay you top dollar just to look at you 24 hours a day”. The photos ranged from simple head-shots to simple nudes to her aforementioned chocolate collection, which was quite provocative. I wouldn’t know how to react if Niamh brushed dark chocolate all over my body, other than hoping that it tasted good. If you’re going to use food to create body art, you should at least make sure that it is food that you would like to eat.

WEDNESDAY, 18TH NOVEMBER, 2009

Niamh’s apartment was at 11 Annex Lane, part of a bunch of elegant town-homes just next to the Spadina subway station. I found it odd that a photographer would work from a place as posh as this, especially since it seemed to be too small to contain a studio. I assumed that she knew what she was doing.

Outside her front door was a sign that read: “NIAMH WOODSIDE PHOTOGRAPHY” in the same cursive font that was on her business card. I pressed her intercom button, and waited for a few moments, and then:

“Graziano?” the same scruffy, weathered voice that I heard last night came through.

“Yeah.”

“Come on up.”

I heard a buzzer, and I opened the front door. The first thing that I saw was a blown-up picture of a shaved vulva, and it startled the hell out of me. You could see her G-spot, her vaginal walls, and a hardened clitoris. WHAT THE FUCK?!, I thought.

And then Niamh Woodside appeared at the top of the stairs. She was petite, with her grey hair pulled back into a chignon. She was clearly mature, but there was something about how she presented herself that suggested that there was more to her than being mature. She walked down the steps, and firmly shook my hand.

“Welcome to my home and studio,” she said.

I nodded. “Thanks.”

“Let me guess: you saw my picture as you came in.”

My mouth dropped. “You mean, that’s your…” I couldn’t even say the world.

“Yep, that’s my cunt,” she said, beaming. “I took that picture at the beginning of my nude photo career. It’s among my best work. I tried to exhibit it once, but the gallery turned me down.”

“I can see why.”

“Actually, you can’t, dear. The gallery was too small, and I could only show a small portion of my work. Eventually, I hope to show this off in a retrospective.”

This was getting awkward. I was about to turn for the door and run like hell, when she asked, “Do you want to know why I put this photo here?”

“Shock value?”

Niamh laughed. Well, she cackled. “Oh, Graziano, we’re going to have so much fun. No, I put this here because I want to make my subjects shed their inhibitions and be more comfortable. I have always believed that the photographer should do something to encourage his or her subjects to enjoy the process. It can’t just be ‘point and shoot’. If you can get the model comfortable with what can be uncomfortable, then the photo will be magical.”

“Ummm….okay,” I responded, not knowing what to make of that remark.

“Come on, then,” Niamh said, leading me up the stairs to her living room. I looked one last time at the vulva photo and shuddered a bit.

Over hot chocolate and croissants, Niamh explained the concept of her shoot. Long story short, she wanted to capture the imperfections of people whom society would consider at first glance to be, well, perfect. While it would require nudity, it would be done tastefully and with class, nothing exploitative or sensationalist. She was seeking out strippers, athletes, bodybuilders, people who have had plastic surgery, etc. She had done some test shots with a few potential candidates, but was still looking and hadn’t made a decision.

And then she asked me, “Where are your scars?”

I knew that eventually I would have to show her, even though I was not totally keen. There was a part of me saying, DON’T DO IT. But I had already shown my scars to Claire, so what harm would it do to show them to another person?

“They’re on my back, my legs, my torso, and my arms,” I said.

“How did you get them?”

“Years of child abuse and suicide attempts.”

Niamh’s eyes widened inquisitively. “When you were doing the bodybuilding and stripping things, did you cover them up?”

“I used a lot of tanning lotion and makeup. Fortunately, my scars weren’t much of an issue. I managed to get by on sheer will, though afterwards I would be crying and just… beside myself.”

“Okay,” Niamh said, finishing her coffee. “I’d like to do some test shots.”

We went up to her roof, which was basically an open-air photography studio with a beautiful view of the city. It was kind of chilly, though. Before I had gone out, I checked the temperature, and it was just about 6 degrees Celsius. I think that it had fallen two further degrees by the time I made it to Niamh’s roof. The test shots were pretty straightforward; I just posed as Niamh clicked and clicked. She didn’t say anything the whole time that she was shooting me. The only reference point that I had, were years of watching America’s Next Top Model and even Canada’s Next Top Model, and photographing women is leagues different from photographing men.

It took all of ten minutes, and then Niamh asked, “Do you have any plans for the rest of the day?”

“Not really,” I replied.

“Good, because I am in LOVE with what I’m seeing. Scars or no scars, my dear boy, there are photographers and casting agents who would sell their mothers for a piece of you. I think that we can begin the main event.”

That meant I was to take my clothes off and pose. When I realized that, I began to shake. I don’t know why, but it was the first time in my life that I had been deathly scared of exposing my body.

“Graziano?” Niamh asked. She touched my arm. “Are you okay?”

I took a deep breath. “Yeah… sort of.”

“You know, if you decide to leave, I won’t hold it against you. Is it because of the scars?”

“Ummm, Niamh,” I said, “I want to do this. But I’m scared.” I could feel my insides just shake and shake and shake.

“Of what?” Niamh asked. “Posing nude?”

I shook my head.

“Graziano, are you in therapy?”

I looked at her, surprised. “Yeah. I’ve been going for almost a month.”

“You said that you were abused as a kid, and that you tried to kill yourself?”

“Yeah.”

“Consider this part of your therapy.”

I didn’t look at it that way, but Niamh made sense. It was time to purge my body of the shame of being scarred. I took another deep breath and said, “Can I change downstairs?”

Niamh nodded. I went downstairs and into the bathroom near the kitchen. I took off all of my clothes, grabbed a towel, and walked back to the Arctic conditions of Niamh’s rooftop studio, with the towel covering my private parts. I didn’t even look at myself in the mirror. However, Niamh had set up the covered part of the studio with a mirrored triptych, so I was nervous three times.

“Ready?” she asked.

I nodded. The first thing that Niamh did was scan my body, examining my muscles and my skin and my scars. “It’s okay,” she said. “You’re not the first person to get scared.” I thought that she would do this methodically, and yes, she was methodical. She didn’t make any comments as she went about doing it. But it was a gentle way of being methodical.

After a few minutes, Niamh finished. “I think we can make something happen,” she said.

The session took thirty minutes. I didn’t just pose in front of the triptych; I looked in each mirror as Niamh took pictures. I also posed with the city skyline behind me. Niamh asked me to pose on the ground, and I did just that. She had me in position after position after position, and even in the chilly weather, with my body covered in goose pimples, I was more than willing to meet and exceed her every whim and want. It wasn’t a fashion shoot, but I felt like it was, and for all those thirty minutes, the adrenaline of having my picture taken in the nude on a cold Wednesday afternoon overtook everything in my mind.

When it was done, I felt so happy and so relieved. Niamh hugged me and kissed me on the cheek. After I went downstairs and got back into my clothes, Niamh and I went over some paperwork. She told me that I would get paid as soon as she finished developing the photos, and that she would definitely pass my name on to fellow photographers and casting agents. She even said that she had never taken a photo of anyone on the same day that she first met them… until now. That made it all the more special. I left Annex Lane feeling elated… and you know what? I didn’t feel guilty about it. I actually enjoyed feeling good.

Brandon and Mykhaylo were just as happy when I told them the news. Even Britney seemed happy, and I doubt that she knew what was going on. When I went to bed that night, I felt like I had made a major accomplishment. Niamh was right: posing in front of a camera, with my scars visible to the world, without the help of tanning lotion and makeup, proved to be therapeutic and helpful.

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