Who Is She?

I found her at the bottom of a box of photographs, amongst the stray faces looking up at me, lost in narratives that had disappeared long ago.

She was still wrapped in tissue that was sepia-stained, the color of regret and recollection.  She had been waiting 100 years for someone to look into her face, a country of devastating feminine symmetry, and to wonder:  who is she?

Her eyes are spaced wide, with a world of thoughts oscillating between them, taking measure of the cameraman, drawing him in, daring him, holding  him for as long as she desired.  How he must have trembled during this session!

But the eyes are weary, too – there are dark smudges, like guilty memories, beneath them.  They speak of late nights, chandeliers and sly fingers on bare arms.  This is no ordinary lady.  So – who is she?

She is dressed painfully and stylishly.  Her corset is a dominatrix – abusive, torturous.  Yet it does exactly what she wants it to do.  It gives her a waist with the width of a dime:  she is a part of fashion's currency.  Her ribs have folded like fingers, embracing her in the fashionable 'S' silhouette – bosom slightly outward, hips pushed away.

Her hat, like a velvet ship, has unfurled its feathered sails, ready for battle.  Rosettes climb up her arms like small animals, hungering after her pale, languid hands.  She sits in her chair, coiled and feline.  Her fingers rest against her cheek, like rivers emptying into a white lake that is calm on the surface, teeming with impish wit below.  She is relaxed yet intense, young but experienced, beautiful and extremely dangerous.  Who is she?

The fingers are patient – awaiting the viewer's next move.  Her mouth is a threatening curve, the edges considering a smile:  to welcome, to flirt, to mock.  She is not some housewife or bride or dutiful daughter posing nervously in front of a camera.  Who is she?

Is she a courtesan, a citizen of satin beds, rising from the perfumed depths of the demimoinde to have her picture taken?  Is she a professional beauty, her career riding on a penny postcard?  Is she an actrress, with bouquets at her feet like gardens of immoral adulation?

It's impossible to know.  But sometimes the imagination needs to be untethered.  Its hunt will be long, but invariably it will come back – exhausted but exhilirated, and full of its own wisdom.

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7 responses to “Who Is She?

  1. sometimes the imagination needs to be untethered.
    Oh yeah…

    love the photo!

  2. I love the way you see details in these photos. The observation about her corset–"Her ribs have folded like fingers, embracing her in the fashionable 'S' silhouette – bosom slightly outward, hips pushed away"—is powerful and very telling about the woman in the picture and the time she lived in. What fashion designer thought of shaping a woman's torso like this? It sounds sadistic yet strangely aesthetic as well, as if human flesh was a medium to be sculpted.

  3. You did great justice to her eerie gaze. Compelling photo – I agree about the dominatrix element. She would be a good female companion if one did not want to walk the streets alone at night.

  4. Another delicious post, Aubrey.
    Her expression reminds me of a photo of the June character pinned up on the Henry Miller character's wall in Henry & June.

  5. "A waist the width of a dime." A miniaturist after my own heart!

  6. Flamingo – Yes, I confess to having something of a lady-crush on her.
    Hangaku Gozen – That makes perfect sense: women were inanimate works of art, and the couturier was the artist.
    Emmi – She would be fabulous to hang with! What stories she would have!
    homebody – Her eyes practically willed me to choose her and pay the $5 the vendor was requesting. They looked alive, glaring through all the scraps and dust.
    Renee – Her waist is horrible, painful, and yet…there is a type of beauty in that 'dainty waist' as the men used to say.

  7. I love the fact that you have taught me to notice different things when I look at a photograph. You make me study them and think about the person portrayed and what she has seen and done and thought.That's a great gift! :)

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