I bought her a long time ago, when my interest in collecting photographs had just begun; when I was new to the hobby of introducing strangers into my home.
I was only an ingenue. But I knew enough to realize that an image of a young woman – straddling a staircase, wearing a housecoat and rolled stockings, taking a high and shameless swig from a flask – was worthy of purchase.
But her home is unadorned wood. There is a cellar door behind her. Garbage cans are in the distance. There is nothing to inspire her, except her youth and resentment.
Her brows are straight and angry – her eyes watch the photographer in narrowed defiance, in concentrated fury. Cocked elbows compliment each other in an outline that dares and swaggers.
Perhaps this is her vision of a gin-runner's moll: staggering out of doors in the mid-afternoon after a night of speakeasies full of the sharp perfume of smoke, cocaine and jazz. A night when the neon air had colored her marcelled hair into sleek, unnatural rivers. And later in the daytime: a liquid breakfast that went down her cigarette-shredded throad like a coil of unadorned alcohol and acid.
Only she can't help but taste and feel her reality: the drink is Volstead-approved water, the dress is Woolworth's and not Lanvin, and her life is plain and moral – not vulgar and illegal. This is no scintillating life of short skirts and gangsters.
The disaffection of this child is universal and ageless – every decade harbors its bitter populations. Their thin dramas, carefully dressed poses and detailed fantasies take what they want from newspapers and the radio: the world's informants. The unwanted facts are jettisoned into a swill of superfluous data; a slow-moving sewer of unwelcome words and pictures.
It happens now. And it happened then, 80 years ago, by the side of a blank, lonely house.