Once I was walking up the Spanish Steps in Rome, camera in hand, when a woman in a red dress caught my attention. Not only did she capture my attention (as a women in an evening gown is apt to do in the early afternoon), but she caused much of a stir as the tourists bottlenecked around her and her circle that the photographer and the photographer’s assistant created. Of course! She was model (the only thing that could explain such inappropriate midday dress). But the attention she garnered from every passerby made it near impossible to notice anyone in street clothes, including her posse. She had a glow about her, which was more than likely an effect of the assistant with a reflector, but a glow nonetheless that alerted everyone that she was the most beautiful person we would see that day.
And at this moment I must admit, I stopped foot traffic with the worst of them. I couldn’t compel myself not to take pictures when such an opportunity presented itself but at the same time I also couldn’t bring myself to stop on the Spanish Steps and get the pictures I actually wanted. Instead I slowed to that awful tourist pace, took four quick, unsatisfying, snapshots of the model and her crew staring unhappily at the gazing and picture-taking sightseers that ruined their photo shoot.
The photo above is the closest thing I could get to the picture I wanted of that model. I wanted to have a photograph to remember her as I saw her – the tall, stunning, luminescent, statuette that she was – but instead I got an interrupted shot, including the people I did not mean to fit in the frame. She would not pose or pout for me, but would rather wait, absent of expression, for me to pass. Perhaps it was so that neither I nor the hundreds of tourists that passed could steal away her essence before her photographer could capture it. Perhaps the model only had enough energy to satisfy the lens of one photographer. Perhaps she was simply annoyed at the continuous stream of gawkers. I will never fully know, I can only guess. But regardless the picture I have is not the image I want to or do remember when I think of that day.
I have a picture of this model in a behind-the-scenes moment. Her photographer instructs her and the assistant holds the reflectors away from her. That is how the moment of the photograph actually happened, that is what I technically saw, and it is what my camera captured. But in my memory I see a glamorous woman in a red gown on the Spanish steps striking a pose as a normal part of her glamorous day, as common and less glamorous people pass by. I would bet that that was the picture that the photographer hoped to get and I’m sure she achieved that goal. It was also the picture I wanted. It was the memory I wanted to have on paper.
I am glad that the photographer has this photograph whether it is in a magazine or a portfolio or somewhere else. I am glad that on paper she may have the photography I never took, but the memory I have anyway. My memory may not be realistic (as my photograph proves) but for that photographer its possible she got to see that through her very lens. I am only unhappy that it could not be me that could make the vision and the reality coincide.