Quick thinking when it comes to zippers, foundations and pliers
May, like January, is often a time of new beginnings. High school and college graduates are looking forward to the next new adventures in their lives. Mankind likes beginnings. Think of the Pilgrims setting sail on a mysterious ocean to carve out a better life. From here we had throngs of homesteaders leaving the cozy comforts of their villages to claim their stake in the West. The explorer stares hazards in the face as they come upon new territory. My own personal adventure began 22 years ago when I entered the world of professional photography. I will admit I was not entering a savage life; however, it could have moments of real adventure.
While training at Hallmark Institute of Photography, we were prepared for the perils of being the lone photographer when across your studio threshold comes the eye-catching lone woman. Think about it for a minute-in the studio enters a lovely woman, she is invited to come into the camera room where the lights are low and very complimentary; your mission is to capture a portrait of her at her finest moment. She is dressed to perfection, her makeup flawless- and won’t you know it, curvaceous. She listens to your every whim as you pose her to Athena beauty. It does not take a genius to figure out we have the equivalent of pumping gas while lighting fireworks! One wrong move could cause a real explosion!
Upon opening the studio, I established the rule that I would not photograph any woman without the assistance of my wife, Jan. I figured this would be a foolproof way not to have any fireworks at Strand Studio. Sure enough, down the road this rule was to be broken. I had reservations about photographing this woman, but she assured me that her situation was one of pure necessity. I informed her that since she wanted to come in midday that Jan would be teaching school and would not be available for assistance. She assured me that the thought of assistance was polite, but certainly not necessary-in her 70 years of existence she was still very capable.
Lillian arrived at the studio and on her eight-gored skirt played out the scene of the vineyard-tones of lime and emerald green with highlights of blue and dusty aqua and a touch of plum. Being smart, she topped off this lively skirt with a solid emerald sweater with lavender scarf. She looked dynamic and lively. She had in her hand a garment bag. I wondered why she would need another outfit when this one was so right.
The unzipping of her garment bag revealed a delectably swirled jacquard plum dress-very fitted and complete with side zipper. Lillian had purchased this slimming dress for her wedding back in 1949, and she was determined to have her portrait made in this dress. It would be a surprise for her husband Delbert on their ruby anniversary. She was not a Rugby resident so I asked her why she had selected the studio. She informed me that she had seen a series of photographs that I had done on women in hats, which she liked very much. Since this was a surprise for her husband, and she felt assured he would not be in Rugby on this day! Her lovely dress was complete with hat. Needless to say, I was excited about photographing her in this ensemble.
She returned to the camera room looking attractively stylish and informed me that the color of her dress was not plum but rather aubergine-a color often used by the French to describe their plums of fall. Continuing to share details, I soon learned that her dress had been purchased at a fine dress shop on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. I knew at this point we were going to hit it off very well. She proceeded to tell about how she met Delbert, and for some unknown reason, other men had not noticed her. She laughed as I complimented her on the fit of her garment; her dress very cleverly managed to subtract rather than add pounds. She shared that being a size 14 when she married was considered big! She, therefore, took it upon her herself to be completely fitted with a great foundation garment, and all praise must be given to this garment! She also shared in her hopeful and bright voice that so far this gem was still fitting!
This portrait sitting was a delight and images captured of her were beautiful. She proceeded back to the dressing room to change. After a lengthy time, I heard her voice calling my name. This is where my sense of adventure begins. As I stood at the door of the dressing room, she informed me that she could not get her zipper down and would need my assistance. As I opened the dressing room door, she stood there in a one piece foundation-the same color as her dress. It looked like a one-piece swimsuit. Both of us were uneasy as she raised her arm to show me the side zipper that had benefited her curves.
Have you ever worked with a zipper that is 40 years old? Well, this one was a real bugger! I pulled, tugged, and yanked. That mini railroad track would not move! Just short of putting my foot on her hip, I finally suggested she come out and bend over the front counter. We proceeded out to the front. However, even though I had a better grip, nothing moved. I may not have been a homesteader, but believe me, at this point I knew I was discovering new territory.
I finally suggested she lay on her side so that I would have a real straight shot at the zipper. (At this point in the portrait sitting, it certainly didn’t harm me to be impulsive with the truth! After all the exposure I was getting from this sitting, this was one for the record books.)
I had once read that a stubborn zipper can sometimes be coaxed by rubbing a lead pencil on it. So I got the lead out, but to no avail! I have always had a profound faith in the inventions of mankind, and as I applied WD40 and tugged with needle nose pliers, my prayers were answered. Lillian was freed from her trophy foundation!
Just as the zipper moved, I heard the latch of the studio door click. In walked Jan from teaching and here I am engaged in Lillian’s foundation zipper. What to do! The day’s drama and mix of madness needed humor. I turned and said, “Oh, you’re just in time, honey. I just got Lillian back together!”
The moment was certainly unusual. Both Jan and Lillian had a good laugh as they shared how reserved I had been about photographing the lone woman in the studio. It was the stuck zipper that created a legendary relationship among the three of us and eventually her hubby, Delbert. So don’t be afraid to venture into a new territory-just make sure you have a bit of WD40 and a pair of needle-nose pliers.
Just as the infamous Dragnet show of yesteryear-in the above drama, the names have been changed to protect the innocent!
Repnow is a
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