Once upon a time, one sultry summer, there was a lonely boy who nursed a secret sin. Day after day he hid in his little room and spied on a young builder’s apprentice working in a neighbour’s garden. Stripped to his waist, his sun-burned body toned by strenuous work, the apprentice laboured on in total ignorance of his silent admirer. The boy’s heart yearned simply and instinctively for this dusty adonis. He invented wild conversations and occasionally attempted to give a name to his Love. Male Beauty? In his world these two small words combined were considered unspeakable. Beauty delved too deep, reaching beyond the surface to tread the dangerous, murky waters of desire. Beauty not only in the eye of the beholder, but also in the mind. A man could rarely describe another as even handsome, without the obligatory prefix such as ruggedly or devilishly, or some such aggressive adverb denoting envy or admiration. Anyway, words were for him curiously insufficient; his desire was textural and earthy.
The days passed and still he kept his daily vigil, thrilling at the sight of a hand running through tousled blonde hair, the curve of the neck, the rivulets of sweat descending from the V of the lower torso to hidden depths. The forbidden fruit. From the safety of the shadows he could relish every strenuous move, every defined muscle. But to actually confront him? That was clearly impossible. Whether through shyness, fear of rejection or of pure convention, he would need to discover another means of possession.
Then one morning, rummaging through the attic, he discovered a forgotten Polaroid camera. With a pounding heart he began a photographic shrine, capturing his unwitting model at passing moments of the day. “Photography is theft,” he smiled, and he knew the boy was his.
The days turned to weeks and his criminal obsession to photograph increased until the secret box under his bed could no longer contain the abundance of images. He then began a curious selection process. Laying out only the most beautiful pictures on the bedspread before him, he discarded any which failed to comply with his ideal. Oddly enough the photograph itself was never at fault. Even a badly exposed or awkwardly composed picture could have a certain charm and fascination. He was critical only of his model. If the apprentice appeared brutish or clumsy, if he spat or shouted, or ate with an animal ferocity, if he in fact showed any character-traits beyond the ideal, the image would be rapidly discarded. Thus he kept his hero pure. At night, by torchlight, the pictures began to live in his mind. And his imagination was free to construct their fantasy life together. The Sinner and his Saint.
Yet his heart knew little of love and less of relationships. His dreams however unorthodox were nevertheless based in the world of conventional fiction. As his fantasies grew, smaller shrank the pile of polaroids. In his dream-world his hero attended him with all the manners of an English gentleman. But gentlemen didn’t have the constant necessity to admire themselves in any reflective surface. They also didn’t pick at elbow-scabs or stuff their fingers up their noses. The wealth of images were soon reduced to barely a handful; the rare moments of tranquil beauty. Gradually it became painfully obvious that they would never meet, never even exchange a glance. How could the real apprentice ever compare with these few idolized images of himself? He realized that in his innocence he had attempted to create a god out of a vain and vulgar youth. The Saint and his Sinner.
The weeks became months and the apprentice finally hammered his last nail home and moved inexorably on. The young boy though neither mourned nor missed his daily presence. The images remained, and had effectively replaced him. They had also taught him to differentiate between looking and longing. Defiantly he dared name his sin. Opening a window, the fresh breeze caused him to shiver, warming his back, as he spoke the word; ‘Voyeurism’. Now that he had named it, it was no longer his master. He would find love and photograph, but never again combine the two. His real love would exist only in three dimensions. His images would not be catalogues of lovers, requited or unrequited. Heroic, pathetic, iconic, or ironic, they would be romantic allusions to, not the object of, his dreams and desires. Strapping his camera about his neck, he stepped out of the shadows, and with a clear conscience went out into the world.
Originally published in ‘Anthony Gayton – Sinners & Saints’, te Neues GmbH, 2005.