The photographer: A short story

Sarena Kuhn/Staff
Close up picture of a violin and a bow

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Part two of The quartet: A series of short stories

The photographer hated the city of rain. The shape and shade — nothing about it suited him, for he loved taking pictures of bright, beautiful places, and this was not one of them. His pictures were light, lively and warm, but this city was dim and gray. The people were hunched and hurried. It was dreary and dreamy and cold.

His professor back home had told him to come here and learn — that there were more beautiful things than only those in color. But as he walked along the street in a bright red scarf, aging slowly in the cold, he saw nothing truly worthy of his frame.

He captured cars and bridges. He took out-of-focus photos of people turned formless by their coats. He stole glances at faces hidden under the edges of umbrellas, but nothing looked beautiful to him.

And then he heard something.

Amid the bustle and constant pitter-patter of light rain, the photographer could hear sweet classical music floating through the air. It carried without the sogginess from which the rest of the city seemed to suffer and pulled him closer.

The photographer followed down sidewalks and walkways until he happened upon a small café with faded yellow lights and a droopy awning. And there, under that awning, stood a violinist, a cellist and a pianist playing classical music in the rain.

They were perfect and pointed and sharp in his frame. Their dark black tuxedos stood out against the faded cafe and cobblestone, but just as the photographer was about to snap a photo, a flash of red blurred his shot and then he saw the dancer.

Oh, he was a beautiful creature.

And it was in that moment that the photographer realized he was much too selfish to be a photographer.

So beautiful the photographer could not bring himself to care that the boy had stolen his scarf and wound it around his arms and over his shoulder and across his chest. Against all his fluid movement, the line of red seemed to be the only thing solid surrounding the dancer. His gray sweater and black stage boots were blurs of formless grace; his ash-colored hair cast his features in a haze.

The photographer found his camera too heavy to raise to his eye. The viewfinder was too small. The shutter was too slow.

And it was in that moment that the photographer realized he was much too selfish to be a photographer. He had always said he wanted to take photos to share all the beautiful things he saw in the world. But now he realized that in the face of true beauty, he could not take pictures and he could not share, because he was selfish. In that moment, when the sight and experience simply took his breath away, he wanted nothing more than to sit and watch and feel every moment for himself.

He could not bear to look away, even if it meant having something permanent and tangible to look back at later. He was not a good enough photographer that his frame could capture the ambiance, or the movement, or the verve in the very air that made this colorless city come alive. It was only him — only his eyes.

And that was much too selfish for a photographer.

The dancer strode up to the photographer after the song had ended and his feet had fallen out of their pointe. He smiled through his mess of damp curls and sent graces to the people who paid and even the ones who did not, until only the photographer remained. And he thanked him for his scarf and his attention, returning both with a bow, and then turned back to his musicians to forget about him.

But the photographer could not bear that.

So he seized the dancer’s arm and begged him, begged him — “Please, dance again.” He needed to see it again, to not lose sight of him, of them, because his heart had been so moved he did not know where it was anymore and — and —

And then the dancer wound his scarf back around his neck and led him over to the awning with warm, pale hands. The violinist paid no mind. The cellist nodded his greetings. The pianist smiled with understanding.

And the dancer gently unfolded the photographer’s hands and took the camera into his own. He scrolled through the colorless photos and praised them with such generosity, the photographer felt ashamed, for he had taken them without loving the people the dancer loved so much.

The cellist began playing again after a sip from the milky drink he shared with the violinist and the pianist. The dancer declined, but the musicians insisted and he took a sip with a smile before stepping out again to dance.

Still, the photographer could do nothing but watch, and his camera sat like a stone in his hands. It was simply too much for him to try to share this love.

Even later on, after his trip had ended and his professor had praised the photos he had managed to take of the rainy city, the photographer felt no accomplishment because the most beautiful thing he had seen was not there and the professor would never know. No one would.

For it seemed that the city from which he had selfishly stolen his photos had not let him go in peace — it had taken something in return. And only the formless figures captured in his frame would ever understand where the photographer’s heart remained.


Contact Kristina Kim at [email protected].