The Photographer exhibited downtown. Galleries, museums. Big hit in the art community, but not in the infallible system that measures the worth of all things, from culture to fruit salad: The Market. Did it, is it, or will it make/be making money? If so, Artist + Sales = Success, anywhere from up-and-coming novice to assiduous craftsman to Genius, depending on The Market’s sober assessment.
Thus far, The Photographer had merited barely a “fresh new face,” but her first book of photographs, Bad Seeds, published several years earlier, to great praise, many awards and dismal sales, was “discovered” by the wife of a Big
Media Executive who convinced her husband and his more conservative colleagues that the theme of young, gritty Beautiful People should be tested, on television, as a pilot for a potential series. The photographer would be paid for the pilot, and if the show became a series, a share of the residuals would be hers — the industry standard for “story idea.” So The Photographer might become a very talented artist indeed, once the pilot was shown across The Nation. And she was already considering subjects for a second book.
We’d met at the Ad Agency, when I wrote copy and she photographed, free-lance, for the Graphics and Design department. It was she who took the photograph for my Earn advertisement and added the necessary, industry-approved color gradients and shadows.
She was the first “famous” artist I had ever known and she was doing wedding photographs as well as promo graphics for the agency to get by. In a sense, despite the awards and rave reviews she received for her book and the slide show of her work, which she set to music and performed at various clubs, galleries and college venues, photography could be considered, for the likes of The Photographer and many of her less “successful” colleagues, merely an expensive hobby.
She photographed friends and strangers on the Hip Scene for art; models and advertisements for money. Still did jobs for the Ad Agency. Occasionally.
People crowded the exhibit. The Photographer was becoming someone celebrated. Not there yet, but becoming. Bad Seeds displayed stylish people doing, going, drinking, dancing, fighting, fucking. The Beautiful enjoying life. If only while young. If only while Beautiful not Money.
Citizens envied moments The Beautiful had lived, one of the rare instances in the Life of The Nation in which quality was valued over quantity. Even when one of The Beautiful died young, sometimes very young, The Citizens would still rather have lived a few moments the dead Beautiful had known than a generation’s worth of regular lives. Many an Elderly Citizen considered the twenty-five-years of a Beautiful struck down tragically in an accident to have been qualitatively more valuable and more desirable than his own four-score safe, productive, “normal” years.
The Photographer had photographed the Missing Young in streets and clubs; met people; put lives in her book for all to see. She let those who didn’t live lives glimpse moments and motions of those who did.
After the gallery we went out for drinks at a bar she’d photographed for her new show and second book-in-progress. Stylish people doing stylish things. I watched them. Interesting, but not as live as her art — that is, after they were photographed — made them seem. We sat at the bar, doing nothing but real.
“Are you working?” she asked me. “They told me you quit the Agency.”
I explained the nature and detail of my new calling. Beautiful or aspiring Beautiful came to greet her, fawn, schmooze, hoping to perhaps be digitally immortalized on disk. She captured me drinking.
“I need a new subject. Or many new subjects,” said the Photographer.
She wished to spread her wings, having grown tired of The Scene.
She wanted to photograph me. As Plantman. She wanted to follow me for a day. Suck my Topiary Time into her camera. Her life processor. Her gizmo.
“I’d have to clear it with Victor. Victor’s the head guy,” I cautioned.
Of course Victor delighted in the prospect of free publicity for Topiary Techniques.
“I’ll have to talk to the clients,” said Victor. “I’ll tell them it’s for a promotional brochure. As long as nobody raises objections….”
No one did. Clients themselves were eager to be taken. The Photographer photographed me doing.
“A Day in the Life of Plantman,” said the Photographer.
She posed me meditatively beside an Aboricolum. Horticultural cognition. Click, click. I watered, clipped, dusted, poked. She photographed plants, office-workers, desks, cubicles. Recorded the tired, bored, worn, anxious, All-Day day.
Before she submitted the photographs to Now City, a glossy upscale magazine of The Nation, she showed me photos of myself as Plantman. Uncomfortable, those graphics of my heretofore. Images of outside-of-me outside of me not in a mirror or other device that would enable me to keep an in-the-moment, “real time” eye on my own doing.
No relation to the me inside me.
“What do you plan to do with these?” I asked.
“Study them. Then study them some more. Tweak the best, then submit them for publication,” she said.
Now City made me, or rather, me as Plantman, a celebrity in some small way. Glossy photos of immortal Plantman, keeper protector of green interiors, duplicated and dispersed. Plantman tending Life on record and in full-coler.
Twenty-two-million copies sold, maybe more. All those people watching. Or rather, looking. Still Life With Plantman. Repetitions of motion-pieces gone forever, saved on slick paper. Plantman working in The Past. People in apartments, offices, subway cars, waiting rooms studied Plantman-In-The-Past.
I saw an alien being in the photographs. A stranger. Utter fiction.
The Photographer’s “Plantman” magazine series was a hit. She was interviewed on The Morning Show, taped in The City, broadcast to The Nation. She planned to use the Plantman photographs as a basis for a book, Workers of The City, the rights of which had already been bought, with a hefty advance to The Photographer, by Big Publishing. She was now, according to her svelte, corn-blond interviewer, “a Genius and Genuine Artist of The Nation.”
The Morning Show wanted to interview me too. I refused. I had work. But the Executives and Board Members of Topiary Techniques International Inc. — miles and miles above the head of Victor — demanded I submit to the corn-blond woman’s interview. I arrived at the Television Station at 5 AM, four hours before work.
Oh Viewers of The Nation! You have witnessed Plantman’s thirty seconds of fame. You have heard him, seen him. But do you know him?