• Vol. 05
  • Chapter 08

The Photoshoot

She’d always fantasised about the chocolate photoshoot. You know the one: melted chocolate running smoothly across sculptured cheekbones, into the corners of scarlet lips, off the edges of sharp jawlines. I resisted, telling her that it wouldn’t have the gloss she imagined, not even with my lighting rigs and the best lenses money could buy. In truth I was afraid it would put me off chocolate for life, like living above a bakery can put someone off bread.

When she came back that last time – so sensuous, so loving, so contrite – I nearly agreed, although part of me balked at simply giving her what she wanted. After all, I was the wounded party. She’d left me, disappearing without so much as a backward glance with some waitress she’d picked up at the canal-side bar. My career was just taking off back then, the Sunday supplements running articles on how a gay, working-class woman was making waves in the rarefied circles of art house photography. I’d had that week in New York, all expenses paid, and other trips to Rome and Berlin.

It sounded glamorous, but she didn’t see the hard work: the days spent travelling, scoping locations and setting up shots; the loneliness of eating in empty hotel restaurants, and the sheer exhaustion. She wasn’t interested in the post-production: the headache-inducing hours peering at a monitor, selecting the best angles, and then cropping and enhancing to create those flawless images. All she saw were the final prints, on bright-white gallery walls and in the pages of magazines. The rugged cityscape and in contrast, the sleek beauty of the women. I know now she felt jealous. And guilty. Mostly I turned a blind eye. Infatuation does that to people.

We’d been watching ‘Goldfinger’ when she suggested the shoot again. A variation, with golden caramel. I’d heard the urban myth, the one where the actress dies from skin suffocation. It was nonsense and we’d laughed about it. But I remembered those old stories of Russian spies. Tentatively, I agreed.


The Photoshoot

I ordered the mixtures online, set up the backdrop, and laid a plastic runner from studio to shower room. I explained how to pour the syrup so that it ran smoothly, coating her scalp, her face, her shoulders. I couldn’t risk touching anything – the cameras and lenses were far too valuable. She was wonderful, hitting every pose I asked for without opening her eyes. Afterwards I bagged up the runner and left-over syrup, dumping it all in the wheelie bin. By the time she’d finished showering, I’d downloaded the images. I knew I’d got something special.

It was a few weeks before she began to show signs of fatigue. Blood tests showed nothing, bar unexplained anaemia. There were transfusions, multiple transfusions, but nothing made any difference. For a while I stopped working, to nurse her. She knew she was dying. I never told her why.

The exhibition was an international success. They called it Obituary for a Golden Girl.