Monday, November 08, 2004

Freeze Frame
While in Shenzhen last weekend a friend I'll call "C" asked if I wanted to accompany her to a photo studio so she could get some publicity shots done for a TV show that she is auditioning for. I imagined a typical US set-up, of course, one or two rooms, some lighting equipment and some background screens of different colored paper - perhaps some fake scenery, too. A one or two hour job at most.
Of course, it turned into a different beast. We arrived at "Lovers is Forever Studio" at 3 pm and exited at about 9 pm and in between I spent long hours watching an amazing array of brides, bride grooms, JonBenet Ramsey-like Chinese daughters, two apparent hookers, and my friend go through an elaborate, expensive ritual involving many cosmetics, hair designs, costume changes and small stage sets.
There was the Shanghai cafe and home circa 1930 or so, a Japanese sake house, a modern bathroom with shower and toilet, a modern bedroom, a grocery store, a magazine stand and - my favorite - a American Southwest white-washed adobe and log beam exterior capped with a Moroccan skyline featuring mosques. At one point, one of the hookers posed in front of it with a cowboy hat, red leather hot pants, skin tight T-shirt with red leather vest and what appeared to be an old pair of Gene Simmons' knee high red leather boots with 6-inch stacked heels from a 1979 Kiss tour.
Two photographers were working shifts with all the groups, so as the hooker did her best "Why don't you come up to my Navajo mosque and see me sometime?" pose, a young married couple beamed at their overly made-up 3-year-old daughter awkwardly vamping as Chinese court princess four feet away.
There were costumes to go with all the themes. While many choices looked like a Fredrick's of Hollywood close-out sale, two bridal couples posed in modern western wedding togs, as a traditional Japanese wedding couple, as a Tang Dynasty Chinese couple and as something resembling a 17th century aristocratic French couple as envisioned by Salvador Dali and Liberace.
In between costume changes, a small army of beauticians freshened makeup, combed hair and pinned on wigs and falls in order have the heads roughly approximate the clothes.
C wisely brought several changes of her own clothes for the standard face and full body shots, but couldn't resist playing dress-up after the staff told her she was entitled to more photos for free.
While she was delighted to pose as a geisha, French courtisan and slinky Shanghai Chinoise I grew restless and was getting hungry. The staff ordered a sandwich and a beer in for me and after it became apparent that we were going to be there at least another hour, offered to shoot me once for free.
I thought about it, but declined. They didn't have the right costume for "clueless foreigner" and I didn't feel that my own get-up of ratty cargo shorts, an Elvis short sleeve shirt and shredded bowling shoes needed to be documented.

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