English is not his first or even his second language. Born in Poland in 1946, he considers himself a miracle baby. His father had spent time in a Warsaw ghetto. After transportation to one of the Nazi concentration camps, 100 people staged a brave escape. He was one of only 2 survivors of the attempt. Not long after, his father met a Russian aviatrix. Nicknamed “Night Witches” this group of daring pilots flew multiple bombing missions every evening without parachutes. Living in various parts of Europe for most of his seventy years, he only recently arrived in Australia.
Listening to him speak as he holds his cooling latte in his wrinkled hand, I watch the foam on his coffee break up. His eyes seem to get stuck in the grain of the wooden table top.
It’s one of those cafes with reclaimed tables with matching faux-industrial chairs under Edison bulb lights hanging in bundles from too long black cables. The cafe used to be a slightly grubby, converted milk bar with mismatched chairs and tables that a designer would call eclectic. Cakes were ugly but tasty piled high with just the right amount of too much frosting. Coffee was spot on -always. Never bitter or weak and always the right drinkable temperature. The new owners are young and enthusiastic and unfortunately the juices now come in mason jars with handles. He is the most authentic thing in the place.
We connected through Facebook after I commented on one of the images of his work that he posted to a local artists’ group. The photo he had taken of himself first thing in the morning.
“I am working on a new collection” EXPOSURE OF HUMAN FACE” the idea is to capture the face as the dominant part of the art surrounded with elements to complement the shot or focus on the face only. To capture the beauty, elegance or venerability of expression and movement.
The first experiment was this self portrait this morning – expressing venerability
Yes I am brave but if you love me you will except this.
I am looking for BRAVE Facebook friends to be willing to be tested and submit to my lens and creative spirit to capture you.”
I responded” I don’t necessarily believe I am brave to make myself vulnerable in front of your lens but offer my services anyway. As an artist, I’m usually the one painting or drawing a model, not being a model myself. “
He’s very free with his compliments and I blush when he talks about my eyes and my smile. His directness is refreshing but also disarming.
“I will have to touch you as I move you into position. My camera will be right up in your face. You must be okay with this.” he explains as his large hands reach out towards my chin and turn it towards my right. I don’t stop him or even draw back. I can tell this is part of the test.
“We will need to meet and discuss this book again. I want you to think about clothing and locations. My neighbour has a wrecker’s yard and we can use that. On the outside life is a breeze and on inside is destruction. That is the concept”.
“Okay” I agree with him as no doubt do most people. He has a charm that puts people around him at ease.
“This project will take maybe a year” he states matter-of-factly. “I’m also shooting a book about farmers in Gippsland.”
I didn’t ask any of this but he expounds anyway.
As we walk away from the cafe I start to comprehend that I will be more of a collaborator than a mannequin. At my front door, we smile and hug, his tall frame overwhelming mine. He turns and walks towards his car. I retreat inside.
“Everything good, my love?” Steve calls down from the lounge.
“Yeah, I reckon so”