A bead of sweat slips down from my armpit. As I step into the shooting space, my bare feet stick to the damp floorboards. The space is cluttered with chairs, tables and screens. Mr. Lynes positions a table in the center of the space and moves deliberately to strategically place light standards. His movements are smooth and economical. His graying hair is combed upward with every strand in place. I stand quietly watching as his assistant George steps in carrying a pile of film cartridges. “A bathroom?” I direct toward George.
“In the corner,” Mr. Lynes motions as I step away. In the mirror over the sink I see the shine of sweat on my chest and upper lip. I piss without closing the door.
I reenter the space. Mr. Lynes steps forward, grabs my left hand and leads me toward the table. “Here. Sit. No, lean. Nicholas, correct?”
“Nick is fine.”
“Nicholas, I want you to sit on top of the table.”
I do as I am told. The table is surprisingly cool against my chalky, sun-starved buttocks. I wince and he smiles showing a sliver of snowy white teeth. His light blue pullover sweater complements his sparkling blue eyes. Mr. Lynes straightens his shirt collar several times and then in one fluid motion pulls shirt and sweater over his head exposing his perfectly contoured chest. His assistant, George, stands before me with a light meter. He is bare-chested as well.
I can feel movement in my groin. I am petrified. He should not have taken off his shirt. Neither George nor Mr. Lynes looks my way and my crisis passes. Mr. Lynes gives directions as George adjusts and readjusts the lights and the filters. I try to remember how I got into this. Nicholas look this way,” Mr. Lynes snaps as he stands beside the camera staring intently. “You dance in Lincoln’s company, correct?”
“Yes, I do,” I mumble thinking back on this morning when I received the call from Mr. Lynes. All morning I felt like I had two left feet. Mr. B1 was looking right at me when the skinny girl taking notes screeched, “For you Nick,” as she held the telephone receiver over her head. I waited for Mr. B to signal permission to step out and I sprinted toward her. I snatched the warm black receiver only to be sickened by its stale cigarette smell. My “Hello” snarled at the unsuspecting caller. I bent at the waist to catch a breath as sweat dripped from the tip of my nose.
“Hello, Nicholas, this is George Lynes.” My friend Pavel told me that he gave Lynes my name. He is a Vogue fashion photographer and a friend of Lincoln Kirstein, producer of the American Ballet Company. “Can you make it this afternoon?”
Snatching another breath I clipped, “Yes, see you.”
“You have the address?”
“Yes. See you,” I idiotically repeat. The receiver falls into the lap of the girl’s faded sun dress. I lean against the wall. I gulp a paper cone of cool water and get back in line.
Rehearsal ends at 3 pm sharp. In the midst of dancers pushing, shoving, screaming and cursing, I strip off my sweaty leotards and slippers, towel my chest, underarms and face and pull on khakis and a freshly pressed white broadcloth button down. I heave my scuffed dance bag over my shoulder. I wonder if my career will be over if someone finds out? I head through the aisle clogged with leggy dancers stretching, bickering, primping and posturing. The rush to the stage door is like someone left the tiger’s cage door open. I charge through with the others.
I am instantly engulfed by a stinky, muggy New York summer afternoon. Walking by the newsboy I notice the headlines proclaiming German Army Masses on the Polish Border. I hesitate to stare at the black, smudged letters. Behind the newsstand, taxis belch thick black exhaust smoke. Their bumpers hard kiss like lovers who are no longer in love. The stairway to the Lexington Avenue subway is clogged with the herd of day workers pushing down colliding with the night shift ascending. Twenty minutes later I emerge from the stifling stench and deafening din of the “E” Train. The five-block walk up Madison to Lynes’ studio between 53rd and 54th takes me by the windows of New York’s elegant clothiers. Looking like a vagrant with my dance bag I still walk up Madison without hesitation in my step. My stomach is churning and I can smell my body seeping through the fabric of my clean shirt. “What will he think?” I keep walking. My head is erect. I glance at the shirts and trousers in the Brooks Brothers window. I stop in front in the solo window at the Cole-Haan boutique. Longingly I imagine my feet in the soft caramel and white travelers prominent in the display. I think, “Perhaps I will buy them with the money Mr. Lynes might pay me…No. I need food. My rent is due. Dancing does not pay enough.”
The highly polished brass plate against the freshly painted doorframe states the obvious — George Platt Lynes, Photographer. My index finger hesitates before I press the brass buzzer. A rich baritone voice responds, “Yes?”
“Nick Magallanes. I am here to see Mr. Lynes.”
“When the buzzer sounds, push the door open and come up.” His tone assumes I have never been buzzed into a building before. I almost turn around, thinking, “I know this is going to backfire on me. It’s my luck.”
My clammy right fist turns the brass knob. I trudge up the two flights of stairs careful to keep my bag from scraping the walls. I step into a small anteroom. Framed photos of women with long necks and slender fingers accented by elegant, shimmering jewelry dressed in black and white evening gowns cover the forest green walls. Radiant lights from different angles highlight the subjects’ faces. Each looks directly into the camera’s eye as if she is looking through the camera lens into outer space. I stand waiting.
A door opens. A dark haired man six feet tall extends his right hand and says, “Hello, I’m George.”
“My pleasure, Mr. Lynes.”
Irritated he snorts, “I am not Mr. Lynes. I assist. You know Pavel. He suggested that Mr. Lynes photograph you.”
“I’ve never done anything like this before.”
“Loosen up,” he says. “Don’t worry, he will make this easy. Follow me.” Five steps down a dim hall bright white light spills into the corridor. I notice more photographs on the walls but cannot see the subjects. My heart is pounding. “Put your things in here,” George orders. “Undress…You can leave your underwear on if you feel more comfortable.”
Comfortable is not how I am feeling. I feel a strong urge to find a bathroom. “Bathroom around?”
“I’ll show you when we go into the studio.” I undress and pile my clothes on top of my bag. “If I am going to be photographed naked I might as well get used to it,” I think as my underpants with a prominent tear slide down to the floor. In the mirror-wall I practice striking poses. Mr. Lynes steps into the dressing room, surprising me. He has a handsome smile with an athletic build. I imagined a stocky man with unruly hair like the photographer who took my audition pictures. Mr. Lynes is dressed in pressed black silk trousers and a soft blue pullover with two pearl buttons. I cannot turn away from his gaze reflected in the mirror.
“Hello, I am George Lynes. Save some of those poses for the camera.” He smiles. “Pavel tells me you are becoming a fine dancer. He also said you would be right. I agree with his taste.”
“Mr. Tchelitchew introduced me to Mr. Kirstein. I was walking on 3rd Avenue and Pavel just came up and asked me if I wanted to become a dancer. To tell the truth he frightened me. I had studied dance but had stopped training. I never seriously considered becoming a dancer or anything, really. I was only fifteen. I followed him that afternoon straight to Mr. Kirstein who introduced me to Mr. Balanchine. That was two years ago. Now all day long Mr. B yells at me. I hope I make it.” Mr. Lynes listens politely to my nervous chatter.
“When you are ready, step into the studio.” I follow him. After my bathroom break he positions me leaning against a table.
I am aware that flashes are exploding. I hear Mr. Lynes saying, “A little more teeth. Eyes toward my hand. Shoulders relaxed.”
I react instinctually and answer, “Yes, sir.”
Mr. Lynes directs George to move the shadow lamp, before saying, “Nick, what are you rehearsing?”
“I am dancing in Mr. Balanchine’s premiere of Jeu de Cartes. I love the music Mr. Stravinsky wrote. Mr. Kirstein commissioned the score.”
“I had the privilege of entertaining Mr. Kirstein and Mr. Stravinsky in my home. Wonderful night; Stravinsky played for us. Move your legs to this side of the table. Turn your head to the left. Drop your eyes.” He looks through the lens and back at me. “Kirstein and I vacation on Fire Island with his wife and friends.”
I think, “It is only because of Mr. Kirstein’s friendship with you that I agreed to do these pictures.” There is no more talking; just fifteen minutes of modeling, lighting adjustments and cartridge changes. Toward the end of the first set, Lynes walked forward and with his right hand gently pushed my head down and pulled my chin forward. His hand was soft and smooth. “Place your left hand palm down on the table.” I wonder what will happen to the pictures. I hope they will not appear in one of those muscle men magazines. My eyes must have glazed over with fear because he says, “Come back to earth, Nick.”
“George fetch Nick a Coca Cola. We’ll take a five minute break.” Mr. Lynes must have read my mind because he says, “Nicholas, you should not worry. These pictures will be handled discreetly. A famous patron of the arts loves to see the beautiful bodies of handsome young dancers. She is very sensitive. Move your body slightly left. Lean back and look straight into the camera.” There are multiple clicks. He steps forward and takes my chin in his right hand again. This time he pulls it toward the camera. He steps back for more clicks and flashes. George hands me the soda pop. I take one long drink until it is gone.
“Now, Nick I want you lie back on the table and roll your body onto your left hip.” Sweat is forming on my upper lip. More sweat drips from my armpits. My butt is sticking to the table.
“Do you have a towel or I will get one out of my bag?” Sweat is gushing from every pore. I am nervous but now more hot than nervous. George doesn’t speak, walks to a lacquer cart and picks up a folded terry towel and pitches it to me. I mop myself as I sprawl on the tabletop completely exposed. George and Mr. Lynes stand staring at me whispering to each other.
Mr. Lynes steps toward me. “Nick, pull your right leg up and let it fall toward your left knee. Put your hands behind your head and turn your head toward the camera. I need you to pull your dick and balls out. Encourage them,” he smiles. Self-consciously I fluff. Reaction is swift. Mr. Lynes doesn’t seem satisfied and continues to turn and push me into contorted positions. His touch puts me at ease.
“Nick, we are finished. Thank you.” He takes the cartridges and steps away from me. I assume I am to get dressed and start to move to the dressing room. He turns, “No stay here I will be back in a few minutes. We need to talk.” Sitting in the empty studio naked and sweating, I mop my forehead and upper lip. No clock is visible but I feel another twenty minutes passes. I walk around looking at photographs that cover one wall. I recognize Mr. Kirstein. I am standing with my hands on my hips and my feet slightly apart when Mr. Lynes enters. “I like that stance. We will use that next time. Will there be a next time, Nick?”
“I am fine with it. Will I be able to see the photographs some time?”
“I don’t see why not.”
“I kinda liked being photographed. I didn’t know how it would feel without any clothes on. I like it.”
“You are proud of your body and should be. You have good proportions and few blemishes. I’ll let you know when the prints are ready. Maybe we can share a meal next time?” he says smiling at me.
“You can always reach me at the dance studio.”
“Get dressed. George has some money for the sitting. I hope it’s enough.”
I start toward the dressing room. Mr. Lynes places his smooth hand on my shoulder and slides his hand down my back and over my butt. “Nice.”
I shiver. I know that I will have to decide next time if there is more to this arrangement than pictures. I do not have to worry today. I am happy I did the sitting. I dress and meet George at the front door where he hands me an envelope with twenty dollars in it. I think, “What an easy way to make twenty dollars.” I walk slowly toward the subway passing Cole-Haan again. “Maybe the shoes are not out of the question. But not today.”
1 Mr. B — George Balanchine, the famous ballet instructor and choreographer for the American Ballet Company and later the New York City Ballet from the 1940’s until his death in 1983.