Occupational Hazard

Culture Features Literature Stories

Photo 1
Two sun-freckled teenagers stand in a grassy field. The boy, six inches taller than the girl, drapes his arm around her shoulders. A flash is reflected in the boy’s sunglasses like a tiny explosion. The girl leans into the boy’s chest while he signals `hang loose’ with his left hand. They each wear silver crucifixes and matching yellow T-shirts that read CAMP EVERGREEN in a sloping, loopy font.  

Ethan crouches in the aisle of the church and readjusts the aperture settings on his camera. He checks his battery levels one last time and takes a few quick shots of the sanctuary to test his flash. He’s ready. When the organ music begins an expectant hush washes over the congregation. People crane to look.

The first bridesmaid appears in the entranceway and Ethan bounces his finger rhythmically on the shutter button. She’s crying. He slings his camera over his shoulder and grabs his backup, the one with the zoom lens. From twenty feet away he focuses on a single mascara-strained tear as it dribbles down her cheek.

The green dresses look great in this light. Ethan darts to the opposite side of the aisle during the wait for the next entrance. He pivots to shoot a quick series of the groom and his groomsmen. The best man leans over to whisper something and Ethan captures their conspiratorial smiles.

The second bridesmaid clutches the flowers a little too close to her face. Ethan stands up to get a clear shot over them. She seems self-conscious, her eyes scanning back and forth, but he waits patiently until her gaze returns to the altar. Click. As she passes him he gets a macro shot of her hands as they squeeze the bouquet.

Then Katrina appears. No one told him she was going to be here, but of course it makes sense. He pauses for a moment, looks up from his camera, and wonders if he sees her eyes flit in his direction. His breath catches. Then he snaps the shutter and captures her embarrassed smile. He recognizes it, even after six years.

One long strand of brown hair hangs in Katrina’s face, but she puffs it away. Ethan gets a series of action shots as she walks down the aisle. People coo and whisper around her. He reminds himself that he’s a professional. She passes within arm’s reach, then he whips back to be ready for the bride. Around him, the entire congregation rumbles to their feet.

Photo 2
The same pair, but slightly older, are in a freshly painted apartment. Battered cardboard boxes are piled on the carpet. The boy grins in the foreground, a blue streak of paint across his forehead. His arm reaches out of the shot, holding the camera. The girl is in the background, doubled over in laughter, clutching a rolling paintbrush against her chest.

The ceremony is the most challenging part of the day. Ethan needs to make sure he’s not blocking the congregation’s view, or getting in the way of the service, but he can’t miss a single moment. While he manoeuvres around the altar he makes sure to tread lightly across the carpet.

Ethan prefers outdoor weddings, but it’s a bright day and the stained glass windows cast a warm ambience. The ceremony is religious, and there are a number of hymns and readings from scripture. He shoots a kindly old woman, perhaps an aunt, as she reads a Bible verse from Corinthians. Then he captures her hugging the bride.

He steps forward to get a tight shot when the groom slips the wedding ring on the bride’s finger. When the pastor announces, in a rhapsodic flourish, that the groom may kiss the bride, Ethan takes twenty shots in rapid succession. These will be a crucial addition to the wedding album. Afterwards, he shoots the couple beaming at the congregation, their eyes squeezed into jubilant slits.

Ethan wonders if Katrina is watching him. She must be. While the pastor’s voice booms across the sanctuary, Ethan frames some wide-angle shots of the wedding party. He pauses for a moment to check Katrina’s left hand for a wedding band. Her ring finger is naked. When the pastor invites everyone to join him in prayer, the members of the wedding party bow their heads in obedient unison. Ethan sees a flicker of hesitation in Katrina’s face. She exhales through her nose slowly and closes her eyes. He knows exactly how she feels. Ethan lets his camera rest against his chest. He crosses his arms in respect, and waits for the pastor to finish. He casually surveys the crowded pews. He notices a young boy sitting beside his grandmother in the front row, fidgeting. For a moment Ethan fixates on the child, composing a shot in his head. But then he forces himself to look away.

Photo 3
Black and white. The girl lays on her stomach in the grass with her left hand propping up her face. Her small silver ring is barely visible. She gazes into the camera affectionately, but doesn’t smile. The close-up accentuates the pale scar in her eyebrow. She wears a jean skirt and a black tank top, her legs bent up to reveal her bare feet. It’s a cloudy day.

After the ceremony everyone gathers in the grass. Ethan hustles around. He asks people to lean this way or look that way. He carefully arranges them so he can get the steeple in the background, or the garden. Sometimes he eclipses them against the sky. He imagines how these shots will turn out in black and white. Or sepia.

The wedding party drives down to Stanley Park. Ethan lugs his tripod under his arm, sets up special lights and dumps a bag of extra flashes and lenses on the ground beside him. He corrals his subjects efficiently, swapping people in and out. He arranges them in neat rows, but also tries to capture the candid moments as the family chatters.

“Okay, just the bride’s side for this one,” he says, and then later “Okay, groom’s side now.”

He gets the bridesmaids to walk across the field in a posse, to jump into the air, to gather around the bride and kiss her on the cheek. During a rare break, while he swaps out one of his memory cards, Ethan notices Katrina. She is standing slightly away from the rest of the bridal party, smoking a cigarette and looking out at the harbour. Giant tankers rest on the horizon. He considers taking a shot while she isn’t looking, but instead shoots the bride trying to feed some roaming Canadian geese.

Photo 4
The boy sits in a large cushioned chair with a novel propped in his lap. He has grown a blond beard and is wearing a pair of dark-framed glasses. The apartment has been repainted eggshell white. The photo is slightly crooked and one of the boy’s legs is mistakenly cropped out. In the background are more framed photos of the boy and the girl, including one taken at the top of the Grouse Grind.

The reception is at a dance hall on Granville Island, and Ethan drinks a few too many rye and gingers during dinner. His photos start to get sloppy. He stares at the head table and tries to pinpoint how Katrina has changed since he saw her last. Her hair is darker now and she has an hourglass tattoo on her ankle. Maybe she’s gained some weight.

Ethan looks outside and watches the sky turn orange. He eats quickly, so he can shoot all of the speeches. One of the groom’s brothers is drunk and after a meandering monologue he tries to kiss the bride. Ethan uses his zoom lens to capture her look of revulsion, and then the groom’s scowling face. Though perfectly composed, these pictures won’t end up in the wedding album.

The tables get rolled away. The bride dances with her father as Ethan careens through the crowd. Sweaty bodies surge against him but he holds his camera high over his head and pushes his way to the front. He gets a shot of the bride’s hands behind her father’s neck. A mirror ball casts jagged shadows across their faces, but Ethan takes a perfect photo of her father wiping away a tear with the back of his hand.

When the dance floor opens up Ethan climbs up on a table and shoots the crowd, their flailing arms reaching into the air. The flash illuminates the dark dance floor. Katrina bounces through the crowd at his feet. He sneaks a few shots of her twirling, her green dress whipping around her. He gets another with her arm wrapped around the bride’s neck as the two of them laugh.

Ethan mops the sweat from his forehead and wipes it off on his pant leg. It’s been a long day. The little boy he noticed earlier dances with his grandmother. Ethan stops for moment to watch. The boy giggles as he kicks out his legs and waves his arms above his head. Then he loses his balance and sinks to the ground. Ethan watches the boy sniffle. The grandmother scoops him up and carries him away.

Photo 5
The girl sits on a large leather couch, surrounded by colourful presents. She is wearing a baggy floral dress and her silver crucifix necklace. There is a twisted, chaotic pile of wrapping paper at her feet. The boy leans behind her from the arm of the couch, his hand resting on her pale shoulder. He watches as she pulls a small knitted baby jumper from a box. Her brown hair hangs around her face and her mouth hangs open in a triumphant smile.  

Ethan takes a break at the bar and sips some water while he scrolls through his photos. The LCD display leaves him with sepulchral shadows floating across his vision like spirits. A few stragglers are still dancing, but most people are slumped at the tables chatting. He’s almost done for the day. Katrina saunters across the dance floor, stops to hug a friend, then pads right up to him like they haven’t been avoiding each other this whole time. Ethan blinks at her for an interminable few seconds while she smirks. She’s taken off her shoes and one sweaty strand of hair is stuck across her shimmering forehead. Ethan can smell white wine.

“You want to go for a smoke?” she asks.

They walk outside to a small dock. Ethan hands her a Djarum, then lights it. Her face glows from the flame. Twenty feet away a few other people from the reception laugh and gossip. Katrina looks down at her feet, out at the sunset or in towards the party, but never in his direction. He studies her face and sees the faint white scar in her eyebrow.

“Remember what you used to say about these?” she says. “How they taste like Christmas?”

Ethan can’t think of anything to say. They stand silently for a while, watching the smoke evaporate over the water. The waves gently lick the shore as the sky gets dark. He thinks about offering his coat, but decides against it. Katrina doesn’t seem to notice the chill.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been inside a church,” she says. She directs a thin trail of smoke out the side of her mouth. “A really long time.”

“Me too,” he says.

Katrina looks at him suddenly, and for a moment he thinks she’s going to cry. He remembers the way her hair used to smell, and the warm nudging he could feel under her skin when he pressed his cheek to her distended belly. Ethan bites his lip and thinks of all the different things he’s been waiting to say. He thinks of the moments that don’t make it into photo albums.

“Can I take your picture?” he asks.

Photo 6
The girl holds one hand to her bulging stomach in the living room of the apartment. Outside the window it is raining. Her hair is pulled messily up into a bun, but long strands hang loose around her face. She wears a pair of brightly coloured Tasmanian Devil boxer shorts and a white tank top. She looks exhausted and glares sideways at the camera.

The next morning Ethan swoops his arm under the sheets. Katrina isn’t there. He grumbles to himself, then stumbles to the bathroom and splashes some tap water on his face. He pops some Tylenol and slurps greedily from the faucet. As he lurches down the carpeted staircase to his kitchen, he looks for traces of her presence. But there are none.

Images from the previous day float into his consciousness. He thinks about the pictures at Stanley Park. The writhing crowd of dancers. He remembers a follow-focus shot he took of the bride leaning out of the limo at the end of the night. Around her everything is blurred, but her mouth gapes open in a giddy smile as she waves goodbye. When he puts together the wedding album, he might use that as the cover.

All over the house, Ethan has pictures on his walls. Some are stretched on canvas and others are framed. Many are from his travels, and a number of them are macro shots of ocean stones and sea life. He keeps a picture of his parents in the living room, and a black and white portrait of his sisters in the front hallway. He resists the urge to go into his study. In the bottom of a desk drawer, under a pile of old scrapbooks, he keeps an album with pictures of Katrina. One of these days he wants to throw it away.

Downstairs he brews some coffee. He flips through the channels on the TV for a few minutes, then switches it off and walks out to his porch. It’s a grey morning. He opens his laptop and fiddles with his camera, plugging it into the USB port and then resting it in his lap. He starts uploading the pictures. He watches as they appear and disappear before his eyes.

Photo 7
The woman looks into the camera, bemused. She cocks her head to one side and leans against a pock-marked wooden railing. Dark waves stretch out behind her. Her green dress is ruffled and one strap hangs off her shoulder. A glowing cigar dangles from her fingers as the sky silhouettes her half-smiling face. The picture is under exposed and her features are obscured in shadow.