“…as the photography exhibit opens, it’ll be sure to create a controversy of standards and question its acceptance.”
My wife, Emma, gawked at me from the Lazy Boy as if a balloon had gone off in her face. “Did you see that?” she asked in a shrill tone.
“Yeah, but I’m not sure what,” I responded. The disgusting images were blurred out by the TV broadcaster, censored. As if we’d never seen them before.
“That idiot photographer. The ridiculous pictures. You should be shocked.”
I’m a photographer by profession, laboring at Raymond’s Studio, taking wedding pictures and trying to make brats smile, and trying to break out. I was extremely disappointed watching the newscast.
Emma sighed. “The Canada Council turned you down for the grant and that, that…shitter-shutter,” she thrust the remote at the TV, “got your money.”
My grant application was for a coffee table book project on endangered or threatened Canadian wildlife. A worthy project I think, with nation-wide appeal. Not cutting edge enough. No boundaries pushed.
But Phillip Prima did all that. He photographed pictures of shit; feces in all their glory, amid various surroundings. Did the world really need this?
I sure as hell didn’t want to work at Raymond’s, for Raymond, with Raymond, forever. I sat back in my chair, nursing a beer, trying to dissipate an expanding black cloud. I imagined what should be my beautifully photographed book, its creatures, and the great impact it would have as people flipped its lovely pages.
And now this. Of all the subjects in the world to pick from, feces, stools, droppings, shit, hadn’t ever crossed my mind. The phone rang, bringing my imaginary hands from a Canada Council bureaucrat’s neck.
“Hey, Max. You watching the news?”
Adrian was my occasional buddy, a pony-tailed artiste. Surreal sketches were his bread and butter: black and whites of other worlds, alien landscapes, and mysterious midnight scenes. Adrian rode the poverty line most of the year. He haunted Trekkie conventions.
“I’m thinkin’ of doing urine. Sprays, waterfalls, golden showers,” he deadpanned.
“Sure, Adrian. One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind, right?”
“Right into the toilet. That’s what it’ll say on my grant application,” he said, with sarcasm. “I gotta get off the Trekkie circuit, those people are so serious. I do up a nice alien cityscape and they want to know precisely where this is in the universe. They have no imagination.”
“So, what do you want, Adrian?”
“I’d like to see how Mr. Prima spent your grant money, buddy.”
I stood and grabbed my jacket.
“Walk JoJo before you go out,” said Emma. “Take a bag.”
Adrian picked me up in his rusted blue beater. For an artist he was a decent mechanic and the ugly car ran surprisingly well. We cruised under April sunshine to the art gallery. I envisioned Prima’s photos gracing the walls of common folks’ homes. My jaw muscle twitched.
“Who is this Prima guy, Adrian? You familiar with his work?”
“Sure am, every single morning.” He raised an eyebrow. “You, too.”
“What I’d like to know is how does one put shit in a good light? I mean, make it respectable?”
“His grant application had to be one slick sales job, alright.”
At the gallery, an easel stood in the lobby boldly proclaiming the attraction:
A Phillip Prima exhibit
A ticket-taker barred our way.
“We have to pay to see this shit?” I asked. “You take Canadian Tire money? You can buy a shovel with it,” I thumbed in the direction of the exhibit, “for this.”
Adrian frowned, and paid. Inside, we viewed scores of photographs along with many people who examined them instead of running away holding their noses.
Turds lay on grass ‘nesting’. Long skinny ones lay vertically against a parking barrier juxtaposed with hi-rise buildings. Some kind of message…I have no idea. Some feces were enhanced with varying lights and filters: ‘blue moon’ and ‘gold shooter.’
“Max, c’mere,” called Adrian, pointing at a photo.
My blood boiled. I stood before one of a Bengal tiger defecating, entitled ‘Endangered’.
“You alright there, Max?”
I curled my fists. My hand went into my pocket and JoJo’s doggy droppings bag.
“Max! Are you crazy?”
“No.” I smeared my doggie’s feces across the wall. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, Adrian.”
“Think anyone will notice?”
Two weeks later Adrian called. “It’s still there, Max. JoJo’s getting a supporting credit.”