“PORTRAITS AFTER THE CAMERA” by ROBERT BROTON

An old man woke every morning to look at his disease-ravaged face in the mirror. A servant once saw the ritual and told him, “Master, it’s only a painting! You look healthier than ever.” Nonetheless, the old man was dead by the year’s end.

-From The Epigrams of Dr. Neste

 

Our city, with its short white buildings, it pyramid roofs, its copper cupolas, its black windows deep as neglected ponds, seemed a Bosch painting.

We found tremendous views at the city park. It was on a tall, wide hall with a flat top and carefully planted trees. From its east side the hill declined into suburbs of white bungalows with crimson shutters, which thinned into country neighborhoods of dusty yards, which ran to the side of a black ridge. Sitting at our benches on yellow days, we saw the tiny houses, their brown fields undulating in the cool fumes of fall. Tiny coal-fires lit the ridge like smoky stars on the night sky. White birds flew in front of the ridge like bits of paper from a book-burning.

In October the painter Gauron came. He stood, with his canvas and easel, between a privet hedge and a beech carved with obscenities.

He offered to paint our portraits for a mild fee. Most refused him, as the camera had rendered his skill an affectation. His dubious appearance did not inspire our confidence either. He had short-cut black hair and pocked cheeks. He went in yellowed shirtsleeves and dungarees that trailed threads.

He is not a gentleman, we said. Continue reading