[personal profile] maayacolabackup










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It’s called a flashbulb memory. It’s when all the elements: her teary eyes, her nails painted pearl pink; the polka-dotted blouse with puffy sleeves that she’d bought two years earlier from a street vendor and still fit her; the way her voice had quavered as Yixing had lifted up the camera to take her photograph, because he wanted to always remember the way she’d looked so full of love as he stepped away from her to board a plane she wasn’t boarding… as if he could possibly ever forget.

A flashbulb memory is not just the event, but the emotional connection to event; the quickened pulse and prickling at the corner of the eyes that comes with an image that’s carved into your mind like it’s a negative. It’s that emotional connection—that’s what a photograph grabs onto and pulls at. That’s what a photograph, a good photograph, is tapping into.

What separates a photograph from a flashbulb memory is not its permanence. Both of them cling to the recesses of memory and remain forever embedded in a personal history that is inescapable.

The human memory is imperfect. After three months, maybe the accuracy would have faded, and the non-important details would blur, and maybe he’d only recall the pulse of fear or the slow sting of sadness and the color of her eye-shadow but maybe not whether her lipstick was shiny or matte.

But a photograph… Yixing sometimes looks at that photograph on his wall, and it’s like being punched in the gut all over again; a vague, disembodied hand reaching into his insides and squeezing hard enough to turn everything to mush. His throat goes dry, too, because he can remember the sanitized smell of the airport and the feeling of her hand, even smaller than his own, slipping from where he’d linked them together in goodbye.

Yixing cherishes that photograph as much as he hates it.

Sometimes, when he looks down at the prints he’s made of Jongin, jaw thrust forward and smirk on his face, Yixing remembers how he’d taunted Jongin; how he’d dared Jongin to surprise him, and he’s filled with a strange sort of terror that he could come to hate these pictures too.

Yixing doesn’t photograph people; not just because photographing people might steal a piece of their soul, but because it steals a piece of Yixing’s soul, too, and crystallizes moments that Yixing sometimes wishes he could forget.



#



To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event.-Henri Cartier Bresson



#



There’s no road or quicksand. Just Yixing in a dark room.

On the floor around him are all the pictures he took for his first book, and his first exhibit. He hasn’t looked at them in five years but he remembers all of them.

Slowly the pictures change, to pictures of Jongin, now, of the past five months.

“Hurry up, Zhang Yixing!” she says, and he looks up from the photos.

He wakes up curled in an armchair, camera heavy in his lap.



TIP 08



Take pictures of hands or noses or… the abstraction sometimes says more about the individual than a regular shot of their face might.

A freckle or a mole, the curve of a mouth.

Sometimes a little part tells a better story than the entire object.

One of Yixing’s favorite photos turns out to be a picture of Jongin’s nose --”my worst feature!”-- scrunched up in a little bit of frustration as he struggles to feed an American dollar into a vending machine.

You can’t see the vending machine, or the fluff of Jongin’s hair, or any of that, but you can see the playful irritation, and it’s a look that’s so completely Jongin that Yixing can think of twenty times he’s seen him do it, and that’s a bigger story.

“Stop fidgeting,” Yixing had said, and then Jongin had shoved him lightly and chuckled loudly.

“I don’t fidget,” he’d replied, and Yixing’s stomach had flopped as Jongin’s eyes had shifted through every shade of brown.



#



There's something lush and decadent in the slope of Jongin's neck; the way it catches the light and pulls it in. Yixing can't seem to look away from the impossibly perfect line of his jaw, or the rich swell of his lower lip. Jongin almost swallows the ambient light, tugging it kicking and screaming into shadows and the dark ends of contrast, and Yixing is mesmerized by him.

There is a photograph of Kai on the cover of Nylon when Yixing stops in the convenience store to buy a Vita500. Yixing picks it up, the glossy pages heavy in his hands. He studies the curve of Jongin's mouth, and Jongin's dark brown eyes stare back at him from beneath his dark fringe. Yixing feels like Kai is staring at him directly.

He looks like a stranger in this picture to Yixing, too, and Yixing sets the magazine back down, because even though all the things Yixing loves are visible in the picture, the image is flat.

It just makes Yixing want to take more photos of his own, and he knows Jongin will let him.



#



“What do you think?”

“Are these all for the photo book?” Kris asks, setting the envelope down on the empty desk in the back as he thumbs through the photos.

“There are almost enough,” Yixing says. “I think my next trip to Korea will finish up the project.”

“These are amazing,” Kris says. “These aren’t like idol photographs at all. This is gallery-quality work.”

“Jongin is not just an idol,” Yixing says, and Kris peeks up through his bangs in consideration.

“I see.”

“Do they…” Yixing wonders if he should ask. “The photos… do they look black and white to you?”

“What do you mean?”

Yixing wants to know if Kris can see if all the colors of Jongin in the shades of grayscale. If he can see the pinks and purples and browns and golds in Jongin’s smiles and laughs and nervous lip bites.

“Never mind,” Yixing says, and Kris lets the subject drop, going from picture to picture as a comfortable silence falls between them.



#



In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality. – Alfred Stieglitz



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Yixing's never been to a music video set.

Everything's bright and harried and Sehun whines as they rush him into a new costume. Zitao is quietly focused, pulling on his shirt, shredded beyond what actually constitutes a shirt, in Yixing's opinion, and pats Sehun on the back whenever his pout gets too fierce.

Jongin is like a hyper child, bouncing from heel to toe, and Chanyeol is on the phone on the other side of the set, talking so loud Yixing hears the majority of his conversation despite the face that the dressing room door is barely cracked.

Jongin's brought his dogs, and they curl up by Yixing's feet as Yixing squats and takes photos of the make-up artists touching up Jongin's eyeliner and dotting the sweat from his face. Still, Jongin is moving, and Yixing thinks one of the make-up artists looks a little bit frustrated, even as the other one keeps giving him besotted glances.

"Three minutes!" The director shouts almost loud enough to cover up Chanyeol, and Yixing smiles a little as he takes a picture of Jongin shrugging on his jacket.

"Do I look cool now?" Jongin asks, and Yixing knows he's referring to that time on the balcony with the cigarette.

"Never," Yixing says with a deceiving smile, and Sehun snorts.

"I like him," Sehun says, jerking a thumb at Yixing. "He understands your abject failure at not being weird."

"Shut up." Jongin shoves him, and Baekhyun hisses from the other side of the room.

"Kai, if you mess up Sehun's jacket I'll kill you."

"Why do Jongin and Sehun get jackets and i don't?" Zitao asks. "I feel naked."

Baekhyun raises an eyebrow. "Are you actually complaining?"

"No," Zitao says with a smirk. "I just thought we at least pretended like I wasn't the most attractive member-"

Sehun steps on Zitao's foot, hard enough to send a message, and Jongin laughs behind his hands.

Yixing takes another picture because Jongin's laugh is so effortless and easy like this. He wonders if Jongin's hands will be a blur, when the picture is developed, or if you'll be able to see the wrinkle of his knuckles and the creases around his eyes. Sometimes Yixing gets it right. He hopes this is one of those times.

"One more scene," Baekhyun says, and he swats Sehun's backside. "Go."

"Yes, sir!" And then they're walking out, back onto the set. The song is playing on repeat in the background, and Yixing feels like he's gone from hating it to being addicted to it, some bizarre form of Pavlovian conditioning that clearly works on Korean teenagers.

"He likes you so much," Baekhyun says, as Yixing stands, preparing to walk out after them.

"What-"

"Kai... no, Jongin... he's not a person who gives his affection lightly. He's not as good with people as he pretends to be."

"I know," Yixing says.

"That's probably why he likes you," Baekhyun says thoughtfully. "Because you see him and not... he said, right after he'd first met you, that you treated him like a person and not an idol. That you'd seemed interested in him, and not just in his face."

"I've seen a lot of pretty faces," Yixing admits. "But not as many pretty faces with secrets." Yixing licks his lips. Jongin had told him some of those secrets. Yixing had felt like he'd scaled a wall. The pictures he'd taken that day were the best ones yet.

"Don't-" Baekhyun pauses, thin fingers tapping his cheek thoughtfully. "Never mind."

"Never mind what?" Yixing asks. He squints, until Baekhyun goes blurry, but he doesn't find any missing parts of the image.

"How close are you to being done with the photo book?"

"Maybe one more session, after this." Yixing scratches his neck. The music outside the dressing room starts playing louder. Yixing thinks that means they're filming again. "Then I'll select the photos and send them to Jongin and Chanyeol for approval."

"And then what happens?" Baekhyun asks. "Are you finished with Jongin?"

Yixing's mind stops moving forward. He stares at Baekhyun, mouth open slightly, and Baekhyun nods.

"You hadn't thought about it?"

"No," Yixing says. "I can be forgetful like that."

Baekhyun's words echo in his head for the rest of the afternoon. "Are you finished with Jongin?"

It makes his stomach lurch. Yixing wonders if he'll ever really be done with Jongin. If he'll ache to stare at him through a camera lens when he sees him on television, too far away to lean his warm cheek on Yixing's shoulder.

The last one makes him pause. He pushes the thought away, and snaps a photo as Jongin reaches out towards the camera, outstretched hand begging for the viewer to come closer.

The director does Zitao's solo shots, and then Sehun's, until it's only Yixing and Jongin left on set.

When they're through, Yixing follows Jongin back into the dressing room, watching as he strips out of his costume and changes into jeans and a T-shirt.

"I'm headed out," Baekhyun says, and both Yixing and Jongin wave goodbye as he rolls the costume rack out, already chatting with someone on his mobile. Chanyeol pops his head in to say he's leaving too.

"Don't do anything reckless that will cause a scandal I have to fix," Chanyeol says.

"It's been seven years since we met, and five since I've debuted," Jongin says. "How many scandals?"

"Two," Chanyeol says promptly. "And both of them were made up by the paparazzi." Chanyeol sighs. "I was hoping for your sake that the Krystal one was true."

"She's not my type," Jongin says with a tiny laugh, face flushing as he shoots Yixing a worried glance. Yixing is silent, just twisting the lens on his camera absently as Chanyeol excuses himself to yet another ring of his mobile.

"He could raise the dead with that voice," Jongin mumbles, and grabs a wet towel, wiping down his face as Yixing watches. Yixing likes watching Jongin; the way he moves, off stage, reminds Yixing of the kind of soft meadows with tall grass, rustling and waving in a gentle wind.

"Are you finished with Jongin?"

“You wanna grab dinner after this?” Jongin is standing next to the counter, where Yixing’s laid his camera bag. He’s poking through it—he has a tendency to do that, but Yixing doesn’t mind. Lu Han’s been doing it since the day they met and Jongin doesn’t ask questions about everything he finds.

“Yes.” Yixing doesn’t have plans tonight. He’d been unsure how long something like this usually goes. He’s surprised they’re wrapping up so quickly. He’s tired anyway, and he imagines Jongin must be even more so, since Yixing’s just been standing out of the way of the bright music video lights and Jongin’s been dancing under them.

“This camera looks so old.”

"It was my grandfather's camera," Yixing says, and Jongin's touch becomes just a little more reverent. "I learned how to take pictures on that camera. I still use it."

“I mean, I figured, since you brought it here.”

“Some people carry things for sentimental reasons, right?”

"Not something this big. It's a little large, though, for a kid to hold?"

"A lot different from the slim digital cameras you can buy at any electronics store, right?"

"Yeah," Jongin says. "It's so heavy and different. But not too different from the big one you lug around when we take photos outside."

"My fingers barely reached the shutter." Yixing laughs, and steps closer to Jongin, so that his chest bumps Jongin's arm. As usual, Jongin is radiating heat. He’s sweaty and gross from dancing, so Yixing figures he’s at least come by it honestly, this time. "I think I only managed through stubbornness."

"Oh?" Jongin asks, and his voice is tight. "Sheer stubbornness, huh?" Jongin looks up from the camera to meet Yixing's gaze. "Teach me?"

"Teach you what?"

"How to take a picture."

"You already know how to do that," Yixing says, and Jongin sucks his lower lip into his mouth.

"I know how to pick up a camera and press a shutter," Jongin says. "But I can't... I don't understand what you see, when you look through the viewfinder. I don't get what you're looking for."

"I'm looking for a story," Yixing says. "That's all." Jongin is still staring at him, and Yixing's chest feels tight. It's not a familiar feeling. It's been a long time since his stomach has twisted up in knots like this, and Yixing moves even closer to Jongin, almost behind him, and wraps his arms around Jongin's waist, setting his hands on top of Jongin's on the camera. "You're too tall."

"You're too short." Jongin says, but it sounds strange. Yixing's heart is beating quickly, too quickly, and he wonders if Jongin can feel the pounding of it, through his already sweat-damp T-shirt. "What's this do?"

"That's the aperture," Yixing says. "It’s… It’s a lens diaphragm. It regulates how much light passes through to the film, when you press the shutter." He swallows, thickly, and lets his index finger drag along Jongin's. Jongin shivers under the touch. "You move it like this." Yixing pushes on Jongin’s finger along the wheel until the notch stops on 2.8. “I almost always use 2.8 for you.”

“Why?”

“So I can increase the shutter speed. You fidget.”

"No I don’t," Jongin says. "I just don’t freeze in place like you." He laughs, and his shoulders shake. Yixing feels it against his chest.

"And this," Yixing slides his other hand across the back of Jongin's, skin dragging across skin, and Jongin's breath hitches, "is the shutter speed."

"That’s how fast the picture takes?" Jongin's voice is a whisper, and the air is heavy. Yixing doesn't know what he's doing, only he wants to press closer; melt into Jongin's back and become part of his skin, but Yixing doesn't know why because this isn't something he knows, like how long to soak photos or how to find the right angle. This is something new, and all the angles seem wrong and the ache in Yixing's chest tells him that he doesn't care.

"It’s… how long the shutter opens up during exposure." Yixing takes a deep breath, and pulls his hands back, letting them ghost up Jongin's sweat-sticky arms before they fall to his sides. “To absorb the available light onto the film.” He takes a step back, and Jongin turns around to look at him, camera held in somewhat shaky hands. "Now you bring the camera up, and look through the viewfinder."

Jongin does, slowly, reluctant to let his eyes leave Yixing's. Yixing feels a sharp pang of relief when the camera cuts in between them. He knows the camera, even if he's used to being on the other side of it. "Like this?"

"Yes." Yixing barely manages to push the word out through his tight throat.

"And then I take the picture?"

"No." Yixing balls his hands into fists. He can still feel the softness of Jongin's skin on his palms, and the light dusting of hair on his forearms that had tickled as Yixing had withdrawn.

The world feels out of focus.

"Then what am I supposed to do?" Jongin asks, and there's a note of pleading in his voice that Yixing doesn't quite understand, but he knows that this isn't just about the picture.

"Think about what you see," Yixing says. "What is it that you're looking at?"

"My photographer," Jongin says, and the possessive marker sends a shiver up Yixing's back, and his nails are digging into the skin of his palms, and it's getting harder to catch his breath.

"What kind of story are you trying to tell?" Yixing asks, voice low. "What are you trying to take a picture of?"

"I don't know," Jongin says. "I have no idea."

"Until you know," Yixing says, "you can't press the shutter."

Jongin lowers the camera, and Yixing reaches forward and takes it from him, pulling it into his hands and out of Jongin's trembling ones. Jongin's eyes are searching, and Yixing's not sure what he's searching for, but Yixing doesn't have any answers. Yixing does have a heat that is clawing its way up out of his belly and into his chest, though, burning his ribs and lungs and trying to crawl out of his throat.

Jongin's hair is falling into his face. Yixing wants to push it away, but his hands are still tingling, the memory of a touch too fresh, and so he lifts the camera and takes a photo instead.

"What did you take a picture of?"

"Wanting," Yixing says, and he thinks, after he says it, that it's the perfect word. The photo is a representation of how much Yixing wants to thread his fingers through Jongin's hair and how much he wants to take a thousand pictures of the curve of Jongin's waist and how much Yixing wants to see all of Jongin; every single piece of him, even the ugly ones he's been trying to hide.

Jongin lets out a shuddering gasp and takes a step back. He trips over his bag, then grabs it, hugging it to his chest and putting space between them. He licks his lips, and opens his mouth to maybe say something, but he doesn’t. He just looks away, and then he turns, grabbing his boots and walking out of the dressing room.

Yixing doesn't realize Jongin's actually gone for a long moment, brain taking a while to process what’s happening as it pushes its way through the tangents and cobwebs of thought, and when he catches up to now, he follows, leaving the camera on a chair in his rush. Jongin is slipping into his footwear, shaking hands fussy with the laces of his boots, and Yixing watches with wide eyes.

"Jongin."

"I'm gonna... I'm gonna go," Jongin says, and he opens the door. The gust of wind is cold, biting Yixing's cheeks as he keeps following. "Rain check on dinner. I'll call you later, okay? And I’ll--" Jongin chokes. “I’ll have a taxi sent to take you back to your hotel, or something.”

"Okay," Yixing says, and he feels like he's going to be sick, because he feels too much, and it feels like Jongin is running away. The door closes behind him, and Yixing stares at the spot where Jongin had been, on the precipice of… of something. And actually, Yixing thinks, maybe it isn’t okay. “Wait. No.”

And the words would be more effective if he sais them to Jongin instead of the door.

Yixing’s coat is back in the dressing room, and outside it’s freezing. He shivers in the winter air, but he keeps following, until they’re down in the parking lot and he’s got Jongin pressed up against his car and looking at him like he’s crazy. “I said no. You wanted to get dinner. You’re driving me home.”

“Go back inside,” Jongin says. “It’s fine. I’m fine. I’m not mad, or anything. I’m just stupid. And you’re even stupider.”

Yixing leans closer, because Jongin is always warm and Yixing is always cold. Jongin’s cheeks are pink, maybe from the wind, and he still refuses to look at Yixing.

“I know,” Yixing says, “but…” He puts his hand on Jongin’s jaw, turning his head so that the light falls along his cheekbones a little softer. And this… this is a Dorothea Lange portrait, gentle and telling and pulling on Yixing’s heart.

He drags his thumb across Jongin’s lips. They’re a soft as they look. Yixing knows the shape with his eyes but he learns it with his finger, and Jongin is the stillest that Yixing’s ever seen him, soft puffs of breath against the pad of his thumb the only sign of movement.

Then Jongin lifts his hand and pulls Yixing’s hand down. “Don’t. Stop.”

“Stop what?” Yixing asks. Jongin’s eyes are so bright, and vibrant, and spilling over with so many things, and Yixing wants to take more photos. Wants to steal every single shadow in Jongin’s eyes so he never has to share them with anyone else.

For a second, Yixing thinks Jongin will push him away, but he doesn’t.

“Stop messing with me,” Jongin says, gruff. “Just because you know that I like-“ He pauses. “Don’t tease me like this.” There’s that bit of plea at the end of the statement, and Yixing feels the heavy, fast beat of his own heart as Jongin leans against the car door.

There’s a moment of indecision, and then Yixing squints, and sees a bigger picture.

Yixing pushes Jongin back against the car door and smiles as Jongin bites his lip. He feels reckless, and his blood is rushing in his ears. It reminds him of Tokyo Tower, and of Times Square, and of the perfect lighting discovered in a Beijing sunset.

"I'm not... messing with you," Yixing says, staring straight into Jongin's eyes. "But I'd… I think I’d like to?"

Jongin swallows. “What does that even mean?” Jongin asks, unsteady voice adding to the dizzy feeling as Yixing curls his hand into Jongin’s shirt, feeling Jongin’s rabbit-quick heartbeat beneath his fingers. Jongin’s not wearing a coat either. It’s January, and maybe they’re both pretty stupid. “Yixing-“

“When you take a photograph,” and Yixing’s voice is shaky too, “you have to be sure. When you release the shutter, it’s because you’ve found the exact moment; the exact emotion you’ve been searching for.” Yixing exhales, and Jongin exhales with him. They breathe in time, and Yixing likes the play of the dim parking garage lights on Jongin’s sable fall of hair, black as spilled ink across the stretch of his neck. “I don’t take photographs until I’m sure of the story.”

Yixing loosens his grip on Jongin’s shirt, and the taller man’s eyes don’t break from his own, pinning him down like he’s a butterfly behind picture-frame glass, and Yixing feels as fixed as one. Maybe his uncertainty and his fear are as clear to Jongin as they are to Yixing, because Jongin’s lips are white with how hard he’s got them pressed together, but he nods.

“Okay,” Jongin says, and he slides out from between Yixing and the car, and Yixing feels even colder. “Okay.”

In silence, they go back upstairs and retrieve coats and bags, and Yixing trembles

As Jongin drives, keeping pace with the traffic as they pass underneath white-hot streetlights, Yixing feels painfully aware of the distance between Jongin’s hand and his thigh as Jongin puts the automatic car into drive, and the silence is huge and unwieldy.

Yixing’s always had rather small hands, and he’s not sure this will be as easy to get a grip on through sheer stubbornness as his grandfather’s old film camera, which Yixing has learned to hold tight with two hands to balance.

When Jongin stops in front of his hotel, he smiles soft and shy at Yixing; the smile that had sunk into Yixing’s skin and buried itself beneath it the first time they’d met.

Yixing’s finger lingers on the shutter button, and the film of his life is flooding with light.

“No dinner?”

“I thought maybe…” Jongin stops. Pauses. “Maybe we could order room service?”

Jongin doesn’t want to be stared at. Jongin’s tired. Jongin longs for the quiet. Those are all reasons that Jongin might want to go up to Yixing’s hotel room. Yixing chews on his lip, and Jongin laughs; nervously, but open and wide. It’s his real laugh, and Yixing’s so glad to see it.

“Why are you laughing?”

Jongin leans across the seat, into Yixing’s space, and Yixing’s not sure what he’s doing until he hears the zipper of his bag. Jongin pulls out Yixing’s old camera, and holds it up to his eye. He doesn’t change the aperture, or the shutter speed, and Yixing can already tell the picture will be too dark, but Yixing doesn’t say anything, just looks into the lens.

Jongin presses down on the shutter.

“What’s the story?”

Jongin takes a deep breath, and hands the camera to Yixing, who takes it with almost numb hands. “Patiently waiting for the right moment,” Jongin says, and Yixing smiles at him, and gently laces their fingers together.


#


Yixing’s darkroom was the first thing he set up when he’d moved here, leaving behind the makeshift studio he’d built in the upstairs of his family home. It used to be an extra washroom, but he’s had it pulled apart, leaving the hot and cold taps and getting rid of the rest of it. There are no windows, and no natural light. Yixing just has a tiny red-light to give him just enough light to see, so he doesn’t spill developer everywhere or miss the right time to stop processing. After he gets the film into the film tank, it’s usually okay to let there be light, but Yixing doesn’t take chances, and he doesn’t always use a film tank, especially if he’s developing negatives separately. This roll, though, was all taken in similar lighting, so he’ll develop the negatives all at once.

The first thing he does is put the film into the developer, opening the film tank to add the chemical. He knows, after all these years, how long to let it agitate, and what the temperature should be for his negatives to come out crisp.

Then he rinses the pictures in water; sometimes he pours in a stop bath, but Yixing’s found that regular water works as well in most cases, especially with his black and white film. After that, he pours in the fixer, and lets the chemicals rinse off the film. He fills the film tank with cold water and lets it sit for five minutes.

When he sets the newly developed negatives out to dry, he hears the door open. He puts the still moist negatives into a dark-box, and leaves the darkroom, opening the door just enough to squeeze out into his studio. His grandmother is standing there, small and hunched, as she looks over his pictures.

“Hi,” Yixing says, and she looks up from the photos to smile at him. “Would you like some tea?”

“I’d love some,” she says, and she sets down some of the photos that she’d lifted to examine more closely, and they walk to the kitchen together, Yixing’s arm easily falling over her shoulders.

“I like your new pictures,” she says, after they’ve both sat down at the kitchen table with warm cups of hongcha between encircled fingers. “There’s a spiritedness to them you’ve been lacking.”

It’s the same thing everyone has been saying for awhile, and when Yixing looks at the photographs, even the ones that aren’t quite right, he thinks he can see it too. He wonders why he’d never noticed, before, that his pictures had become so flat. That when he’d started being scared to take pictures that made him feel too much, he’d started taking pictures that didn’t have that power over anyone else, either.

The pictures he takes of Jongin make Yixing feel like he’s coming apart at the scenes; a messy overflow of emotions he has no choice but to let linger on the photo paper.

“I have more,” Yixing says. “I was about to print them.”

“Would you like some help?” She smiles, taking a sip of tea. “It’s been a few years, but I think I still remember how.”

“It’s a lot easier these days than it used to be,” Yixing says with a laugh.

The negatives are dry. His grandmother, who has followed him into the dark room, closes the door behind her with a soft click.

“This is the new type of enlarger,” Yixing says. He pulls out a sheet of photo paper as his eyes adjust to the safelight, and hands it to his grandmother to hold while he cuts a negative from the strip and places it into the enlarger. He quickly flashes the lamp through the negative onto a piece of scrap paper, and the image projects onto the empty easel below. He adjusts the size of the projection a little; not much because he makes a pretty standard size print to check photos usually. His publisher has him send digital prints for actual production of his books, but for exhibits, Yixing does the prints by hand.

“This looks so easy,” she says. “Back in my day, we had to roll up our sleeves to make a print.”

“It can be even easier if you use a computer,” Yixing tells her, anticipating the scoff before she even utters it.

“Lazy photography,” she says, and Yixing lets her carefully set the photo paper on the easel, fingers only on the edges to prevent smudges or fingerprints.

He turns on the lamp, just long enough to expose the photo paper, and then slides it off the easel and into the developer. His grandmother slides past him, hands on his hips to keep from pushing him into the enlarger in the tight space, and grabs the tongs from the table. After a minute, she pulls the photo out of the developer with the tongs, as Yixing fits a new cutting into the enlarger. She drops the photo in the tray of stop bath, and Yixing fills a tray with fixer as she shakes the tray a bit, tapping her old wrinkled thumb against the edge. Then Yixing takes a second set of tongs and picks the photo up to drop it into the fixer.

They work quietly, until they’ve got twenty prints stacked in a tray of clean water, a little over half of the roll. Yixing turns on his work lamp, and turns on the cold water tap to rinse them. As his grandmother rinses, she hands him the clean prints, and Yixing hangs them on the wire to dry.

“This one,” she says, pausing with her hands cradling the edges of one photo.

“Which one?” Yixing asks, peeking over at her out of the corner of his eye, securing the last photo she’d handed him to the wire with deft, practiced hands. When he’s finished, he turns toward her, placing his hands on her shoulder to look at the photo.

It’s the photo of him. The one Jongin took in the car. It’s a bit blurry and Yixing had known it would be before he’d even exposed it, but seeing it big…

“You look so in love,” she says, and Yixing licks his lips. “I haven’t seen you look like this in a long time.”

Yixing doesn’t reply. He just squeezes her shoulders a bit tighter.

“Who took this picture, Yixing?”

“Jongin,” Yixing says, and his grandmother pauses, before she chuckles. Yixing hadn’t been aware he was nervous, about admitting that Jongin is becoming more than a subject for his photography, until now, when it feels like he’s physically deflating at his grandmother’s laugh.

She hands him the photo gingerly, and he dutifully hangs it, sucking his lower lip into his mouth as he does.

“That’s a handsome look,” she says, and Yixing shakes his hair out of his eyes.

“That’s a little piece of me I’ll never get back,” Yixing replies, and she reaches up to pat his back.

“That’s not how I look at it,” she says, and Yixing turns away from the photo; away from his own face, open and raw and saying more than Yixing is really prepared to see in himself. “Photos might take a piece of your soul in some old superstitions, but to me, they rebirth a moment.”

“What?”

“Every time you look at a photo; a good photograph, you can see all the things someone felt in the moment that photograph was taken. That’s why photographs have the ability to make people laugh, and cry, and reminisce.”

Yixing thinks about ‘Tears Airport’. Then he thinks about that photo of Jongin, from Tokyo Bay, Jongin shining despite the overcast day, hair stuck to his cheeks and lips as he laughs. He thinks that photo might need a title, too.

“Every time you look at that photo,” she says, and Yixing meets her affectionate gaze, “you’ll remember how much you felt in that moment.”

Later, when Yixing’s left alone in his studio with dry photographs spread across his studio table, two empty cups of red tea still sitting on the kitchen counter and the memory of his grandmother’s words echoing in his ears Yixing’s hands shake as he picks up the photo Jongin took again.

Technically, there’s a lot wrong with it. The focus is off and it’s blurred and the angle is all wrong. But the look on Yixing’s face…

’Patiently waiting for the right moment’, Jongin had said, and Yixing can see, in the photograph, all the things he’s still got tangled up inside him when he thinks about Jongin, but articulated in a way Yixing’s never even been able to explain to himself. He can see the affection in his eyebrows and the fear in the set of his mouth and the confusion in the furrowed lines of his forehead and the refusal to back away in the set of his chin. He sees all of that and maybe more, and he looks away but it’s emblazoned there. He can’t ignore it.

For Yixing, a picture has always been worth a thousand words, and this picture is worth a million.


#



Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still. – Dorothea Lange



#



They sit on the roof of Kris’s fancy apartment building, as Kris smokes a cigar and speaks at length about stuff at work. As he speaks he slowly relaxes, and Yixing lets his thoughts wander; more accurately, Yixing’s thoughts wander whether he lets them or not.

The city is bright tonight. It’s bright every night, Yixing knows, but tonight he can’t seem to take everything in. The bustle of the city tugs his eyes in every direction and Yixing thinks it sort of reminds him of Jongin. There’s too much to look at; too many shadows with interesting things hiding in their depths waiting for Yixing to catch them in the split second they show themselves.

“Am I a coward?” Yixing asks, and Kris releases an amused huff.

“I take it you weren’t actually listening to my rant about Lu Han and his inappropriate butt-grabbing in the office,” Kris says wryly, and Yixing blinks at Kris vacantly until his laughs. “I thought you seemed unusually quiet on the topic.”

“Sorry.”

“I’m used to it.” Kris gives him a tiny lift of his lips to reassure Yixing that he’s not upset. “Between Lu Han, Jongdae, Minseok, and you, it’s like I’m herding geese. All of you ambling off in different directions.”

“You do your best with us, duizhang. It’s how you earned your nickname, isn’t it?”

“Why are you asking?”

“About being a coward?” Yixing looks down at his knees. The maroon fabric of his trousers looks nice against the brown-gray concrete. Yixing’s beginning to appreciate the depth of color. “Because I figured something out and I’m scared.”

“We’re all scared, right?” Kris smirks. “Well, not me, but most people.” Yixing gives him a raised eyebrow. “Being scared is normal. It’s… not doing things you know you can do because you’re scared that’s cowardly.”

“Like being afraid to take pictures of people in case they end up haunting me?” Yixing scrubs at his face with both hands.

“You got over that,” Kris says. “It just took you awhile.”

“Yes,” Yixing says. “Five years and a Korean idol.”

“It’s only cowardly if you can’t move beyond the fear.” Kris takes a puff of his cigar. “Or something like that.”

Yixing turns the words around in his head, letting them sink in as he watches all the cars below them start again, traffic signal changing from stop to go.

“That sounded pretty good, duizhang,” Yixing murmurs, and he leans over and snags the cigar.

He takes an inhale, and the smoke gets trapped in his throat, choking him.

“It looks lame unless you know what you’re doing.”

“I never know what I’m doing anymore,” Yixing says, as Kris reclaims his cigar.

”Sounds like most of my life,” he hears Jongin say, in the back of his mind.

Kris gives him a look. Yixing wonders what it’s like to spend your life herding geese. “Well,” Kris says. “There’s nothing to stop you from figuring it out.” He leans back on one hand, and Yixing doesn’t understand why he’s wearing an expensive blazer just to hang out on the roof with Yixing and smoke a cigar. “Unless you want to be a coward.”

“I don’t,” Yixing says. Pastry crumbs on lips. Hands firm around Yixing’s waist. The perfect contrast of light and dark under a New York City streetlight. The warmth of a cheek on his shoulder. “I really don’t.”



#



Yixing’s dream is more vivid than usual. The grays seem more crisp. He’s standing in the hallway in front of his studio, and Jongin is in front of him, thumbs hooked through his belt loops and wearing a backwards baseball cap and he’s smiling shyly and Yixing has his camera in hand but he makes no move to lift it.

‘I think I love-‘ he starts to say, and then he realizes Jongin’s eyes are the color of coffee and everything else is still in grayscale.

Even in Yixing’s dreams, Jongin doesn’t follow any of the rules.

Yixing wakes up with the word ‘love’ burning at his lips, and it’s barely daybreak but his heart is beating too fast to go back to sleep.






part vi



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December 2012

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