[personal profile] maayacolabackup

There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are. – Ernst Haas


Yixing dreams in shades of gray.

It’s kind of like an old-time movie, still photographs linked together, rich with shade instead of vibrant color.

He dreams of butterflies with ink-dark wings and bright white skies tinged cinereal at the corners, heather clouds and ashen grass; he dreams of interlocked fingers and a smile he can’t forget.

When he wakes up, everything is once again in color, but for the briefest moment, he longs for the simplicity of grayscale, and how much clearer everything seems without the wheel of red, yellow, blue to distract him from the sharper angles of the world.


The Beijing subway is terribly crowded during the day. Yixing is jostled here and there, as people push past him on their way to work, or to meet friends, or to make it to their university classes on time. Line 1 is especially crowded; a crush of people on the escalators and stairs, and waiting in between the two sides on the platform for trains in either direction.

Yixing isn’t headed anywhere, though. Or, rather, he’s headed here, to the station itself. His camera is heavy, a Fujifilm medium format folding camera with an 80mm, f/3.5 lens, and he’s got new roll of 100 speed slide film already prepped and loaded.

His current project is on subway stations. He’s hoping to put together a book, eventually, but for now, he’s just gathering observations on roll after roll of film. He spends his afternoons capturing trains pulling in and out of different Beijing subway stations, watching the endless waves of people surge in and out of the electric sliding train doors.

Yixing kneels down outside the flow of shuffling bodies, resting his arm against the bench where an elderly woman sits, her walking stick across her knees and only centimeters from hitting Yixing right in the dimple. There's no train pulling in, so Yixing has plenty of time to take a few pictures before rush hour really gets into full swing as people start heading home from work.

He unzips his MCM backpack, riffling past crumpled up notes and two bags of pretzels, pulling out his cased camera before removing it from the padding and unfolding it. He pulls the strap that he keeps attached to the camera over his head to sit around his neck. Yixing’s forgotten he had his camera in his lap before, and it had been an expensive case of absent-mindedness.

He sets his camera to bulb mode, so he can manually control the shutter speed, and balances the camera in his palm. It’s almost too big for him to hold comfortably. Yixing has small hands, and he’s constantly brushing against the bellows as he tries to focus the aperture. Still, medium format is still his preferred camera; the 6x6 glass perfect for the kinds of prints Yixing makes. The kinds of wide scenes with more than one thing happening in them.

Photographs tell stories. The kinds of stories Yixing tells, these days, are distant ones; stories about groups instead of individuals. He tells stories where he can’t see tears in anyone’s eyes.

There are other stories Yixing used to try telling, but he’s learned his lesson about that. Train stations aren’t people. Train stations are the collective ebb and flow of a society. Train stations are safe; just strangers brushing by each other, pretty pop stars on billboards behind them hawking make-up as they push and shove their way into a decent spot.

He plays with the settings, taking into account the fluorescent lights and the shadows they don’t quite illuminate, and takes a few test shots to make sure his film isn’t loose and that everything’s working as it should. He can feel the eyes of the woman next to him, who has moved her walking stick to keep from hitting him.

He offers her a quick smile, and she smiles back, curiously monitoring the casual ease of Yixing’s hands as he double-checks his settings.

He’s about to settle back on his heels when his phone rings. Yixing sighs and lowers his camera gently down to his chest, letting it bump against his sternum as he digs into his pocket for his phone. “Hello?”

“Yixing?” It’s Kris. His voice is low and stoic, as usual, and Yixing smirks to himself.

“Who else would it be?” He asks, narrowing his eyes as the warning lights come on, signaling the approach of another train. He traps the phone between his shoulder and his ear. “This is my mobile phone.”

“For all I know, you’d accidentally handed it to a teenager at a convenience store.” Kris’s tone is dry, but Yixing can hear the mirth.

“That was once, and it was three years ago,” Yixing says. “One day, you’re going to have to let that one go.”

“Not in this lifetime,” Kris replies, and Yixing rolls his eyes. He squints through the viewfinder, taking a careful shot as the train pulls into the station. He holds down on the shutter for a few extra seconds, to increase the light and add extra exposure to the film. “Are you busy?”

“Kinda,” Yixing says distractedly. “But what’s up?”

“Can you drop by my office on Saturday?”

“Saturday?” Yixing wrinkles his nose. “You nine to five types have it worse than I thought.”

“I’m not a ‘nine to five’ type,” Kris replies, patiently amused. “I run a successful business.”

“What time?” Yixing tilts his head to the side. “If you say eight in the morning, I’ll strangle you through the phone, duizhang.”

“How about nine, then?”

“Are you laughing at me? Because I seem to remember you needing ten hours of sleep a night when we were younger. As part of your skin care routine.”

“Aren’t you going to ask me why I need you to come in?”

“I figure if you could have told me over the phone, you would have,” Yixing says, and he turns the aperture dial. “You never waste anyone’s time.”

Kris clears his throat, and Yixing’s cheek accidentally pushes speaker on his touch-screen as he moves, which startles the old woman on the bench. Yixing grins at her sheepishly, and pushes his face against the phone again trying to shut it off. “Great,” Kris says, the first half of the word projecting and the second half going only into Yixing’s ear. “See you then.”

Kris hangs up without fanfare, and Yixing wonders what Kris could possibly want. He hasn’t seen his friend in a few months. They’d exchanged e-mails while Kris was in Shanghai for business, but they’ve always been the sort of friends who can pick up right where they’d left off.

Another train pulls in, and Yixing takes a final photo, standing up and stretching out the cramp in one leg.

He looks down at the woman next to him, and she smiles up at him. She has a nice smile. She’s got two bags from a local children’s clothing store, Yixing notices. Maybe she has grandchildren. He wants to take her photograph; he thinks if he asked her, she’d say yes, but he doesn’t ask. Instead, he just offers her a hand up as the train on the other side finally approaches. She takes it gratefully, and reaches up to pat his shoulder as she wobbles toward the train, walking stick holding most of her weight.

Yixing realizes his backpack is still open, pretzels dangerously close to finding the floor, and he takes out his camera case as he zips the sides up further. He carefully compresses his lens and tucks the camera away, closing his bag as the crowd thins again, trains on both sides recently departed and departing passengers already in a bubble toward to top of the escalator.

That’s enough for today, Yixing thinks. He’s got rolls of undeveloped film at home. That’s enough for today.

TIP 01

Most of the time, you have to squint.

Yixing learns early that to get a good shot, he’s got to squint. Not because squinting helps him see any sharper, but because it doesn’t; it makes the scene, through his viewfinder, hazy and soft-focus.

When he squints, the bright colors of the word fade away, leaving behind a fuzzy image that’s much easier for his brain to take apart. He can see the balance of positive and negative space, and the leading lines. He can see the layout and design clearly, then, and the contrast of lights and darks, and the shadows and the highlights that lurk beneath the busyness of the real image.

When he squints, Yixing can see the scene in front of him in a whole new way; taking away the details and leaving, somehow, the ‘big picture.’

Somewhere, in that blurred image, is exactly what Yixing is looking for. That’s lucky, since he can never seem to find anything with his eyes all the way open.


At an ungodly hour of the morning on a Saturday, Yixing descends down into the subway as a traveler for the first time in a long time. He rides Line 10 as far as it will take him, getting off at Sanyuanqiao station, digging his transportation card out of his pocket to exit. It's crowded outside exit c, but there’s not a long wait for the bus at this time of day—it’s rush hour. It’s also early enough that every time Yixing blinks he feels like he’s peeling back sticky eyelids, and he’s just a moment too slow with every motion, which results in standing instead of sitting on the bus when it arrives.

He takes bus 401 to Dashanzi Lukou Nan, and, gets off, along with most of the bus’s occupants, camera-bag on a strap around his shoulder banging into his hip as he steps down off the bus and into the 798 Art District.

He can’t resist stopping and snapping a few photos of the graffiti along the walls on his way to Kris’s office, pulling his camera out of its padded case and taking a long-line shot of the painted brick. The day is slightly overcast, the early autumn norm, so Yixing is confident the picture will come out clear. He can hear the movement of the film as he takes two more pictures, and then he tucks his camera away again and continues his slow walk, moving past trees interspersed with white marble statues of various human forms-- naked potbellied men and graceful women with tilted heads.

He passes the Lord of Salt restaurant; it’s not open yet for the day, but he can already smell Sichuan spices floating out into the streets. So can the jewelry vendors who are still unpacking their wares onto the tables. Yixing knows that in an hour or two, these roads will be packed with people; foreigners and twenty-somethings and art enthusiasts alike bustling around the area, peeking in on gallery exhibits and eating at the pricey restaurants.

Kris’s office is located near the At Café. Yixing pays too much money for a cup of Italian coffee there, asking for it plain and hearing a dubious amount of whirring machinery for a simple cup of black coffee. The cardboard cup is thin, and the coffee feels satisfyingly warm as he takes a sip.

He climbs the narrow stairs, peeking his head around the corner to see who’s in on a Saturday.

“Hey, you!” Lu Han says, lighting up when Yixing enters the room. “Long time no see.”

“It’s too early to be this excited,” Yixing says, but he grins anyway because it’s Lu Han, and shoves his wallet back into his pocket, shifting his coffee to his other hand so he can pull Lu Han into a one-armed hug.

Lu Han slaps his stomach lightly and laughs. “You sound like duizhang.”

“Maybe he’s right,” Yixing says. “Maybe you’re too cheerful for eight-thirty in the morning.”

“Shut up.” Lu Han disengages and goes back over to his computer, where Yixing sees a peek of photoshop. Lu Han never lets anyone else edit his work. Yixing mostly doesn’t let people edit his work digitally at all, even himself. “Spoken like someone with no deadlines.”

“If I wanted deadlines,” Yixing hooks his thumb through his belt-loop, walking closer to Lu Han’s table, “I’d have come to work for Kris full time when he took over this place instead of just selling him stories every once in a while.”

“I think he still keeps that table open for you.” Lu Han points at the table in the far corner, far away from the surge bar because Yixing is the type to constantly drop his water bottles or forget there are cords underfoot. “Just in case you change your mind.”

“I’m happy taking photographs of what I want to take photographs of,” Yixing says. “I take photos for myself.”

“I remember.” Lu Han laughs, and blows his hair out of his eyes. He’s bleached it again, and the blond strands are frizzy from the outdoor heat, even if it’s cool in here. It’s the kind of brassy color that could ruin a shot in mediocre lighting. “I suppose award-winning photographers can afford to feel like that.”

“I’d be like this with or without some award.” Yixing scratches at the side of his face, smiling lopsidedly at his best friend.

“Child prodigies live hard lives,” Lu Han says, amusement curling his words upwards. “You’ve been taking photos so long you talk like a veteran, even though you’re so young.”

Yixing had met Lu Han five years ago through Kris, and they had bonded over making Kris miserable. Lu Han had still been an amateur back then, about to start university for photography, and Yixing had been worn out; contemplating going to school for economics or something practical because maybe he’d peaked too early.

Kris and Lu Han had renewed his interest in photography. Yixing’s thankful for that, but working for Kris’s mom’s magazine isn’t in his plans. At least not now, when there are so many things Yixing hasn’t seen yet. Hasn’t tried to capture with a 4x5 view camera in the perfect lighting at the perfect moment.

Yixing isn’t ready to take pictures for other people, right now. He’s too busy trying to take them for himself. Plus, there are too many things he can’t take pictures of, right now. Too many things off-limits in his head.

“Are you going to the memorial gala tomorrow?” Lu Han creates a new layer in photoshop, and Yixing watches with interest as Lu Han starts adjusting the colors. He mostly does things by hand, but he’s fairly familiar with digital editing—he uses Photoshop himself to change his negatives into prints, sometimes.

“Hell no,” Yixing says. “And pretend to smile at a bunch of people who refer to me as a twenty-three year-old has-been behind their left hand as they hold out their right to shake? I’ll pass.”


“You’re here.” Yixing looks up and waves at Kris, who’s standing in the entrance to his office with one hand on the doorframe and one hand on his hip. He’s wearing expensive slacks and a powder blue button up that makes him look every inch the CEO—he’s been dressing like that since Yixing met him, though, back when he was an idealistic first year college student with a stony glare and zero social skills. Yixing always thinks Kris has the same lines as a New York City skyscraper, lean and strong and a little intimidating.

Duizhang,” Yixing says. “This is far too early to have me rolling out of bed.”

“I’m sure you’ll make me pay for it.” Kris is resigned, which makes laughter bubble out from Lu Han as Yixing half-laughs, half-yawns. “I’m glad you came. Come on into my office.”

“Oooh,” Lu Han makes a dumb face at them, eyes round and smile wide. “A secret meeting.”

Yixing elbows him lightly and steps away, moving toward Kris’s office. Kris closes the door behind them. “What’s up?”

“What do you know about Kai?” Yixing pauses in surprise.

“The pretty Korean idol?” Kris snorts, and Yixing shrugs. “I see him on all the magazine ads. He’s hard to miss.”

“Hard to miss?” Kris sits down at his desk, and gestures to the seat in front of it. “You’ve never seemed to have problems missing celebs before.”

“I’m a little absent-minded,” Yixing says. “Not blind, deaf, and dumb. I’m doing a series of photos on train stations. He’s on the billboards in the subway. Like, all of them.”

"He's a bit arrogant," Kris says. "Or so I've heard. He just seemed distant, when I met him." Kris gives Yixing a small glare as Yixing sits on the edge of his desk instead of the chair in front of it. Yixing smiles innocently and Kris runs a hand through bleached hair. “If you wrinkle anything important, Zhang, I’m going to strangle you.”

"I can handle arrogant," Yixing says loftily, waving a hand in dismissal. “It’s not like I have to deal with him. Just look at him on commutes.” The air smells like Kris’s expensive cologne and like the crisp scent of printers ink. “You keep the important papers on your right, anyway, so chill out.”

“I want you to do his new photo book.”

“What? Kai’s?” Yixing takes a sip of coffee. It has a hint of caramel. He’d ordered plain coffee, but caramel is all right. It’s morning. It could probably taste like dishwater and Yixing would still drink it.

“Yes, Kai’s. He’s releasing a fifth anniversary photo book. They’re shopping for a photographer. I think it should be you.”

“You didn’t tell them I’d do it, did you?” Clearing his throat, Yixing leans back. Something tears beneath the material of his jeans, and he hopes it’s just an old fax coversheet or something, or Kris might actually strangle him. He takes another sip of his coffee. “Because I won’t.”

“Why not?” Kris asks the question lightly, but there’s a bit of investment lingering in his tone. Yixing raises an eyebrow. “A top star and a top photographer? Two big names on one project? There’ll be an exhibit, too, for fans.”

“I’m more of the Ansel Adams type,” Yixing clarifies. “I’m not too into people. Especially entitled celebrities.”

“You’ll be into Jongin,” Kris replies. His lips tilt downward. “You’ll love the challenge of photographing him.”

“I’m not into teenage heartthrobs, either,” Yixing says. “I’ve seen him clearly. I know what he looks like. I’m not really interested in pretty faces.”

“Architecture and inanimate objects are more interesting?” Kris asks, and Yixing takes a sip of his coffee, tilting his head to the side to study his old friend.

“That explains why I like you so much, doesn’t it?”

Kris sighs, furrowing his brow like Yixing is giving him a headache. Yixing probably is. “I could give this project to Lu Han, but I really… I want you to do it.”

“Why?” Yixing’s fingertips burn from the coffee cup, the cardboard too thin to protect his fingers from the heat. Yixing can’t believe he’s just noticing that now, but he was up really late last night developing an older roll of film from his last trip to Changsha to visit his grandmother.

“There’s something…” Kris hesitates, moving things around on his desk that don’t really need to be moved, buying himself time.


Dead about his photographs,” Kris says. “Lifeless. I’ve met him in person, and it’s a shame. And I know if there’s anyone I can trust to bring something to life in a photograph, it’s you.”

It’s a compliment. Kris doesn’t give them very often, even if he’s not exactly the hardass he tries to portray himself as. They’ve been friends for years, and Yixing knows Kris only says things if he means them.

“Why are you pushing this?” Yixing swirls the coffee, narrowing his eyes at Kris. Kris doesn’t look anxious, so it’s not a favor he owes a fellow company executive. Kris sighs, and then settles back in his chair. “What’s in it for you?”

Kris looks up at him, meeting his eyes with surprise. “Nothing for me,” Kris says. “But a lot for you.” Yixing blinks at him, and Kris smiles, a flash of pink gums. “I think it would be good for you. For your photography.”

Yixing looks up at the ceiling and exhales. It’s too early to be thinking about a gin and tonic. “What’s wrong with my photography?”

“Nothing,” Kris says quickly. “But it’s been a long time since—“

“I don’t photograph people.” Yixing’s grandmother would chide him for interrupting, but Yixing doesn’t want to talk about what he used to do. There’s only what he does now. “Sorry, duizhang.”

“Would you…” Kris licks his lips. “Will you meet him, before you decide?”

“I’ve already decided.” Yixing takes the last gulp of his coffee, and instead of dropping it in the trash next to Kris’s desk, he aims for the larger trashcan by the door. He misses. “I guess we can’t all be high school basketball stars,” Yixing says, when he looks back over his shoulder to see Kris glaring at him. “I’ll pick it up when I leave.”

“Please? For me?” Kris wraps one of his large hands around Yixing’s forearm when he starts to stand, and Yixing knows he’s not asking about the cup.

Kris doesn’t ask for much. Yixing knows he’d feel terrible if he turned Kris down now. “Fine. I’ll meet him. But don’t… don’t expect anything to come of it.”

Kris lets go of his arm, leaning back. “The Shao Du Memorial Gala.” It takes Yixing a minute to realize Kris is giving him a time and a place. “Hello? Earth to Zhang Yixing? Don’t space out; you’ve been so good today.”

“It’s before nine in the morning on a Saturday. You’re lucky I was checked into this conversation at all.”

“I know,” Kris says. “Trust me, I know.” Kris reaches up and undoes the top button of his dress shirt. Yixing’s T-shirt and jeans feel, all of a sudden, too informal, but he’s always dressed this way. No reason to change that when he’s the one behind the camera, not in front of it. “Don’t forget. I know you’d forget your own head if it weren’t attached to your body.”

“You knew I was going to skip out on that gala, didn’t you?” Yixing tugs on his headphones and purses his lips. “This is two favors for the price of one.”

“Yeah,” and Kris’s phone rings, which Yixing knows is his cue to leave.

“See you tomorrow, then,” Yixing says, pulling his headphones up over his ears as he slides down from Kris’s desk. He picks up the cardboard cup as he leaves, dropping it into the trash, and offers Kris a jaunty wave.

It doesn’t matter if Yixing has to meet some idol-type tomorrow, or go to a boring party instead of spending the night out in the countryside taking pictures of the mountains. He’ll just think of it as something he’s doing for Kris; putting on a tux and pretending to care about more than the viewfinder of his camera and the thick, overwhelming smell of developer.

“See you at the gala tomorrow?” Lu Han asks, as Yixing shuffles by him.

“Yes, unfortunately,” Yixing says. “But it won’t kill me.”

“Maybe you should sneeze loudly and publically into your right hand,” Lu Han says. “Just to prevent all the hand-shaking.”

“Maybe.” Yixing chuckles, and starts his music.

TIP 02

Never use the first frame of a new roll of film to take a real photo.

Yixing’s mother has a superstition about the first picture taken on a new roll of film. “Always take a picture of something that isn’t alive,” she’d said. “The first photograph is always cursed.”

Out of curiosity one day, Yixing took a photograph of a mouse in the garden with the first picture on his brand new roll of film. The mouse scurried off afterwards and Yixing went around the garden behind their home taking pictures of the tomatoes and cucumbers and trying his best to get the right amount of light even though the sun was too bright.

He developed the photos later, though, and the picture of the mouse looked more like an x-ray than a photograph. “What’s it supposed to be?” His grandmother had asked, examining the negative with squinted eyes. “It looks like grass?”

“I don’t remember,” Yixing had replied, and his grandmother’s hands had smelled like developer and Yixing had licked his lips and focused on making sure the rest of the pictures turned out.

The next morning Yixing had gone out to pick some tomatoes for breakfast and the mouse had been lying dead on the back porch. Yixing’s grandmother’s cat had looked up at him with wide, pleased eyes and blood on its whiskers and Yixing’s stomach had plummeted.

He’d cried all morning, until his grandmother had taken him aside and asked what the problem was. “I killed the mouse,” Yixing told her, spilling out the whole story, and she’d laughed, ruffling his hair and hugging him close.

“No,” she’d said. “The reason you don’t take a real photo when you load new film is because often it screws up.” She’d dried his eyes with a wrinkled thumb and Yixing had looked up at her. “Over-exposed or thumbprints while you’re loading it.” She pressed a kiss to his forehead. “You didn’t kill the mouse. The cat killed the mouse.”

So Yixing learns one should take a nonsense photo of nothing with the start of a new roll of film, and it’s probably not because of the superstition, and probably not because of the bloody mess of a mouse on the back porch, that he always remembers to do it.


There’s another superstition, one that originated long ago with mirrors and glass and sympathetic magic, that every time you take a picture, it steals a little piece of your soul.

It’s the belief that when you take a photograph, capturing that one moment, you’re imprisoning that bit of life, too, a chunk that cannot be reclaimed by the original owner, and when you print the picture, there’s that bit of soul laid bare in plastic and celluloid and ink for everyone to see.

Yixing sometimes wonders if it’s selfish, then, to be a photographer. Maybe photographers, he thinks, are nothing more than thieves, taking tiny bits from everyone and collecting them in piles on studio tables or tucking them into albums to be pulled out once in a while, on holidays.

Sometimes Yixing looks at the picture that made him famous and stares at the face depicted in black and white and hopes he managed to catch at least a little bit of soul with it, because it’s all he’s got left.


It’s with detachment that Yixing digs his tuxedo out of the back of his closet, donning the silky dry-cleaned trousers and carefully attaching his cufflinks just as Kris rings his doorbell.

“I’m glad you’re driving.”

“You’d either get lost or pretend to get lost if I didn’t,” Kris says, and Yixing grabs an apple off his kitchen table and locks his door behind him, and then they’re off.

Yixing and Kris meet up with Lu Han and Minseok in the lobby of the Grand Millennium Beijing. “Chaoyang Grand Ballroom,” Lu Han says. He looks inordinately pleased to see Yixing here, and Yixing makes a face at him when Kris turns to greet Minseok.

“I hope you forgot all your tissues,” Lu Han whispers into Yixing’s ear, and Yixing winks at him.

“Prepared to sneeze all over my hand,” Yixing whispers back.

They ride the elevator up together, stepping out into the ballroom. Yixing immediately tries to wander off to look at the photos, even if he’s seen them all before, but Lu Han grabs his wrist. “It’s a photo-exhibit,” Yixing says. “I want to look at the photos.”

“It’s a social event disguised as a photo-exhibit,” Lu Han says. “You haven’t been playing industry hermit long enough to forget that.”

“Yes I have.” Yixing’s shirt itches. He’d like to be taking photos right now, maybe of the stars, but all of his cameras are at home, in his studio, cases lined up by the entrance on the table. “Additionally, Shao Du, while not as famous as his son, was one of the best black and white photographers to ever come from China.”

“Don’t get fussy,” Lu Han says. “You know I take photography almost as seriously as you do. But look around you.”

“Actually,” and Yixing wets his lips, “maybe I did remember that this was more about the back-slapping than the photography. No one should ever have to put on a tux to look at pictures.”

“Best enjoyed in a scandalously loose tank-top and ill-fitting trousers, right?” Minseok teases, and Yixing looks at him, eyes wide.

“Wow, Jongdae, when did you start looking so much like Minseok?” Yixing says, and Lu Han cackles and shoves at Yixing as Yixing breaks into a sly grin.

“I’m just filling in for him in his absence.”

Yixing adjusts his bow-tie as Lu Han leans closer to Minseok, invading his personal space to smooth down his lapel. Minseok winces and smiles in the same breath, and Kris clears his throat. "It's good you decided to come, Yixing."

"As if I had much of a choice." Yixing smiles to take the sting out of his words, and Lu Han laughs behind his hands as Yixing's eyes roam around the big ballroom. The black and white prints on the wall are blown up large, and Yixing marvels at the reproduction job. "Who did the prints?" he asks, and Lu Han clears his throat.

"Minseok, of course."

Minseok hadn't gone to school with them, but Yixing knows him well enough considering he’s been around for a year now. "They look great."


Kris slides his hands down the sides of his tuxedo trouser pockets, as though he's looking for pockets to slide his hands into. Of course, they're aren't any, because he wears the sort of slim-fitting trousers where pockets would ruin the lines, and Yixing snickers as his hands just keep going down. Kris offers him a tiny glare, and is about to say something when his eyes alight on someone at the entrance.

"He's here," Kris says, and Yixing sighs, resignedly. "The person I wanted you to meet."

Lu Han purses his lips curiously, looking back and forth between Yixing and Kris. "So that's why you're here." Minseok blinks, maybe missing a few words of Lu Han’s quick Mandarin, and Yixing nods. “Coercion. Did he look at you soulfully and say he wanted a favor?”

"How’d you guess?” Yixing exhales heavily. “Duizhang clearly still believes in pipe dreams."

Lu Han claps. "Of course he does," Lu Han says. "That's why we like him even when he's a stick in the mud."

Kris laughs, more a twitch of his lips than a full-blown chuckle. Yixing just grins and Lu Han pokes his finger into Yixing's dimple. "I suppose," Yixing replies, and Minseok is flagging down one of the circling waiters in the room, grabbing himself a glass of champagne. Lu Han takes a flute as well, while Yixing declines and glances over at Kris, who is gesturing toward the newcomers.

"Shall we go say hi?"

"I'm not making any promises," Yixing says. "And I'm not doing this photo book." He smiles. "But I'll meet your idol."

"That's all I'm asking." Kris waves, and the taller of the two men waves back. He's bright, and Yixing has to blink twice before his eyes will focus on him completely. His hair is almost golden, and bounces as he walks. He's like a pot with the water bubbling over, Yixing thinks. He's the sort of vibrant that makes Yixing glad he works in black and white instead of color. "Mr. Park!"

"Hey, Kris," Mr. Park says, casual and informal with the supposition of someone who assumes everyone is a friend, and suddenly, from behind him, the idol steps forward from the shadows.

Kai is not like his photos. If Mr. Park is overflowing, Kai is a pot on a low simmer, fire tickling at the edges and water hotter than it looks. Yixing's burned himself like that often enough.

"Zhang Yixing, this is Park Chanyeol," Kris introduces, and Park Chanyeol holds out his hand for a handshake.

Yixing is suddenly relieved he hadn't sneezed all over his hands like Lu Han had suggested. "Nice to meet you."

"And this is Kai."

Kai's face is almost expressionless, but his eyes are swimming with all sorts of things, like a deep black ocean, and Yixing loves the shadows he sees there. "Good to meet you," Kai says, and his tone is wary.

His voice is deeper than Yixing had expected, but it's smooth and dark. It matches the shift and shudder of emotion in his eyes.

Yixing... feels tugged. Like his camera is out of focus and he needs a bit more light. Like maybe moving closer will bring those eyes into the right perspective. He clenches his hands into fists.

Yixing hates Kris for knowing him so well.

Kris reaches out to touch his hand to Park Chanyeol's elbow. "Let me get you a drink," he says, and Park Chanyeol smiles at him, all teeth, and follows.

"My manager," Kai says, almost begrudgingly, and Yixing watches him shift from foot to foot, a small tell of his nervousness. He's also got a thin sheen of sweat on his neck, and tiny tendrils of his hair stick to the skin at his nape. He looks unhappy with the bow-tie he's wearing, too, reaching up pull on it every few seconds. Yixing thinks to someone less observant, Kai might look arrogant and bored. To Yixing, he just looks anxious; he's constantly in motion, like if he stands still he'll be a little too lost.

Then Kai is waving his hand in front of Yixing's face, and Yixing realizes he's been staring.


Kai narrows his eyes at him. "That annoying guy," Kai says. "Park Chanyeol. He's my manager." Kai rolls his eyes. "This is the part where you tell me how you know Kris and we both pretend we want to be having a conversation with each other, which is clearly why they left us here alone."

"Duizhang, or Kris, I guess, is a friend of mine from university." Yixing sucks his upper lip into his mouth. "He runs a photography magazine, and I'm a photographer, but I don't work for him."

"You're a photographer?" Kai asks, looking Yixing up and down like photographers are supposed to look a certain way and Yixing doesn’t quite fit the bill. Kai's fingers are wriggling, tapping his thighs in an unconscious rhythm.

Kai is a photographer's nightmare, maybe.

"Yes." Yixing carefully pushes his hair out of his face, wary of messing it up. "And I'm not pretending to want to have a conversation with you, I just... zone out a lot. It's nothing personal." Yixing studies the satiny piping of Kai’s jacket sleeves. “I’d very much like to have a conversation with you.”

"What was your name again?" Kai's shoulders are losing their tenseness, Yixing notices. He can see it even through Kai's tuxedo jacket. "It sounds familiar."

"Zhang Yixing."

Kai's mouth downturns thoughtfully. His lips are full; thick and perfectly bowed at the top, like something out of a painting. His brows are thick, too. Yixing likes the way they draw together. "Wait a minute," Kai says. "You photographed--"

"Yes." It's a little sharper than he'd like, so he smiles at Kai with what Kris calls his 'airhead grin', and Kai wrinkles his nose.

"Okay, then." Kai looks to the side, and Yixing likes his profile, too. The contrasts between the firm line of his jaw and the hollows of his throat. The value scale along which he glitters beneath the ballroom lights.

"Do you like photography?" Yixing asks, and Kai turns to look at him curiously. His eyes are dancing with light, now, and Yixing vaguely remembers that Kai is a dancer. An idol. The constant movement is hard to keep up with. Yixing is used to trying to make the world hold still for just a moment, but he wonders if with Kai, that might be an impossible task. "I mean, because you're here. It's not like idols have business reasons to come see a Shao Du memorial exhibit."

"I love photography," Kai says. "I try to go to things, but I don't have a lot of time that's my own. Still, I had Chanyeol pull strings to get me an invite to this." Kai presses his lips together. "But I don't understand photography, really. I don't understand how so much can be expressed in stillness, since I make my living dancing, and all." Kai bites his lip, now, like it'll stop all the words. "Sorry, I'm not used to people asking my opinion about more than my 'ideal type of girl', but I got the feeling you were asking a serious question."

"I was." Yixing tilts his head to the side and considers. "You move so much."

Kai is surprised into a laugh. It’s strange, because for a moment, Kai seems to burst into color. Yixing is hyper aware of the pink of his lips and the brown of his eyes and the gold of his skin where it’s darker around the knuckles of his fingers. "People do that. Maybe dancers do that even more."

"It’s been a long time since I photographed people," Yixing says, and Kai seems confused. The color fades to normal. Maybe Yixing’s too tired. His eyes are playing tricks on him.

"But..." More fidgeting. More motion. “Has it been a long time since you looked at them?”

“Probably,” Yixing admits.

Kai is moving his mouth now, puffing out his cheeks and pursing his lips and toying with the lower one, catching it between his teeth and chewing as he looks at Yixing like he’s searching for words.

"Do photographers get frustrated with you a lot?" Yixing looks away from Kai, then, because he feels himself following the twitches of Kai's mouth with his eyes. He focuses on one of the photographs on the wall instead. It's a child in silhouette, against an open sky. Yixing traces the horizon in the photo, and doesn't think about Kai's eyes.

"I hate having my picture taken," Kai says. "If only because it never looks like me in the photograph. It's always a stranger with my face, wearing the latest trend."

Yixing fingers the hem of his jacket, and there's a peculiar sinking feeling in his stomach that feels like a challenge. Yixing doesn’t want a challenge, because his pride doesn’t let him back down from those.

"A good portrait," Yixing says, "isn't about a person's physical features." He turns to look at Kai, who has those unfathomable eyes trained on Yixing's face. "Those matter too, but what you're trying to capture is a person's personality." He quirks the left corner of his lips in a half smile. "You want a moment of someone lost in thought, or just starting to laugh, or about to wrap up a good cry." Yixing wants his camera. "Anything else is boring."

"I see," Jongin says. He’s still moving, from his fingertips to his toes, and Yixing sees a hundred perfect shots in the simplest turn of his body toward the back door. “Can we talk outside? I get hot easily, and this penguin suit isn’t helping.” He sighs. “Plus people are staring.”

Yixing knows that feeling.

“Sure,” Yixing says easily. He’s hot too; it’s been a long time since he’s worn anything other than low-necked T-shirts and jeans. It’s stifling, now.

They take a stairway down a floor, and out into the autumn air.

The wind is nice, outside on the terrace. The moon’s only at three-quarters, but it’s bright, casting a soft glow across the intricate stonework beneath their feet. Yixing’s expensive, stiff shoes look dark against the light grey stone, and they squeak just enough to be annoying.

“You looked put-out, when Kris brought you over to meet me.”

“He wants me to do your photo book.”

“I don’t want to do a photo book.”

“I don’t take pictures of people.” One of Yixing’s cufflinks is twisted. Actually, now that he’s looking at it, he’s pretty sure he’s put it on upside down. “At least not portraits. Not one on one.”

“But you know how. Everyone’s seen ‘Tears Airport’.” Yixing winces, and doesn’t reply. Kai’s loosening his bow-tie, and Yixing wonders how many people will frown at Kai if he doesn’t tie it again before he goes back inside. “Hopefully they find someone to do it that won’t make me look ridiculous.”

“You never look ridiculous.” Yixing watches as Kai undoes the top four buttons of his dress-shirt, ends of the black bow-tie stark across the white. Very ‘Old Hollywood’, a Slim Aarons portrait hanging by a film executive’s fireplace. “Just…”

“Like a cardboard cutout instead of a person,” Kai finishes. “SM Entertainment wishes. I was a handful earlier in my career. They probably think a cardboard cutout would make a better idol.”

“Do they?” Yixing asks, as Kai yanks at his collar, baring his chest to the autumn evening. Yixing marvels that he isn’t cold. “That would be a shame.”

“I’d still be pretty.” Kai says it matter of fact, and Yixing wonders how long Kai has been told that pretty is his best quality. Yixing’s only known Kai twenty minutes, and he can already tell that it isn’t.

“You would be,” Yixing says, “but you’d be boring.”

“Aren’t I boring anyway?” Kai laughs. His teeth are very white. Kai is a study in contrasts, darks and lights in the most perfect scale.

“No. You’ve got so much behind your eyes,” Yixing says. It slips out. He hadn’t meant to mention it at all, but it’s true. Yixing knows a good subject for portraiture when he sees one, and it’s not always about good cheekbones or an aesthetically pleasing slope to the brow. “It’s. I don’t know. Charisma or something.”

Yixing lets his gaze wander off, out to the garden beneath them. There’s a couple holding hands on the bench, and Yixing thinks the lighting is perfect for a romantic engagement photo.

“You’re gone again,” Kai says, and Yixing turns back toward him.

“I do that.” Yixing’s not really apologetic. He’s a photographer; he sees photo opportunities in everything, even when it’s not convenient.

“It’s interesting. You’re interesting.”

“You don’t know anything about me, Kai.” Not that Yixing particularly wants him to. He doesn’t know if he wants to know more about Kai, either, because even knowing next to nothing he finds him magnetic. Yixing wonders what he’d look like from behind his Fuji. He wonders if the warm brown of his eyes would be visible even on Yixing’s black and white film.

“But I want to,” Kai says, sounding… almost surprised at himself. “And it’s Jongin.” Kai looks away now, hunching his shoulders forward. His clavicles, half-bared, hold onto the shadows, and Yixing’s hands itch for a camera… maybe his 35mm SLR, so he can capture the pockets of dark in Kai’s posture as he confusingly tries to make himself smaller. “My name is Jongin.” His Mandarin is sharp and crisp, and it’s not until he says his own name, in his own language, that Yixing remembers he’s Korean.

“Jongin.” It’s softer on his tongue than Kai. Sweeter, too, if a little harder to say. Kai-- Jongin looks up at him through dark lashes and Yixing wants to tilt his head a little to the left, to imprison the tiny shards of moonlight on those cheekbones in print.

It’s been a long time since Yixing has wanted to photograph a person this much.

A really long time, but something about Jongin has grabbed a hold of him, and Yixing wants to steal a thousand fragments of his soul, click by click.

“That’s a nice name,” Yixing says, and Jongin smiles, and Yixing feels a rush of something fierce in his chest that he can’t explain. It makes him want to stay out here, even as his fingertips get colder.

“So?” Kris asks, later, when Yixing falls into the passenger seat of Kris’s disgustingly expensive car, leather interior slipping against Yixing’s tuxedo pants. “What did you think?”

“I hate you,” Yixing whines, slouching down after he fastens the seatbelt. “And I’m hungry. Let’s get McDonald’s.”

“You like him.” Kris smiles, shaking his head, one hand on the wheel and the other on the gearshift.

“Whether I like him or not is irrelevant,” Yixing says, looking out the window and making his face blank. “But I…”

“Want to photograph him.” Kris chuckles, a little smugly, and Yixing debates whether or not to kick him in the knee. He doesn’t want to die, so he settles for a glare. “I knew you would.”

“I’m doing the book in black and white,” Yixing says, feeling like he has to win somewhere in this conversation. “I don’t work with color.” He doesn’t work with golden skin and pink lips and cocoa eyes and shadows that fill with blues and purples. It’s far too confusing and far too busy for him.

“That’s fine,” Kris says easily. “I’ll call Chanyeol to work it out.”

“You’re buying me food.” Yixing looks down at his white dress shirt, and remembers the way Jongin’s skin had contrasted so beautifully with his. “A lot of it.”

“Where to?” Kris asks, and Yixing ignores his grin.


A short dream. Yixing is standing alone on a road, barefoot. Pebbles dig into his feet. He’s carrying his grandfather’s old camera in his hands, rubbing his thumb along the edging of the aged leather on the left side of it. The grass is the color of burned out charcoal, and the road is a light dusty color that tickles white near the horizon. At the end of the road is a woman.

Yixing walks forward for a long time, but the woman never seems to get any closer. Yixing knows her anyway; by the swing of her hair and the curve of her hip as she juts it out impatiently, like she’s waiting for him.

He lifts his camera and looks through the viewfinder, but when he does, there’s no one there, at the end of the road.

Just another landscape shot in grayscale. Yixing snaps the photo, and wakes up.


Despite arguments to the contrary, black and white photography isn’t boring. It sounds boring, Yixing knows. Black and white. Two shades in an entire universe of colors. But in a world where everything moves so fast and glows so bright, monotone photography, for Yixing, is like a slow exhale and a single step back from it all.

Because between black and white are hundreds of shades and tones, and capturing the subtle differences is something Yixing finds joy in.

Color can be so distracting. Yixing likes to strip it away, showcasing the texture and shape of a subject without the noise. And while taking photos in color works well on sunny days, black and white is versatile; a gloomy day lends to a gloomy atmospheric photograph that still reaches out and drags you in, until you can almost feel the rain on your skin, and when you look up from the photograph, you’ll almost expect to see the dreary sky up above you.

That’s how Yixing explains it to Park Chanyeol anyway, when Kris tells him that Chanyeol would prefer the photo book in color. Lu Han helps him, translating for Yixing as Yixing rambles off in complex Mandarin Chanyeol doesn’t understand about artistic integrity and deal-breakers.

“Alright, alright,” Chanyeol says, in the end. “You can do it in black and white.”

“Thank you,” Yixing says, when they hang up the call. They can hear Kris talking to himself in his office, and Yixing is sitting on the edge of Lu Han’s desk with another cup of ambiguously flavored sweet coffee from the café in his right hand and his mobile in his left.

“That’s what friends are for,” Lu Han says, and Yixing tries to imagine what Lu Han would look like in mono.

The harshness of his hair fades away, and Yixing wishes, sometimes, that the whole world looked the way it does when he closes his eyes and dreams.

part ii

Date: 2012-09-17 05:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] goldengutgirl.livejournal.com
SOBS MAIA okay first of all, Ernst Haas is one of my favorite photographers. Ever. His photographs are a visual experience and you just starting with a quote from him gave me chills??

Okay and I get so many feels just from Yixing holding a film camera with familiar hands and the woman he wanted to take a photograph of---I am just that every time I take public transportation but I never have the courage.

That’s enough for today, Yixing thinks. He’s got rolls of undeveloped film at home. That’s enough for today. sobs

He can hear the movement of the film as he takes two more pictures... I'm just sighing. I feel like taking out my film camera tomorrow to a stupid not-pretty office and take photos of whatever. White tables. Idk. ;_;

omg did you just make Yixing a film snob though lmao who is a prodigy?? who won awards?? you are killing me here. and he's 23 in this story. a top photographer. brb kms

...“Maybe you should sneeze loudly and publically into your right hand,” Lu Han says. DUMBBBBLMFAO

kshfkl i have to like. stop now. will edit with more comments
sigh i love you

Yixing... feels tugged. Like his camera is out of focus and he needs a bit more light. Like maybe moving closer will bring those eyes into the right perspective. He clenches his hands into fists.

Yixing hates Kris for knowing him so well.

CREYS ALL MY CREYS KDSFLDKHFKSFFHSKDL;HF maia you just write so well--that pot with water analogy was so good i just augh.

The value scale along which he glitters beneath the ballroom lights. sigh.....

Kai is surprised into a laugh. It’s strange, because for a moment, Kai seems to bust into color. Yixing is hyper aware of the pink of his lips and the brown of his eyes and the gold of his skin where it’s darker around the knuckles of his fingers. sighs more. GOD. I love it when writing describes something as hyper aware. sigh sighhhhhdklsjfhldkshfkdsf

"You want a moment of someone lost in thought, or just starting to laugh, or about to wrap up a good cry." Yixing wants his camera. "Anything else is boring." i hate you ;___;

“But you know how. Everyone’s seen ‘Tears Airport’.” i'm going to kill you. my pillow. something. augh.

Because between black and white are hundreds of shades and tones, and capturing the subtle differences is something Yixing finds joy in. so I may have started crying at this point. you paint yixing so well and augh. i actually know someone who is like him--only does black and white film photographs. but that guy's an ass even if he's good-looking lmao. i don't know. every word right now makes me want to hold my camera. ;_;
Edited Date: 2012-09-17 06:36 am (UTC)

Date: 2012-09-17 07:21 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] parksoobyung.livejournal.com
Hi Maia, I know you wrote this for Ate Ayisse and all but omg I think I'm hooked. I have to go in a bit but I'm definitely coming back to read the rest (6 parts? WELP).
I love how this is is like a scrapbook (that's the word I came up with, sorry brain is not responding atm) of some sorts, a tribute to photography and it's interesting to read all the little tidbits and what not and how you inserted said references in their interaction okay this is getting too long, but I'm definitely recommending this to my friends!

Date: 2012-11-25 10:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rainsong (from livejournal.com)
So... I just finished reading this. I will admit that I am a bit of a writing snob, and while I enjoy fanfiction, too many out there are written by someone who has no business writing. Most are terrible; some are passable, a few are wonderful. I have found several that have been addicting, and now, I have found one that is truly mesmerizing and beautiful.

The way that you wrote this... it is indescribable. Beautiful, haunting, melancholy, tantalizing, mesmerizing... no words can truly describe it. I love this story and thank you for sharing it... it's the crown jewel of any fanfiction I have ever read, and better than many printed works.

Keep up the wonderful work! <3



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