Haibun: Kitten Photos

For Shay’s photo prompt on Sunday Muse BlogSpot. The haibun ends with a senryu and not the typical seasonal haiku.

Kitten Photos
“Taking pictures is like tiptoeing into the kitchen late at night and stealing Oreo cookies.” – Diane Arbus

Decades ago, I was a photographer. Not a taker of pretty of pictures but a paid-for-photographs-by-a-Philadelphia-newspaper. I also took autopsy photos for extra money. The photos I took were a queasy combination of the dead and food styling. Sometimes the paper would use me as a stringer and I would travel to a small town to take pics of mourners at a funeral, an exceptionally bad car wreck, or the local gardening club. Most of the time I hated my job but it paid the rent. Like most young underpaid photographers, I ate a lot of hotdogs at the Pen and Pencil – the local press club. The hotdogs swam in hot water in a slow cooker and were free. The scotch you had to pay for. I used to drink a week’s salary in scotch during this time. This temporary career choice of three years built up in me a hatred of having my picture taken and taking snapshots. People ask, why don’t you take pics of your garden or your food? Well, read what I did to pay the rent. On our 20th anniversary, my husband and I glared at the waitress who was taking our picture as we sat and waited for our dinner.

Like being a chef, being a photographer involves smoke and mirrors. Careful and precise knife work and the right ingredients. My favorite photographers were Henri Bresson and Alfred Stieglitz. They would have made great chefs I think. But I was young, a mere kitten. I learned to combine smoke and mirrors and precise knife work when I cooked. I never really caught on when I did photography. You can only put so much finesse into an autopsy photo after all. I regret the photography phase of my life – especially the phase of intruding in people’s lives. Hold still. Let me take your picture while you sit on the commode or weep for your dead mother (who was vaguely famous) or lie naked on a table waiting for the knife.
in black and white –
life doesn’t hold still

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Carrie V. H.
    Feb 16, 2020 @ 16:30:37

    We are affected by our past and it is completely understandable that after what you have experienced that you would have those feelings about photography Toni. Love the Arbus quote and yes, life does not hold still.


  2. Helen
    Feb 16, 2020 @ 16:48:43

    This glimpse into your past is quite fascinating! Thank you for gifting us.


  3. Sherry Marr
    Feb 16, 2020 @ 17:04:11

    This was a fascinating read! I can see why you got turned off photography. Love the haiku, especially “life doesn’t hold still.”


  4. qbit
    Feb 16, 2020 @ 17:57:13

    “queasy combination of the dead and food styling” that is an immortal line! “You can only put so much finesse into an autopsy photo after all” is terrific as well.


  5. susanstoo
    Feb 16, 2020 @ 19:25:37

    OMG, that’s good! Did you live here in Philadelphia? Is it true? The story reveals an entire history of a moment when you want the camera out of your face. nd that haiku: newspaper black and white, trying to capture something that keeps moving. Love it!


    • kanzensakura
      Feb 16, 2020 @ 22:05:15

      Haibun are always supposed to be true; they are not flash fiction. I lived in Philly for 7 years. First in Germantown and then on Delancey Street.

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  6. othermary
    Feb 17, 2020 @ 10:46:02

    This is really well done, and interesting. The food and autopsy is an striking contrast. I’ve never done a haibun, but I really enjoyed yours. Thanks for this glimpse into your past.


    • kanzensakura
      Feb 17, 2020 @ 10:50:44

      Thank you. I usually do much shorter haibun in the manner of Basho, who created the form. This one just grew.

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