It starts because of the Inauguration. A fitting starting point, where so much else of such great import begins. As inaugural consequences go, this is nothing, Anderson knows -- hasn't he been talking nonstop for the past who-knows-how-long about the momentousness of this event? And yet, from the first moment onward, Anderson knows this will be important in its own way, to him if not to the rest of the world.
He doesn't even remember which picture was the first one; all he knows is that one captivated him, and after that he couldn't stop looking. Inaugural photographs are such a heady jumble of joyful and solemn and adorable and awe-inspiring and ridiculous, and Anderson can do nothing but go along for the ride. There are pictures of the President-Elect standing alone in a quiet moment of waiting, just before being sworn in; there are pictures of the crowd spilling down the steps and onward as if to infinity; there are pictures of Rahm Emanuel sticking out his tongue and thumbing his nose at someone unseen but probably important.
Anderson has spent so long in front of cameras taking video, has spent so long with a man who's done the same, that he almost never stopped to consider what it would be like to be behind a camera taking pictures. Now he is slightly obsesssed -- buoyed, no doubt, by inaugural euphoria -- and he can think of little else. When he voices this to Keith, though, Keith laughs and says Anderson will spend ten years researching cameras and comparing them and thinking and fretting before ever buying one, and that's a good thing too because they don't really have time for hobbies.
So Anderson orders a camera. A little impulsively, uncharacteristically so, but he doesn't know much about cameras and right now he doesn't have the patience to learn. Plus he just kind of wanted to prove Keith wrong. Okay, so it took well over a year, but that's still less than ten. It still feels fast to him. But he can always buy a better one later, he reminds himself, and resolves to keep this small newfound brashness in check.
According to Keith, that won't be a problem.
"I always knew you were an anal little perfectionist," Keith grumbles. "Look, the lighting's fine! Can you take the damn picture already?"
"No -- Keith, it's not fine, I don't like the shadows it's throwing on your face--"
"Well I told you you should put it over there--"
"Don't move! You know it took like ten tries to get the composition right!"
"Yeah, about that, there was actually nothing wrong with the composition either."
"You have no artistic eye, Keith. --Oh my god, wait, yes, there! Stop -- right there!"
"Just when I thought this couldn't get any worse, you start sounding like we're having sex."
"Shut up, this is art. Just go back to that position you had a minute ago, okay?"
"Anderson, I was half twisted around and half out of the chair. I'm not going to sit -- stand -- whatever it is -- for another half hour while you figure out where you want to put the light."
"But, see, the light's perfect when you stand like that, so it won't take very long at all -- Keith, nonono, I told you not to move!"
"I'm going to throw my back out if I stand like this much longer."
"Just one more inch to the left--"
"My god, you're like a Republican or something. Nothing's ever good enough for you to accept--" Keith breaks off, laughing. "Okay, okay, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it."
Anderson grins wryly. "You know, I really thought for a while there -- like a whole thirty minutes -- that we were finally done with your health care rant of the day, and now I catch you starting up again. Like a moth to the flame, you are."
"Hey, I took it back. You're not a total Republican. You're maybe Joseph Cao or something."
Anderson rolls his eyes, but he can't help smiling. "All right, good enough."
"My apology, or your picture?"
Anderson considers. "Both."
Keith tries to spring up from the chair but falls back, groaning. "You know what's not good enough, is my back. I told you you were going to wreck it."
Anderson prods, considers, makes a judgment based on ignorance of spinal biomechanics but expertise on Keith's complaints. "You're fine, you just need a backrub. Come on with me to the bedroom."
Keith leaps up, miraculously better, and grins. "I like your thinking. Maybe I'll let you photograph me again sometime after all."
And that's the end of what Anderson likes to call their first photoshoot. None of the photos he took actually end up pleasing him, but he thinks it went well anyway. In the ones that follow, Keith proves a willing enough subject, but never stops ribbing him.
"What a waste," Keith sighs once, teasing. "With that body and that face, you were born to be on the other side of the camera."
Anderson swats him, and photographs him ducking.
Actually, though, when he thinks about it, he doesn't know why he didn't start this years ago. Never mind his stunning physique (which he suspects is growing less stunning, as his new hobby keeps him out of the gym), he's always been a private person, even shy; it stands to reason he'd be more at home behind the camera than in front of it.
Damn introspection. After he starts, he can't seem to stop; the musings and mullings persist, and they inevitably lead to darker ideas than his biceps or his introversion. Why is Anderson so drawn to photography? He knows, really, that it isn't just the novelty or the sex it often leads to (Keith's decided that modelling hurts his back all the time now), or even the Inauguration -- not entirely.
It's that he wants to capture and record and save things before they are gone. It seems he has always known that the whole world can change in an instant. Blink and you'll miss it, open your eyes to find the world rent and yourself lost within it. A father who's lost his hold on life, a brother who's stepped off a skyscraper -- not shuffled but simply slipped, so quick, off this mortal coil. Even huge events, powerful forces of nature or of man, can happen so fast. One tsunami, one flood, one bomb, one mistake, and poof: instant grief. Just add water and your life is ready to be torn apart. Sometimes he makes instant coffee, looks down at the scalding dark liquid and knows that even the blackest, longest-brewed coffee in the world will never even begin to measure up to the bitterness of grief, instant or otherwise.
And instants matter, here. He and Keith live in such a flurry of motion -- they live in New York, first of all, which never sleeps and never stops, either -- and they're both workaholics, and on top of all that they work in the media, lives driven relentlessly by that 24-hour news cycle. There are days when all they have is instants, when their lives only intersect at the edges: a few hurried minutes in the early morning, a quick phone call in the middle of day, a handful of text messages and emails, a dinner made brief and quiet by weariness. In the middle of all the rush, Anderson draws comfort from capturing an instant and preserving it. Just so their whole lives don't stream past like so much sand in an hourglass, a bottomless hourglass where the sand is lost forever. The camera lets him collect the sand-grain moments like a child at the beach -- whose creations will, nonetheless, be eventually washed away by the tide.
It is impossible to keep his eyes open every second of the day, to watch out for brewing tragedies and run to meet them, to protect others from them -- or simply to watch those he loves before they, too, are gone. But when his human eyelids must lower, the camera will keep watch for him.
And when the crisis has come and the tragedy is thick all around you, sometimes the camera is all that is left. Is all you can manage. To bear witness. To speak out without sound. When you can no longer find your voice, when any meager voice you might dredge up would fail utterly to capture what's around you -- then instead capture an image and let the world see, and the picture will speak for you. There are no words for grief curling a body, pain twisting a face, joy unfurling a smile; there are only images, universal and instant and searing and bare.
Before he flies out for his next assignment, he makes it his mission to document Keith as fully as possible. He snaps shots of Keith making coffee with his hair still mussed from sleep, loading the dishwasher with soapy hands, yawning over a book in bed at night, typing furiously on his laptop for his next Special Comment. Later, an ocean away, he scrolls through the pictures and drinks in this scattered mosaic of Keith, the only palliator for the living despair that bombards his senses here daily.
And if he thought the Inauguration pictures were a jumble, that's nothing compared to his pictures now. There is wrenching suffering next to happy absurdity, so many hurt or dying people interspersed with Keith making funny faces. Anderson doesn't want to be disrespectful, but this is what's on his memory card and moreover it's pretty much the only way he can cope.
He overstays his assignment because he cannot bear to leave, cannot face the inevitable guilt and the echoes of tragedy that always follow him home. At least here he can do something, even if very little.
When he finally boards the plane back, he sleeps the whole way to put off the echoes. For once, they don't invade his dreams.
The plane lands when it's still dark. He told Keith not to meet him there. His electronics are all packed away -- he feels almost naked -- so he has no pictures to look at except the ones inside his brain.
Graying sky, silent elevator, fumble with keys in the dim hall -- and then Keith is there to meet him at the doorway, between him and the wide window suddenly painted bright with sunrise. "You look terrible," says Keith, and then grabs him and crushes him as if trying to make him look even worse, and Anderson can't see him because he's too close, because his eyes are closed, because the sun just rose as if from Keith's head but there is no photograph in the world that can compare to Keith's arms here around him and Keith's mouth on his. Anderson may be an anal little perfectionist, but this time it's finally, overwhelmingly good enough.
And in the months and years ahead when all the tragedies haunt him again? As always, Keith will be by his side and the camera will keep watch for them, and in some way that too will be enough.
He can feel Keith smiling into his shoulder. "I hurt my back while you were gone," says Keith.
"I thought it was only my cruel photographic demands that hurt your back," says Anderson, but he smiles back, and lets Keith pull him to bed.
Often while traveling with a camera we arrive just as the sun slips over the horizon of a moment, too late to expose film, only time enough to expose our hearts. --Minor White