The Kid and His Camera
by curtis saretske
When the Kid was eight his father fatally gave his son the camera that would take the photos that would eventually drive him to diving off the 43rd floor of his office building. With a little darkroom basics, the kid would soon develop and print his own negatives and would be soon using those photos against his classmates, his teachers and anyone else who happened to be within six inches to infinity.
The day his father received a blowjob from his secretary of three years in the front seat of the family Buick, the Kid was there to unceremoniously photograph the carnal act, in both black and white and colour. The colour prints were printed in a nearby photo finishing lab owned by a hard luck Chinese couple. Their business was in steady decline Since mid 1972 when Polaroid brought their first mass marketed instant camera, the SX-70 on to the market.
So when Charles Chan noticed the prints of the boys father getting it from a young brunette, he took it upon himself to improve his financial situation. The kid himself was not aware of this, but when his father saw the prints stuffed in a yellow manila envelope left on his front step and addressed to him, he had a sneaking suspicion his son was the one who took the photos. This was easily determined by the kids pugish mug in the side window captured by the .50mm lens he bought some two months before and compounded by the fact that no photo was taken from above the height of 3 foot eight, his son’s measurement when last he drew the line on the top of his head beside the General Electric white refrigerator.
The father asked his son about the photo’s the child responded that he would show Gramma and Grampa and Mommy, if he did not 1) buy, a wider angled lens with a faster f-stop and 2) raise the boys allowance by six dollars. The father thought to beat the kid senseless there and then but decided not to and instead headed for the nearest camera shop, bought a wide angle prime lens with an f-stop of 1.4 and raised the boy’s allowance by six bucks.
When he returned with the lens he said he would only give it to him if; the boy would give the prints and the negatives and any copy that the boy had made to him. The boy complied and handed over a lunchbox full of 5x7, and folded 8x10 prints on both matt and glossy paper. He saw that the photos had been blow up and enlarged and as he sat in front of the fireplace and placed them one by one into the roaring fire, he conceded to the fact that was unmistakable; the kid could take a photograph incredibly well.
‘DROP $20 THOUSAND MONEY IN BACK OF ALLEY OF _______ AND________ST. FEBRUARY 3RD8:45 PM OR WIFE AND BOSS WILL NO AND YOU AND GIRL LOOSE WORK AND WILL LIVE WITH SHAME AND SIN’
A week later to the day his Father would stare at the note from the yellow manila envelope that had been forced under the front door. After hiding the envelope in his desk next to a snub nosed .38 revolver, and after thinking long and hard of whether or not he should walk down the stairs into the basement, walk over to his son’s darkroom, open the door and shoot him, he decided that he would instead drink a glass of whisky, and then question his son repeatedly about the envelope. ‘Just in case’ he thought and then loaded the gun anyway, stuffed it into the waistband of his brown polyester slacks and went to see what his son had to say.
“I have no prior knowledge of that event”.
“You have no prior knowledge of that event?”
So you didn’t send me a envelope, with your pictures, with a note telling me to bring money to a back ally in Chinatown?” “No”.
“Are you lying?”
“Are you sure?”
“Okay, okay, that’s good. That’s good.”
“Is that a gun, Father? Are you going to kill something?”
“Uh, I thought I heard a noise outside. A noise that’s all. Maybe you should go to sleep now, it’s getting late.”
“No, I’m not done”.
“Okay, well, when your done, go to bed, okay?”
“Okay”. “I love you Daddy.”
“I… love you too, boy”.
He then headed up stairs, brushed his teeth, made love to his wife thinking about his secretary, and had a least two dreams about murdering his son after resolving to ignore the 3rd night of February.
On a Tuesday, after he banged his secretary in his office during the lunch hour, he headed home early. For some reason today, and he could not put his finger on it, he felt uneasy. The cold chill of the air was bothering him and all morning he had a feeling of déja vu. Nothing seemed right today. Even his secretary seemed aloof after sex, and not wanting to cause conflict with her, skipped out early when she left to use the washroom. When he arrived home he saw the place empty and finding a yellow manila envelope on the kitchen floor, he knew why.
His wife had opened the manila envelope, roughly around the same time, about 11:43 give or take 10 minutes, both his boss and his secretary’s Mother, Father and next door neighbor opened similar packages. He drove back to his office building and cried in the parking garage. And so, it was not a long drop to the ground floor of his building on 42 Street at 2:16 pm on February the 4th. It took he thought, maybe nine seconds. Rescue workers who questioned nearby witnesses to the accident said he fell 43 stories in seven seconds. The secretary, shamed and full of sin, two months pregnant with the Kid’s father’s child, ran off to Wisconsin and in an E-Z 8 Motel bathroom, was found murdered in the shower.
The Kid’s Mother would have an altogether different tragedy years later, but until that fateful day in May some 9 years after her husband committed suicide she was stuck raising the little boy. This would not an be easy task to do for the Mother. Her son, the cold little fish that he was, showed little emotion about anything. The child who spoke little, spoke less and less, and instead became detached and absorbed into the world of photography.
At the Father’s funeral, the Mother had told the boy that it was okay to take photographs thinking that this act would somehow allow the boy to adjust to his life without a Father. Given full permission, the boy took photographs of anything or anyone he saw within the view finder almost permanently attached to the child’s right eye. The funeral would be the boy’s first photo essay, and later captioned the work with such titles as “Priest”, “Mother”, “Casket”, and “Crematorium”. He would get an A+ from his grade three teacher Ms. Alice Tinkerton.
Across the hall from Mrs. Tinkerton’s third grade class was Mary Masters, an early budding 9 year old natural blond who wore too much make—up and would become the boy’s first model. Mary who’s breasts began to develop early in third grade was the daughter of a fashion queen, so it was only natural that she follow in the footsteps of all natural blonde beauties that become spoke model’s at Detroit auto shows. Her face was at nine already plastic like, with a sheen common to women who later fail in Hollywood and make smut in a San Diego basement, until around the age of thirty when they settle down in an abusive marriage and create children that replenish the meat shop that is Los Angeles.
The girl would pose all too easily to a number of sittings that the boy set up for her. Perhaps it was her dreams of silver screen stardom that led her to pose nude for the boy, perhaps it was just her misguided ideas that beautiful women if they were to be at all successful, must of course pose in the buff. When the seventh grade teacher Allan Beckerby caught the boy with the girl nude in the gymnasium equipment room posing with a baseball bat, he unlocked a scandal that would end both his perspective career and his current girlfriend’s Ms. Alice Tinkerton, and lead to a lifelong alcohol and substance problem.
Allan and Alice would never teach again when the news broke that they were involved in a child pornography ring. In reality, a janitor happened upon the photo’s the boy had taken of the girl, several hundred by this time, in Allan Beckerby’s desk. Beckerby and Tinkerton had forced the boy to give up the photo’s stored in his desk and his green knapsack. Contemplating what action should be taken for the boy and girl was their ultimate downfall. Had they talked to the Principal Eliot Felsom, or the vice principal George Hurkin before the janitor Karl Lacoski turned the photo’s into the police, they would not have lead the brutal co-dependant relationship that would characterize the rest of their lives up until the, 17th of October, 1989, in which during the Loma Prieta, California Earthquake, a tsunami wave drowned both of them in Monterey bay.
Little Mary Masters, the young whore that she was, did little to convince the police or a jury that the boy had indeed taken the photographs. When they asked her who took the photo’s she pointed to “them” and began to cry. This officially convicted the couple and they would serve 5 years each in separate correctional facilities. The boy never took the stand and when questioned by police said nothing so they could only assume that he was deeply traumatized somehow by the incident.
Mary would later grow up with a deep fetish for nude and pornographic photography and before dropping out of college to become the new blonde thing in adult cinema, she would enroll almost exclusively in high school drama courses that would deprive her from ever fully developing any discernable personality or having any form of normal human sexual relationship. She would die in her early thirties as Ms. Mary Monroe, spreading disease across the American States, two townships in the Balkans, and the territory of Guam when she signed up for the USO.
By the time the Kid was Eleven his Mother could no longer stand to be around him. If the boy did talk, which was no becoming rare except for prolonged periods where nothing but photography jargon would spew from his little mouth. It started off where she would say “Yes dear, that’s very interesting” and such, until she could no longer find development times, reciprocity failure, the density levels of the negative in the toe and shoulder, the Dmin and Dmax interesting much less understandable, for even in photography circles only the most purist geeks find these things of interest. And by this time the child was emitting an unnatural odor caused byfixing solutions, development baths and he sometimes gave off the sweet smell of film stock on odd occasions, and that was reason enough to try to get rid of the boy.
So it was a cold day in January that his Mother brought him to the cities foremost photographer Alexander Michael Thomas who since the age of 29 had been in the peak of his artistic career. When Alexander Michael Thomas saw the eleven year old boy enter his studio he thought very little of the short little boy that accompanied his Mother. At 4.9” the boy was far from tall and his black greasy hair was parted to the side just to add to his creepiness. But what caught the photographer off guard was the boy’s black olive eyes. Those little pits of darkness seemed to suck all the light from the room, instantly taking it in and examining it for a fine composition, throwing away any needless information like a rich man throws away his garbage.
The boy had no fear of him, he felt, no fear or feelings about anything and he became cold and started out in a clammy sweat with the Kid looking at his photos and camera equipment. The little fucker was sizing him up, him the best goddamn photographer in the city. ‘Fuck him, the pea eyed little prick.’ His mother explained to him earlier by telephone that the Kid was “talented” what ever the hell that means from a Mother of an eleven year old boy. He was probably barely even able to hold the camera steady, still taking photo’s of his toys. Who the fuck was she to say who was “gifted” or “talented” or what have you. ‘No, I am the one to say if he’s good and I can tell you that smelly little Kid is never going to learn anything from me.’
“He’s too young, bring him back when he’s sixteen” The Kid’s stare turned to Medusa’s gaze but he felt justified and good about letting him down. The Kid needs disappointment early if he wants to be a good photographer. “His father died when he was eight” (and no doubt by natural causes) “He needs guidance, and I can pay you if you’re worried about the expense” “No not at all, not at all, I just think he should come back when he has more experience”.
“Just look at his photo’s” “Yes they’re very nice.” She opened the black portfolio. The portfolio was divided into two, between black and white and colour prints. Jesus Christ the bastard was good. “Are those his?” “Yes.” “All of them?” “Why yes, all of them.” “Who printed them for him?” “He did.”, “All of them?” “Yes, are they any good?” “Well the kid can definitely improve.” He better not or he was out of a job.
“Yeah I guess I can show him a few things, come back tomorrow after school”. And just then he noticed the kid pull his lips to the side in a what can only be described as a smile. “Can you leave these here, I want to examine them more closely.” “Is that okay with you?” and the boy spoke “Yes.” and Alexander Michael Thomas knew the devil was standing not more then six feet from him, smiling.
When the devil left he opened his finest single malt scotch whiskey, a 22 year old bottle of Highland Park, and he drank it until he drank the bottle and moved upon his worst a blended scotch “Bell’s” and he drank that until he moved onto Canadian whisky. He spread the boys photo’s across the floor of his studio and at first he stood above them with his glass of Highland Park. His prints were archival glossy fibre based silver resin prints that would make Minor White and Ansel Adams proud. He could not even find a speck of dust and he looked, he really looked for them.
The black and white prints were perfect zone scale. Zone IX was perfect, his zone IV was one perfect zone bellow zone V 17.8 percent gray. His zone I, black with tonality, matched against the gray of zone II and III. Worse the boy could take a photograph. The kid covered the themes. Street photography that would make Robert frank weep. His studies of flowers, marvels that Edward Weston couldn’t touch. He made every day life look like combat photography, and perhaps to him it was. Robert Capa would step on a land mine only to find out some greasy smelly rotten loathsome little shit would steal his soul some twenty years later.
After the whisky was finished he wept for an hour, phoned his mother for some moral support and threw up four times into the bathtub. The next day Alexander would close his door to the boy, leaving a note for him to come back another day because he had ‘contacted the flu’. The boy came after school and stood outside and watched his studio for a full hour before leaving.
Michael felt he was trapped inside. He could feel the boy’s stare, and he knew that he was inside. Worse the boy didn’t leave the spot he was standing in, and never stopped looking up at his window for a full hour. Thomas knew this because from the moment the Kid arrived he stared at him from his third floor studio window. Worse, the Kid stared back with his little black olive eyes until Alexander finally had to shut the lights off in the studio for the boy to leave. He would return for five more days until he would let the boy in. It was a long five days, but it would be a longer two years as the boy apprenticed in his studio.
When one thinks of an apprentice they often think of a boy who learns from the master until he has achieved the role as master. When the boy finally entered the studio Alexander Michael Thomas knew he had become the apprentice, the boy the master. That is not to say he showed him a few things, that he did. He showed him how to light a subject, use strobes lights and a large format camera. He taught him about the business of running a studio. But really, all he had to do is show the boy something about lighting the model and soon he could do it with better control than himself. He felt so weak, and would often cry to himself at night. Each morning though, before school, and each afternoon, he would let the Kid return to his studio. He was never late, and he never, not even once never show up.
It would be one year and eleven months to the day that he met the boy that he would end up on an operating table, the shock of having a liver transplant killing him days later. But, during that one year and eleven months the Kid would hone his craft in the studio using Alexander’s models as his unwitting test subjects.
As the apprentice the boy would set up the studio for Michael, setting the lights, choosing the backdrop. By now he would look through the camera, adjusting the frame a fraction of an inch, here or there. Thomas would snap the photo, but by this time all confidence in his own abilities had completely melted like the ice in his now cheap southern whiskey. Drunk, by noon, he could hardly function without the boy, never less take a good photo. His career was spiraling down as the boy took more and more control, Alexander’s photo’s taking on a perfect lifelessness to them, absolutely well composed and shot, but not a hint of feeling or spark of could be found.
If anything the photos took an ironic tone. Bored the boy would arrange the photo’s often to make the subject look completely ridiculous. Of course, Thomas, could see what the Kid was doing to him, planning his demise and the boy’s own greatness. He watched as he mocked his models, their skinny bodies warped and distorted by his lens. He said nothing. How could he, the Kid, barely twelve was going to achieve greatness and all he had left in him was being pissed from his liver.
Walking home one day from the studio late in the winter of 1978, Rilke, would take the photograph that would gain him his first recognition as a photographer. The photo, now hanging in a private collection in eastern Maine, is one of the boy’s many accomplishments. To look at the photo today, it still has the impact it had that cold December night. The subject, a homeless man dead and frozen, starring out sad, in a gaze that shows the last thought he had as his blood slowed, his heart stopped. What the photograph doesn’t show was how he took it.
Finding the homeless man that night, drunk and stumbling. He sat down with him feeding the man alcohol which he found laying about the studio. As the man began to pass out, the cold chill reaching close to minus twenty, he began to take his photos. He went through twelve rolls of film before he got the one he wanted, after of course, he had removed the blanket wrapped around the poor man. As the early morning sun rose, the man was dead, frozen solid, and Walter Rilke, had captured on his Kodak Plus X, the man’s last breath. He was 13. He won national fame.
Through out high-school the boy, now a teenager, was exceptionally unexceptional. He passed his courses through copying, bribing, and extortion. His English teacher in grade 10, a Mrs. Darlene Ester , upon failing him, opened up her desk to find photos of herself and Mr. Ester in leather bondage gear in sexually graphic positions. They decided it would be much better if he was given an A.
Incidents like this were rumored to occur in many of his classes, and most of his fellow students thought it was best not to talk to the Rilke boy. The only extra curricular activity he chose was the school photographer. In his art class his work was wildly discussed among the practicing art teachers. For a while they thought that he was just copying his mentor, Alexander Michael Thomas. But, by this time Thomas was a drunken joke around the town, selling off his car, his many pieces of art, furniture, most anything except his cameras. Those he knew Rilke would not let him sell. In one case he began to pass off the boy’s photo’s as his own, that is until the Kid caught him. He never said a word, but from the look in those black olive eyes and that little smug smile Alexander knew that it would be the last time he would try to sell the boy’s work as his own.
As school photographer he had the authority to take photographs of any one he choose within the school. Not that this had ever stopped him before, but now he took an even added zeal to the process. No student could escape him. He would track down and photograph everyone. It is suffice to say, that once they had their photo’s taken, their lives were destined toward slow death and failure. Looking at class statistics, there is an extraordinarily high rate of suicide, automobile accidents and drownings, so much so that in his graduation year half the class was killed on a bus trip to Yosemite. The rest would squander their lives and those still remaining alive today, are near penniless, heavily in debt, fat, destitute, pathetic sad sacks of pale flesh.
By the time the Kid turned sixteen on January 20, 1982, he had left a wake of misery, contempt and sadness behind him. His Mother had developed a particularly nasty and debilitating form of lung cancer. The boy, being a good son, visited her in the hospital every day. To think of a son that would visit his Mother every day, as she lay sick with slow death, conjures images of a love and warmth that only a son who truly loved his mother could give. In truth, he was more fascinated by the images of disease, pain and sickness.
His mother, on a respirator, and often on a morphine drip would watch as her son entered the hospital room. He would sit for a long time, silent and stare at her with his black coal eyes. She often wondered what past crimes she had committed. How horrible she must have been, cruel and violent, to have a son like this. She would often day dream of spending her with the Borges murdering and killing most of Italy. Yes, she must have been right evil, to be punished by this gross and foul child. Why can’t she just die, she thought. Maybe should could choke on her tongue.
“Mother are you alright?”
“Nurse, Nurse. You have to help her, she’s choking!.”
”Doctor, she’s chocking!”
“It’s okay Mother, they are here to help you”.
“It’s her tongue, she’s choking on her own tongue!”
“It’s okay Mrs. Rilke, I’ve pulled your tongue back out” “You’re okay now, you’re okay now”.
“Nurse, give her some water”.
“Thank God you said something quick, or I’m sure she would have choked on her own tongue”.
“Yes, I am very pleased my Mother is still alive”.
Each day after his mother feigned sleep, the boy would walk the halls of the hospital, photographing the sick, traumatized, dying and elderly. He was kicked out of operating room for using a flash while they were operating on a man who had suffered a motorcycle accident. From the time his Mother was in the hospital from June ‘81 to her death on August 9th 1983, the boy let no one escape his view.
Having no moral reservations he would spend hours sitting next to helpless, dying, incapacitated individuals who were the perfect still life to him. In the beginning the nurses just thought he was a nephew or son or brother of the patient. After awhile, they knew, or suspected what he was up too. They could have stopped him. They wanted to, but in the end they were afraid to say anything to the boy. One look from him and their faces would turn the colour of skim milk; white with a blue tinge. The examining eye looking at every flaw and pockmark, every scar and freckle. Every hair out of place. Many a nurse would see him, then head to the nearest washroom, lock themselves in a stall and cry till the mascara poured down their pretty puffy pasty cheeks.
On a September evening walking home from the hospital he passed by a 1956 Black Volkswagen Type I Beetle with a ‘For Sale’ sign on it. Rilke had taught himself to drive the family’s 1969 Buick Skylark, and had passed the driver’s examine without much of a problem. Besides at sixteen the boy, short, pudgy, with black greasy Hitler hair and a snow white tan was not someone you said “no” to. “No” was unacceptable. There was a reason for everything in the Kid’s universe and if Rilke asked you a question, you had better give it straight to him. When he was in class, he would grill his teachers on any subject. If they didn’t know, they learned to look it up and tell it to him then next day, or be subjected to more and more questions till their reason for living could only be broken down into simple means of survival and subsistence.
So, having saved thousands since he began his apprenticeship with Alexander Michael Thomas, approached the residence of Mrs. Flora Gardner, a widow in her sixties, about the sale of her black Beetle. Mrs. Gardner, having been near crippled for a decade due to osteoporosis had let the car sit ever since her husband, Hermann (Harry) Gärtner (Gardner) had died in the fall of 1963.
Hermann, was an ex-Nazi Sturmbannfuehrer inthe 12th SS Hitlerjugend Panzerdivision, who on the 7th of June, 1944, was taken prisoner by the 3rd Canadian Division, the Royal Winnipeg Rifles' "A" Company outside Bretteville, France. After spending the rest of the war in Prison Camp #132 in Medicine Hat, Hermannchanged his named to Harry Gardner and married Flora, also a fellow German, in the autumn of 1951. As a expatriate of Germany, and at heart, a man who loved Hitler, he saw the first American Beetle’s arrive in 1955 and knew that he had to ownone. Since Hitler would not conquer the world, Hitler’s car, the Volkswagen Type I Beetle, would have to do it for him.
When Flora saw the teenage boy come up her steps, at once she knew what he wanted. And, being a mean old bitch, she wasn’t about to give it too him. “Go away”, she spat. “Go away, you foul child, go”. Walter looked at the frail old bag, hands wrapped around her rocker, and pulled out his wad of cash. The woman eyed it, but spat more insults at the boy. “Do you think you can own Hermann’s car, he was a great man you know, tall and proud, a war hero, but you, you are greasy, short, ugly child, you cannot have his car, you are not worthy of the car of the people.” Walter turned away, he had barely changed his expression, when he remembered something he read. He turned back to her and spoke in his monotone drone.
“Fine, Mamn, I understand you not wanting me to buy your late husbands Beetle, even though it is clearly marked as being for sale, but I am sure that your daughter, Elsie, who is about to be married, and who I am sure is spending a fortune in inadequate photographic prints of her wedding, would be appreciative of you allowing the best photographer in the city to take commemorative pictures of the occasion in exchange for this old automobile, in which, I might say, you cannot drive”.
So, in agreement for the car, he would take photo’s of the wedding of Elsie Gardner and Helmut Müller. The boy absolutely detested weddings, but was extremely pleased to have the car. The Beetle was in pristine shape with only 007209 miles on the odometre, and would allow him to move about more broadly in the city, going anywhere, capturing images of everything, allowing him to have his first taste of freedom, It would also allow him to relentlessly torment the newlywed couple of Mr. and Mrs. Helmut Müller.
The wedding was set for the day of Saturday July 18th, and by all accounts it was one of the coldest days on record for the month of July. Their outdoor party had to be taken inside when gales of wind began to blow apart the reception. As the wind took upWalter began taking his photos of Helmut and Elsie. As dust and leaves hit the bride in the eyes, Rilke was there to photograph it. As the bridesmaids dresses got blow above their knees, he was there to photograph it. In fact, Rilke was always there. So, much so that Elsie could not get away from him. His flash bulb would fire a blinding white light each time she began to talk.
She smiled at first, the happy bride that she was.
“Did you see the photographer around? He’s short, about 5’6. This tall.”
Elsie raises her hands just below her eyes.
“He’s got little black eyes.”
“I think he’s over there photographing the brides maids.”
A ‘FLASH!’ and one of the her brides maid lets out a shrill.
“Please don’t tell him where I am.”
Later in the washroom
BRIDES MAID #1: Oh, my god, did you see the plump little boy taking photos?
BRIDES MAID #2: Yeah, did I ever.
BRIDES MAID #1: I think he almost put the camera up my nose.
ELSIE: Up your ass more like it. I can’t even sneeze with out him taking a photo of it.
BRIDES MAID#2: Poor girl.
ELSIE: in the stall peeing I think Helmut’s going to brain him.
BRIDES MAID #1: Good idea.
ELSIE: I know, but the kid’s doing it for free, pretty much, just dad’s shitty old car. And he’s good flush
BRIDES MAID #1: Elsie?
Elsie exits the stall
FLASH! (Rilke stands outside the stall and takes a photograph)
Flora stands outside smoking a cigarette with Helmut.
“That greasy boy, where is he? That little fuck, kid and his camera, where?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen him in a while.
Maybe he ran out of film and went home.”
“My God Mother, there you are. Did you see that little kid with the camera. My nerves are bad. I feel like I’m always looking over my shoulder.”
“Baby, Let’s leave while we can.”
“Good, you take her home Helmut, take her to bed and make her a proper wife”
On the road driving at night.
“My god he’s behind us.”
“Are you sure?”
“That’s dad’s car. I’m sure of it.”
“What does he want? What the hell does he want.
“I don’t know, I don’t know. Why doesn’t he go away. Why can’t he go away.”
“I’ll take a short cut.”
“I’ve lost him, I’m sure I’ve lost him.
“I hope so. I just want to go home. Helm, just take me home.”
“Okay darling, I love you.”
“I love you too. Please just take me home so we can make love. I just want to make love and go to sleep.”
“Across the railway tracks. I don’t know how he got ahead of us, but I’m going to kill that little prick.”
“No, baby, just take me home.”
“No, I’m going to end this now.”
“No, no, baby, take me home and make love to me.”
“Goddamn it. The car stalled.”
“Well move it. Press the gas”
“I think I just flooded it more.”
“What is he doing?”
“I don’t know. It looks like he’s getting out.”
“What’s he getting out for?”
“How should I know. It looks like he’s setting up a tripod.”
“Why is he setting up a tripod?”
“To take a picture.”
“I don’t know. Why don’t you ask him?”
“I’m not going to ask him. You ask him. Did you hear that?
“It sounds like a train.”
“Oh, my god. Oh my god.”
“Get out will you. Elsie get out!”
“I CAN’T! I CAN’T. My dress is stuck. Oh god help me, quick help me!”
“What’s it stuck on? Move your hand. Elsie, how the hell can I help you if you don’t move your fucking hand.”
“Don’t rip my dress!”
“I have to.”
“No you don’t. This was my mothers dress don’t you know.”
“Ouch, don’t hit me.”
“Stop ripping the dress.”
“Move your Godamn hand before I break it.”
“Don’t rip the dress!”
“How can I get you out if I don’t rip the dress.”
“Don’t rip it.”
(the train horn sounding)
“Oh God. oh God oh God.”
“Get me out. Helmut! Please get me out.”
“Oh God oh God oh God.”
“Get me out! Get me out! Please get me out!”
“I can’t! Oh God oh God oh God.”
“Oh my God, get me out.”
“Rip the fucking dress!”
“I am, I am.”
“Oh God the Train…”
“I love you. HOLD ME.”
“Oh god I love you baby…”
“I love you too, so much, so much…”
“Just close your eyes.”
It takes a freight train carrying coal with over a hundred cars over a mile and a half to stop, and for Mr. and Mrs. Müller it made no exception. Their bodies mangled and torn took a full three days to recover completely. Rilke on the other hand took the photo of the year.
The photo, in grainy black and white hangs in a small private gallery in Berlin. It has a simple black frame and it’s dimensions are 22.8 cm x 35.6 cm. The print titled “Honeymoon and Freight Train”, depicts the couple in their 1980 BMW, frontal facing with it’s lights straight ahead, the railway crossing guard down in front of it. They are grasping each other, her face pressed into him, his hand over her eyes, his face turned toward the light, his mouth agape. The bright white light of the Freight Train hitting the right side of the car, making their faces starkly pale. It is both beautiful and frightening at the same time and a testament to the skill and horror that the boy was capable of. Let’s remember, he was not yet seventeen.
Two weeks before he was to graduate the Kid received a letter to go to New York. A prominent gallery owner, Ms. Cynthia Schnabel, sent a letter requesting that the boy see her immediately.
Mr. WALTER RILKE
August 3rd 1983
Dear Mr. Rilke,
You have come to my attention. Your photographic work can only be described asincomparable genius. My gallery is prepared to give
you a one man show. Contact me immediately as my offer is on the
table for a very short time.
Ms. Cynthia Schnabel
Manager, Cynthia Schnabel Gallery SoHo,
___ Greene St. 3rd Floor, NY, NY. 10012
Cynthia Schabel had in fact only heard of the boy, Walter Rilke, a few day before. Her gallery, ‘Cynthia Schnabel Gallery SoHo’ was in dire need of finacial success. Cynthia’s drug habit, now consisting of at least six lines a day and a dry gin martini as a chaser was financially crippling her. Her staff had been drastically cut and now only consisted of an ‘intern’ art student Ms. Jennifer Elizabeth Frank.
Jennifer, for the privlage of working with Ms. Schnabel, was paid in lieu of actual earnings. In turn, she cleaned the toilets, answered phones, managed the acounts, bought coke for Cynthia and slept with the new artists to “see if they we’re holding out.” It was she who had seen young Walter Rilke’s work, being awed and impressed with “Dead Pigeon at Dawn”, “Nurse and Catheter”, “Honeymoon and Freight Train” and “High School Drop-out Junkies”.