Whenever Ekaterina gets a request for a photoshoot, the first thing she considers is if she finds it anything potentially interesting. She's at the point in her hobby-turned-career where people offer her at least four photoshoot requests per day, and she can pick amidst several of them. Before, when she was just starting out, she had to actively hunt down people who needed a photographer, and they were too cheap to pay for a real one (which can cost thousands of dollars).
Photoshoots aren't always the glamorous prospect many people make them out to be. To make the actual shooting happen, there is a lot of logistical planning involved – discussing with the clients how they want their photos to be done first, then the location scouting, obtaining shooting permissions (if necessary), lighting and outfits, and booking the date.
One of the most exciting shoots she's had was around Milan, where she had to recreate a Renaissance painting, the pagans making a tribute to the goddess Ceres. It was painstaking. She truly felt the aura of the ancients in her mind, as she shot purely under the moonlight – having to use f1.6 Zeiss lenses (the smaller the aperture value, the more light the camera lens can absorb, at a cost of shallow depth-of-field) and an exposure time of 1 second.
With wedding shoots, which take place in some rented-out venue – it saves her some work – usually, the couple just wants to be shot in their happiest moments, when they kiss, when they dance to the music, and when they share the creme cake together.
In the Queen's Center mall, this couple (their names Jeanne and D.J.) are having a Noir cabaret-themed event, along the lines of Broadway meets electro-swing.
They're having it in an Applebee's.
Ekaterina checks her phone's notifications; "Where are you?" her crew is saying. "They're going to kiss in like 20 minutes!" and that was 23 minutes ago. What's a few more minutes? The priest takes like forever to get through their rites and vows.
She is running down the mall, where the fountains spill glistening patterns under the daylight. She must look like hell is breaking loose, while her hands assemble her camera kit together on the way.
The Applebee's has a special sign by its entrance. It's being rented for the sakes of Jeanne and D.J.'s wedding, where anyone is free to come and witness the event.
It's claustrophobic squeezing by the stacked stools, and even more claustrophobic when she could see behind a second set of doors, the whole stage set-up with Jeanne and D.J. under the spotlight, wearing Steampunk-themed outwear, about to pledge 'I do' to "In sickness and in health, will you care for D.J. to the best of your ability?"
She is interrupted by bouncers, who are suspicious of her gear.
"We'll need you to leave your bag aside." They point at the pile of purses and backpacks gathered by the janitor's closet. "Can't have people pullin' stuff-"
The bouncers do this with uninvited guests, and she has no time for their hassle, as she just hears the priest say "You may now kiss the bride."
"I'm Ekaterina! I'm their photographer!" She flashes her ID and wiggles out of their grasp, rushing down to the aisle, where she rapidly focuses her camera on their kissing faces and snaps a clear photo.
"Kat!" It's her partner-in-crime, Marvin, in a hushed whisper under the shadows. "Dude, where've you been?"
"I guess I got caught up in traffic," she goes.
The tables have been setup for free dinners, with incandescent orbs placed in their midst for illumination. LEDs hung from the ceiling glow and dim like ice stalactites, and a wift of glowing smoke emenates from the floor – this is what Ekaterina has asked for, two weeks before, when she visited the venue in its unmodified form, and allowed her mind to conjure up and suggest associaions, looking around.
Many of the uninvited guests are brought to awe at the atmosphere, with some regulars remarking that it's wonderfully unrecognisable from what they've grown so used to.
And for her, that is one of the greatest complements. To reinvent the familiar with a fresh magic of her own, and have others recognise it.
The actual shooting, it is a mixture of improv and direction. For the most part, she just captures the best parts of the scene as they unfold with the natural liveliness that just is, with the cheers, and the people dancing to the music, the young kids in the corner playing Pokemon on their DS.
When the people have settled down to dinner, she quickly has the couple huddle together for her camera – Marvin managing the lights, while April fixes any blemishes on their cheeks, and Viktor unleashing the trained doves to the background (who will be lit faintly by their outlines).
You can barely hear her camera shutter.
Afterwards, she shows them the unpolished result on her camera's display, and it amazes her how they're gleeing already.
"Ooh, we look so dashing!" D.J. goes, pointing out when he has Jeanne in a tango dip.
"That one there is pure genius!" Jeanne says. "You're incredible Miss Belinskaya! Absolutely incredible."
Kat is a nickname that's evolved from when Marvin stumbled across calling her Kit-Kat, like the candy bar, and it just stuck. So she's gone with having her close friends calling her Kat ever since, or Kitty if in a very playful mood, although her clients just address her formally. A wall of professionalism which helps reinforce a healthy distance – so she doesn't lose her sense of boundaries when working. It's gotten her into trouble earlier on when she acted too casually.. pried into her client's private matters, joked around too much, and left them with a great offence.
Not all her clients are like this, but there's the one type who pays very high and won't stand to be made a fool out of. Or pompous clients who just can't take a joke.
She finds it awkward though to work in a stictly formal atmosphere, and that's where her comrades-in-arms come in, to help liven the working mood. It's like trying to sleep in your own bed, and you've got a suit on – you need your soft pajamas.
"Thank you," Ekaterina tells them; her sweet lingering scent wades up everyone's noses. "I'll have them edited and published, soon as possible." She reassures the couple with a smile. "Stay tuned."
The evening is spent outside in the mall's courtyard, where the water fountains spill shapes and dazzling patterns. Ekaterina has taken a few more shots of the couple against the backdrop of the city, and now, she is wistfully gazing away at the streets which are just beginning to blossom in their luminescent livelihood.
New York. The place she's come to call her home. A metropolitan centre of organized chaos, where there's always something interesting to pique the eye on every corner. It's like a piecemeal anthive, the way most everything seems to blend with to one another, from the homeless tramps to the apartments and graffiti, and all the neon signs shouting to be heard above the rabble.
It's always busy and moving; the people clamber to reach the next place from where they're at – whether it's another street or another rung of the social caste.
The only downside (besides the occasionally musty subways) is finding a quiet place to reflect, and recover one's sense of peace. Besides Central Park or the greenhouse gardens, there aren't many natural calm areas.. along the lines of talking a walk through a quiet suburban neighbourhood, or lying down upon a hill in a secluded region.
Luckily, she has the privilege of travelling wherever she needs to be, with being connected to the International Photographer's Guild (IPG) – which offers monthly air miles that can be saved up, so she can travel back home to Moscow to be with her family on their beautiful estate, or Japan if she is in the Oriental mood. Or the majority of Europe for sightseeing and inspiration.
"Kat..?" Marvin's voice interrupts her reverie.
She's leaning over the balustrade, holding her sleek e-cigarette to her mouth.. savouring the sweetly-flavoured smoke as it cascades out her lips.
"Yes yes yes?" she mumbles.
"You've been out of sorts," Marvin says, joining her in her 'chillout corner.' "It's the third time recently you've been late for a shooting, and I know you don't think anyone would notice, but I catch that occasional gaze of your eyes - it's like a part of you ain't really here."
She sighs out wispy smoke – a fulfilled exhaustion running through her body. "It's been a busy couple of weeks.. I should really take the time off.."
"Even at your busiest, you're always very focused. I didn't see that today. We're just lucky everything turned out the way it did. Hell, I had a good time."
Ekaterina passes Marvin her e-cig, an indirect kiss for him to take. "I dunno. I've been feeling a little dissatisfied. It's always other people's stuff we're working on – and I just want to take the chance to do something that's just.. personal to my heart. You know what I mean?"
He huffs and puffs. "Yeah. I get you."
"It's like I've been going all over other places for so long, and I've all but forgotten what it is to just relax and have fun at my own place."
The smoke which comes out of Marvin's mouth, it is deep and voluptuous. It reminds her of Barry White's voice, when he hits those deep notes.
"What do you got in mind Kitty?" he asks.
She turns her head to the mysteries beneath the streets, hiding the uncertainty of her expression. "I dunno yet."
But that's a white lie.
At her apartment, she relaxes. She greets her pet kitty Monsieur Kibbles – "Awww, miss me already?" and tucks away her equipment in her room.
It's a fairly large suite for just one person, which she's lovingly decorated every inch with a personal touch. The view outside is good; she can catch glimpse of the sunrise as it happens, and has a mounted camera set to take images of it every morning.
It's the place where she's free to be herself, without anyone around (except her cat). She microwaves herself a TV dinner – and settles for a while to finish watching LeBlanc, the captivating mini-series about a stage magician and her romance with a young boy.
Finally, after glancing at her schedule and confirming that she has nothing major going on for the rest of the week, she turns to the erotic images that's been at the back of her mind.
The male virility. Those things seductive of a man, which captivates her so, and all this being vitally linked to the essence of his heart. His desire, his way of showing passion. His naked soul. And her wanting to capture it all in her photos, that beautiful thing she feels about it – that not many other erotic images seem to respect.
She is too embarassed about her display of sexuality, even to her working comrades. That's why she chose not to mention it to Marvin, or anyone else.
It'll be just herself and another man – her willing subject, on this intimate photoshoot.
She could post about it on FB and her blog, ask for someone who lives in the city who'd want to participate for her (thousands will, many of her male fans).
Her arousal washes over her like a drug though; it's impossible to concentrate like this..
Thus, sitting down in her bedroom, lit mainly by the computer monitors, she just concentrates on the purest sensation her fingers give, and indulges herself to relieve that swelling bliss of her loins. The very air seems to heat around her in the minutes which pass.