‘The Photographer’- By Callum J. Jones

Part One: The Death of Harmony

The funeral of well-known Australian photographer Harmony Carter was held on a cold day in the middle of July, in a little funeral home in the outer suburbs of Adelaide. About fifty people were in attendance, mostly close friends and family. More people would’ve come, but Harmony’s drug habit drove them too far away to care.

Julian Reese was one of the people who did come. He and Harmony were lifelong best friends. Her death struck him a hard, devastating blow.

On the day Harmony died, Julian had been couped up in his office at the law firm at which he worked, going over documents in preparation for an upcoming court case. He then got a call on his personal mobile from Harmony’s brother, Brennon.

“Julian,” Brennen said, his voice breaking. “Harmony’s dead. From a heroin overdose.”

Julian’s heart started beating wildly, and his lungs, it seemed, began refusing oxygen. Harmony, one of the most well-known landscape photographers in Australia, was dead. He managed to pass his condolences to Brennon and the rest of the Carter family. But as soon as the call ended, Julian let out a cry of anguish. He leaned back in his chair, peeled off his glasses, and rubbed his eyes, as though trying to stop tears escaping.

He and Harmony met each other on the first day of high school, when the teacher assigned class seats. They bonded straight away. They shared common interests in books, movies, art – the list goes on! They told each other everything.

Well, almost everything.

There was something Julian never told Harmony, and it was that he loved her.

He planned to tell her, but before he had enough confidence to do so, she came out to her close friends and family as gay.

Telling her he loved her was pointless, and he eventually moved on. He went on to have a string of partners before marrying, but his wife divorced him because he was a workaholic. But he and Harmony remained close.

*

The funeral was one of the saddest Julian had ever been to. He wasn’t sure if that was because he’d lost a close friend, or because the service and burial was gloomy.

Maybe it was a combination of both.

All he knew was that he felt immense grief. He knew Harmony’s family, as well as her partner, Keira (who also attended the funeral), felt the same way.

He got home late after the funeral, still feeling numb. He wanted – needed – a distraction, so he took out his phone and checked his emails.

He refreshed the inbox, and a new email popped up.


From: Amy Smith <a.smith@gmail.com>

To: Julian Reese <julianreese@gmail.com>

Date: 30th June, 2018

Subject: An Interview?

Hi Julian,

I’m sorry to hear about Harmony.

I’m just wondering if you’d be comfortable with me interviewing you for an article about Harmony. I understand if you don’t want to do it. Just let me know.

All the best,

Amy


Amy was an old friend he’d met at university. She was studying journalism while he was studying law. They met each other through the university magazine, to which they both contributed articles. She was now a journalist with The Advertiser.

He honestly didn’t know if he could manage being interviewed about Harmony. He could start sobbing mid-sentence, become lost for words and fall silent for minutes, he just didn’t know. And he didn’t want to embarrass himself.

But he’d probably get closure from doing it. To avoid embarrassing himself, he could spend some time preparing for it, like he usually did for court.

He typed and sent a response to Amy’s email.


From: Julian Reese <julianreese@gmail.com>

To: Amy Smith <a.smith@gmail.com>

Date: 30th June, 2018

Subject: Re: An Interview?

Hi Amy,

Nice to hear from you! Hope all’s well.

Yes, you can interview me. Just let me know where and when.

Cheers,

Julian.


From: Amy Smith <a.smith@gmail.com>

To: Julian Reese <julianreese@gmail.com>

Date: 30th June, 2018

Subject: Re: An Interview?

Thanks so much!

How about noon tomorrow at the Exiles Club?


Part Two: The Interview

As planned, Julian and Amy met the next day at the Exiles Club, one of Julian’s favourite coffee shops. Located in a building that was constructed in the 1930s, the coffee shop was elegantly furnished with an abundance of varnished wooden surfaces and furniture. It had French doors at its entrance, which today had been opened up all the way to let in fresh air. The staff always made great coffee, and you could get excellent homemade sandwiches and cheesecake. Newspapers were always on wooden racks, ready to be picked up and read.

Julian and Amy reminisced about their time at university as they ordered their coffees. But the interview began as soon as they sat down at a table for two, located in front of a window that looked out onto the street.

Amy held up her iPhone and asked, “Is it okay if I record the interview?”

“Go ahead,” Julian replied.

“Thanks.”

Amy opened up the voice recorder app, pressed record, and placed the phone on the table between them.

She then took a piece of folded paper out of her jacket pocket. As she unfolded it, Julian caught a glimpse of handwritten questions on it.

“Okay, so,” Amy began, glancing at the first question on the piece of paper. “How would you describe Harmony as a person?”

Julian looked down for a moment as he thought about his answer.

“I’d describe her as outgoing and observant. She was the sort of person to think two steps ahead. She didn’t like to take risks unless she saw a likeable outcome.”

“What were her strengths?”

“She always stood her ground, and was confident to voice her own opinions. She never followed the crowd in regards to interests, hobbies, and opinions.”

“What do you think her weaknesses were?”

“She was always over-thinking situations. She was also too honest for her own good.”

“What made her happy?”

“Seeing her friends and family. Spending time with her loved ones on a personal and intrinsic level always made her happy.”

As he said this, memories flashed across his mind of Harmony, happily talking and laughing with him and her other friends at high school.

But she told me once that it was really hard for her to feel happiness when the people you care for most in life are unhappy or miserable. She also loved summer nights, chocolate, coffee, and the beach. Also leopard-print clothing.”

She always wore leopard-print clothing. She also owned leopard-print blankets and pillows. Leopards were her favourite animal. Not only did she like their coat patterns, she was deeply interested in their evolution and behaviour, and was also had an extreme dislike for people who hunted them illegally. She once travelled to Africa and went on a safari venture to shoot photos of leopards in their natural habitat. She had a handful of her photos printed and hung them in frames around her house.

“What pissed her off the most?

“Dishonesty, and people who take advantage of others in order to make themselves feel superior or to assert superiority. She believed everyone is equal and has the right to be heard, seen, and to simply be the fullest and most natural form of themselves. She also didn’t like it when people feel pressured to conform to something they are not because others have deemed them as different, unusual, or not preferred.”

Another memory flashed across Julian’s mind, one he remembers fondly. A couple of years ago, Harmony called him up and asked him to come over to her place and help her sort through her clothes. She wanted to donate some to Vinnies. She hated the fact that people were living in poverty.

Amy glanced at her next question and took a deep breath. The next question, Julian thought, was going to be more heavy and serious. He’d better be careful in his answer.

“There’s been rumours about Harmony’s sexuality during her entire career,” Amy said. “Did she ever talk to you about her sexuality? Are you able to confirm it?”

It’s true that rumours existed about Harmony’s sexuality. She never spoke about it publicly. The reason for this interesting choice was that she regarded her sexual orientation an aspect of her private life. Having said this, she’d been seen more than once at high-end restaurants with another woman (Keira). This obviously led to speculation that she was a lesbian. Only her friends and family knew this was true. Harmony asked those who knew, including Julian, to stay silent about it. They all obliged, and Julian was not about to break his silence now.

“No, she never spoke about it to me.”

“Surely she did. You were her best friend.”

“Doesn’t mean she told me everything.”

Well, she did.

Amy got the impression Julian wasn’t going to budge, so she moved onto the next question.

“Harmony died of a heroin overdose,” she said. “Did she have a drug problem?”

She did, ever since she left college. She’d struggled with depression and anxiety all her life, and she suffered a mental breakdown after she left college. She dealt with this breakdown by snorting and then injecting heroin. She continued doing so for the rest of her life until, one day, she overdosed. She’d also smoked up to two packs of cigarettes a day and drank a lot of alcohol. Whenever she temporarily ran out of alcohol, she drank copious amounts of coffee. She obviously didn’t take good care of her health. Those close to her, Julian included, tried persuading her to go sober; they once even held an intervention for her. But she never listened, and continued living her unhealthy lifestyle. Julian hated it, and Keira and her family did too, but there was only so much they could do.

But there was no way in hell Julian was going to say all this. Harmony’s drug and alcohol problem was another thing she didn’t want strangers knowing about.

“She didn’t have a problem with drugs as far as I know,” he lied.

“Okay,” Amy replied, giving a nod. “How would you describe her career?”

“She was one of the most talented photographers I knew,” Julian replied. “Her photos were majestic. No other Australian photographer has come close to matching her talent, in my opinion. I think she’s the finest photographer Australia’s ever produced.”

Her photos were, indeed, majestic. She’d capture so much emotion and meaning in scenes that would appear ordinary to other people. One of her landscape shots depicted an old, abandoned wooden shed sitting in the middle of a flat field of grass, with mountainous hills beyond it. The shed and the field sat next to a road in rural Tasmania, and people would’ve driven past without even glancing at them. But the photo made you aware of the fact that nature ultimately prevails over manmade structures, because the shed (the centrepiece of the shot) was falling apart due to wind, rain, heat, and coldness. It still haunted Julian to this day.

“Well, I think I understand Harmony a bit better now,” Amy said. “Thanks for answering my questions so candidly.

“Not a problem.”

Amy picked up her phone and ended the recording.

*

Julian got home later feeling exhausted. It had taken a lot of energy to not get emotional while talking about Harmony with Amy.

He walked into his office, turned on his computer, and checked his emails. There was a new one from Amy.


From: Amy Smith <a.smith@gmail.com>

To: Julian Reese <julianreese@gmail.com>

Date: 6th July, 2018

Subject: Thank You

Hi Julian,

Thanks for letting me interview you today. I’m going to write the tribute tonight. It’s scheduled to be published in tomorrow’s edition of The Advertiser.

Cheers,

Amy.


Julian didn’t reply; he didn’t have the energy.

He shut the computer down and walked out of the office to watch TV. He fell onto the couch after turning on the TV and thought about whether he’d read Amy’s article about Harmony tomorrow. Wasn’t sure he could bring himself to read it. He hadn’t read any of Harmony’s obituaries; he’d avoided the death notices section of the classifieds since her death.

He decided he’d wait till the morning, to see how he felt.

Part Three: A Tribute to Harmony

The next day’s edition of The Advertiser landed on his doorstep in the morning, rolled up in plastic.

Julian brought it inside, unwrapped it, and laid it in front of him on his dining table to read while he drank his morning coffee.

He wasn’t sure why, but he was feeling much more positive today and he felt he’d be comfortable reading Amy’s tribute to Harmony. If he started reading it, he thought, and found it too much, he’d just stop reading.

He flicked through the paper until he got to the tribute.

Harmony Carter: Australia’s Finest Photographer

Amy Smith

Renowned Australian landscape photographer Harmony Carter died of a drug overdose last week, aged 40.

Having grown up in the suburbs of Adelaide, Harmony achieved national fame when she won numerous national photography awards for her first exhibition, titled “The Circle of Life”.

She went on to win more awards and prizes for her landscape photographs, which are widely regarded as the best in Australia.

She had a great commitment to her work. She frequently worked 18- to 20-hour days without any breaks, and did not seem to have any leisure activities.

Though hundreds of thousands of Australians have seen at least one of her photographs, Harmony herself is hardly known at all. She stood against all aspects of celebrity. She made her biographer leave out all personal details. Even her close friends and family refuse to reveal personal details.

Her best friend, local barrister Julian Reese, is one of them. He refused to comment on Harmony’s sexuality, her rumoured drug addiction, or any other aspect of her personal life.

But he did talk extensively to me about Harmony as a person.

He described her as outgoing and observant.

Something suddenly struck him: Harmony was observant, yet she never picked up that he had feelings for her. Even though he never had the confidence to tell her, he felt sure that his feelings must’ve shown through his actions and behaviour when he was around her. But she was completely oblivious; or maybe she twigged on to it but didn’t bring it up with him.

He looked up from the article for a moment, feeling as though he should’ve told her how he felt, just to save himself from silently pushing his feelings aside and forcing himself to move on.

But she was dead now. Unless time travel was invented before his own death (which he thought was unlikely), there was no way Julian could let her know that he once loved her.

After sighing heavily, he continued reading.

She was the sort of person to think two steps ahead. She didn’t like to take risks unless she saw a likeable outcome.”

He said she always stood her ground and was not afraid to voice her opinions.

She never followed the crowd in regards to interests, hobbies, and opinions,” he said.

She savoured the time she spent with her friends and family.

She also loved summer nights, chocolate, coffee, and the beach.”

She loved coffee a little too much, Julian thought.

According to Mr. Reese, a few of her weaknesses were over-thinking, and that she was always too honest for her own good.

She hated dishonesty, and people who take advantage of others in order to make themselves feel superior or to assert superiority,” Mr. Reese said.

Another thing struck Julian at this point. Harmony hated – hated – lying and dishonesty. Yet she lied about her sexuality and other aspects of her personal life when asked by journalists. He understood her reasoning to keep personal stuff private: he didn’t want other people to know the details of his divorce, so he never mentioned any it to anyone.

She believed everyone is equal and has the right to be heard, seen, and to simply be the fullest and most natural form of themselves.”

Mr. Reese added that Harmony also disliked it when people feel pressured to conform to something they are not because others have deemed them as different, unusual, or not preferred.

Another contradiction that Julian understood. Harmony consistently portrayed herself as a heterosexual woman who didn’t have any problems whatsoever. Though she never felt pressured to conform to this portrayal, she felt it was necessary to hide her true lifestyle to protect her privacy.

Mr. Reese believes Harmony is the finest photographer Australia’s ever produced.

Her photos were majestic,” he said.

No other Australian photographer has come close to matching her talent, in my opinion.”

Julian finished the article feeling satisfied. Amy had done a good job with the tribute. The piece provided Julian with a sense of closure.

But should he have told Amy the truth about Harmony? No, he decided. That would’ve been a betrayal to her, even though she wasn’t around anymore.

Harmony was gone. He couldn’t bring her back. He didn’t believe in the afterlife, so there was no point thinking he’d see her again.

He’d always remember her, but he must go forward into the future, not get bogged down in the past.


Words by Callum J. Jones

Image by Mia Domenico on Unsplash

IMG_0080Creative, honest, and reliable, Callum J. Jones loves writing fiction and non-fiction. In his spare time, he likes to read, watch movies and TV shows, and go on walks.

You can follow him on Facebook (@callum.j.jones.writer) and Twitter

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