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The Agonies and Ecstasies of Creative Family

Zuzu Tadeushuk

An Anecdote from our Vacation, Three Weeks Back...

I’m walking through woods carrying a large bowl of fake blood. We made it after lunch with some red food coloring and powdered sugar we found in the kitchen of the cabin we’re renting on the north-eastern shore of Lake Doolittle, the shore that sees the sunset. We’re staying here for a week, my family and our friend Sophia’s family, seven of us total, and all week we swim in the lake and boat on the lake and hike around the lake and photoshoot in and on and around it. Today we’re shooting at it’s far western tip, where the water grows murky and shallow and peters into mud flats that smell like ancient fishy farts but look beautiful with their rushes and moss humps like islands. Nicolai has chosen the fishy inlet as the location for what we’re about to shoot, the second segment of his newest “editorial,” a collection of photos with a constant theme. Reclaimed by the wild is the theme this week. Dressed in a khaki green polyurethane parka, black bikini bottoms, and inscribed on every inch of my skin with fake scratches and scrapes sketched with lip-liner that was once my mother's, I carry the bowl of blood ceremoniously along the path by the lake shore that takes us to the marsh. 

It’s hot and humid here and when we arrive Nicolai begins to sprinkle me with fake blood like holy water, and it’s sticky and smells sweet and I hope it doesn't attract more mosquitos. When we were shooting yesterday he was smearing me with mud he scooped from the bottom of the lake using a kayak paddle, and today like yesterday I complain a lot of the discomfort. That’s the thing about shooting with your brother: you can object to the annoying things he makes you do. You can’t do that with other photographers, the serious and professional ones you work with in the city, so I always make a fuss when I pose for Nicolai, partly because he makes me do more outrageous things than anyone else and partly because, well, I can. Of course I end up doing whatever irksome task he asks, though, because ultimately I trust his vision and know that the image he’s chasing will be worth the anguish of wading barefoot in a black and squelchy bog, as I did yesterday, or climbing into the upturned root bulb of a dead and centipede-infested poplar tree, as I’m doing today. 

Luckily, on shoots like these that we do at Lake Doolittle, I have our friend Sophia always nearby holding the LED light-wand aloft, and she came knee deep in the swamp mud with me and I thought to myself whatever found me would find her too and maybe four foreign feet would be more intimidating to bog creatures than two. I knew the fish and frogs would stay away, but I wasn't sure about the muskrats, I’ve been bitten by one here before, and what I felt most afraid of was the leeches I’ve spotted like small ribbon clippings flowing under the water’s surface with their soft black backs and flat, white undersides. 

No leeches appeared though, and today we are shooting on dry land, maybe too dry and about to disintegrate as I stand on it. I’ve climbed about halfway up the overturned root bulb and Sophia climbed up beside me with the light wand and we blow at the insects that move onto our arms and legs with terrible speed. My limbs are getting a good workout clinging to the wood and we shoot for almost an hour with the tree and other logs around it and then we use up the remaining blood in our bowl and shoot me standing gory on a bridge. Now we’ve lost the light and we’re all hot and hungry. It’s near dinnertime and our parents will be waiting at the cabin and I think tonight we’re having spaghetti. We trundle the quarter mile back along the shoreside trail to home, and Nicolai’s already enumerating his ideas for the next shoot and I’m already insisting I won’t do it, I have real blood on my hands from holding on and unless you’re more considerate dammit I won’t shoot for you anymore Nicolai and this time I mean it. Why would anyone voluntarily place themselves under their brother’s jurisdiction? I wonder this every time and yet I invariably find myself sooner or later knee deep in another swamp for him, or another blood bath.

When we reach the cabin he rushes straight to his laptop to upload the photos to Lightroom and begin the editing process. Half the creativity and half the work still remains for him to do; he’s excited and in his zone and it’ll take all our efforts to coax him away for the spaghetti. In the meantime I strip off my wet and sugary clothing and with Sophia jump into the lake. The lake here is cool and deep and there are no leeches. There is just bliss, what bliss-- nothing rivals being in this lake when it comes to being free. Let’s just hope sugar-blood doesn’t attract big fish the way it did mosquitos…