Herb is a master at tabletop photography. He rules his studio alternately with wit and ease or heavy, judgmental silence interrupted by a grunt or a gesture. Herb loves his studio — the warren of small rooms, the clips, the hardened play-do lumps that angle the jewelry just so. It is his kingdom.
Clients turn to Herb for dependable results. His work is neither super arty nor precious, it simply sells the goods. He’s meticulous when it comes to lighting the background. The steam always rises from the hot bread, the curl of ice cream (made from his secret recipe of mashed potatoes and wax) looks like the ice cream you’ve been chasing since childhood. And that’s what the clients want.
Then he met Molly through JDate. They hit it off. Then they went out again, without waiting the obligatory two to three days and nights. Molly was thrilled to learn that Herb was a photographer — “the real deal” she repeated with admiration. She explained that she was launching a new business and needed a perfect image to convey freedom. She had in mind a shot of a hot air balloon against a crystalline blue sky. Though he cringed inwardly at the hackneyed image, he decided to try something new and keep his thoughts and harsh opinions to himself, figuring, quite correctly, that his fine-tuned sensibility was getting him nowhere in the love department.
So the two set out for the local balloon ride fields. Molly was breathless with anticipation mingled with joy. “This is exactly what I had in mind” she squealed as he raised his camera and focused. It had been a while since Herb actually shot anything outside his studio. Rather than feel the rush of freedom that he so wanted to share with Molly, instead, he bristled at the willfulness of a subject moving through space of its own volition. There was no way to correct the lighting or fix the awkward sway of the balloon as it lofted out of frame. Herb sent Molly an array of shots that were merely adequate. A week later, unable to chase away the thought of her, he started building a tabletop model of the balloon ride so that he could reproduce the fleeting jazz riff, but shape it into perfection. Two years later, the model balloon ride was finished and ready to be photographed. By then Molly had cultivated another business venture, one that called for an image of a adaptability, like that of flowing water. For Molly, freedom, as a metaphor for all things valuable and useful, had become a distant memory.