imagine my surprise when eliza jones wrote me e-mail friday morning (2 days ago), asking if could help her take some photos of herself for a school project. eliza has always been the kind of young woman who shies away from the camera lens, but anyone who's ever seen her would understand why people would want to take her photo. i probably have more digital snapshots of her from the 2+ years i've known her than anybody else i know, but even then, i still never felt i captured the essence of the elusive eliza jones. so it was with much arm twisting that i agreed, since everyone knows how much i despise photography, especially when i have an interesting subject to shoot.

i woke up early, excited to get my day started. even though i had gone to bed early, because of the start of daylight saving's time last night, i ended up losing an hour. i would've gone to bed even earlier were it not for the fact that i was using the taxing software manny let me borrow to recalculate my taxes. the federal government now owes me $440 while i still have to pay $400 in state taxes.

first order of business was to do my laundry, a load of whites followed by a load of darks. while the whites were drying and the darks were washing, i went across the street to star market to buy some groceries, mostly fruits. i guess not too many people shop on sunday mornings apparently because it seemed like they were doing inventory, boxes of restocking supplies crowding the aisles.

eliza came over a little bit after 11am, bringing with her several changes of costume, the copy of lullaby by chuck palahniuk she was letting me borrow, and a jar of pineapple coconut juice. we made brunch,

eliza's waffles

my waffles
i blending a container of fruit elixir (yogurt instead of banana since eliza is allergic, frozen fruit, and the juice that she brought) while she helped me cut the fruits (cantaloupe, kiwi) and mix the belgian waffle batter. eliza told me the funny story of how she lost her dsl service and won't get them back until the middle of the month. she also told me about a "friend of a friend" who was into polyamory. i poured the batter into the iron and made 6 waffles, along with a few microwave-heated sausage links (something salty to balance out the serious sweetness). i noticed that eliza and i had different ways of putting on the strawberry preserve and whip cream on our waffles.

before any photos could be taken though, eliza came with me next door to go see an open house, a 775 square feet condo (about the same size as my place) for $349k. a sign on the door alerted us to the fact that the place was actually already under agreement, and anyone interested would only be considered for the backup offer. that's crazy, because i had only just saw the "for sale" sign friday night, and having not even gone through a single open house yet, the place was already about to be sold. the real estate agent, a young woman wearing an amish-inspired outfit, let us look around. it's a great space, laid out in such a way that you don't really notice it's not more than 800 square feet. after that open house, we went to the one right next door, an unadvertised open house by the owner. this was a 1552 square feet two level condo selling for $509k. the guy made us take off our shoes before we could walk around. he seemed to know a lot about me, "you're the guy with a friend getting married in july, right?" i was confused. could this man be secretly reading my weblog? the wedding isn't in june, it's next weekend. "no, i don't think so," i said after some hesitation. then i went down to sign my name on his guest list, and saw that manny had been there before me! "oh wait, i know this guy! yeah, you're right, i do have a friend getting married in july!" this condo was impressive in its size, felt more like a regular two level home than a unit in a condo building. it was also cool because i'd always wanted to see the inside of this place. the owner knew the indian couple who used to live at my place, revealing to me that the husband was an accomplished drummer. he also knew my upstairs neighbor steven, and we both rolled our eyes when we tried to describe how amazing steven's place is. with two open houses under our belt, we returned to my place.

with no dsl at home and an employee unfriendly work place where using company time for the occasional personal e-mail check is frowned upon, eliza wanted to check her accounts first. i also took the opportunity to show her the new and improved weblog, now with commenting capabilities (which was something she wanted to see a while back).

we started off with simple portraits, nothing special. first in the living room with a lamp light as a source of background illumination, then in the guest bedroom with the blinds drawn to get some more dramatic lighting, followed by out in the backyard with natural sunlight. these first sessions were kind of awkward. i'm so used to taking photos of people when they're not looking, it was hard for me at first to give any directions. eliza was probably feeling self-conscious as well. we just watched television, with me going around taking portraits from various angles. it was hard to get any serious expressions when we were both cracking up from the saturday night live marathon on comedy central ("schmitt's gay" got a big reaction).

with the regular portraits done, eliza thought that maybe that was all she needed. i said since she brought all this change of clothes, we could at least try a set with a costume change. i think maybe she didn't want to eat up too much of my time, but after i assured her that i would like nothing more than to take more photos of her, she went into the bathroom to transform herself. she had brought along a calendar of celebrity protraits done by make-up artist kevin aucoin for inspiration, and some photo printouts of 50's style cinematic vamps.

when she came back out from the bathroom, i was nearly speechless. a glamorous movie starlet had just arrived at my house! it wasn't just the dress, eliza also went all out on makeup, lashes, lipsticks, the works, plus shoes. the costume change definitely helped, because now she could really get into character, and anything she did was in the spirit of the character, which made it less embarassing. there was a sequence of shots where we were trying to think up expressions for her to act out while i feverishly snapped away, downloading the images straight to my computer as soon as my memory card ran out. we also worked in props, using a chopstick as a cigarette holder, adding a scarf, and getting eliza to wear my prescription glasses. she said the blurry vision actually helped her to relax. without the glasses she seemed to be a vampy femme fatale, but with the glasses it made her look smarter, more modern, like a successful business woman. we continued to shoot in the living room, eliza distracting herself with more cable television. i think i also improved in my direction giving; i just imagined eliza was this life-sized doll that i could tell her to pose in however way i wanted and she'd do it. this is an absolute farcry from my usual photographs, which are completely unposed, directionless, more accidental than deliberate. it was a welcomed change though, and i think by that point we were both engrossed in the moment that there was none of that initial awkwardness.

the next series of photos featured eliza in a head scarf, which she used to portray either a high priestess character, or perhaps the virgin mary. instead of a baby, we substituted with a monchichi, wrapping it up in a t-shirt.

inspired by a hoochie girl drawing i made, eliza got into her last costume change, which was this biker chick character (or perhaps a punk rock girl from the 80's), complete with leather vest and pleather pants. we used empty beer bottles as props (i found them in my recycle bin), and i got eliza to draw a beauty mark mole on her upper lip. eliza wanted to do some before and after, so after we got the biker chick photos (including biker chick with glasses, which seemed like the business woman persona from several costume changes back, resurrected as a tough chick), eliza went back into the bathroom to make herself look ugly for the "day after" series of photos. we joked about how a neighbor walking by might see us, eliza with her battered and smeared makeup, me with the camera laughing and taking photos. it'd be scandalous! the prop we used was the container of leftover barbecue from 5 nights ago. as proof to what a "character model" eliza has become, she bravely ate bits and pieces of the leftover as i took the photos. at one point i actually thought she was crying, she had me thoroughly convinced that she had hit rock bottom.

by the time we wrapped up it was already past 6pm, even though it didn't feel like it since the sun was still out. eliza gathered up her stuff and put them back into her car while i burned the 411 photos we took today onto a cd. i was able to get her to reconsider her request that i can't use any costumed photos of her, so long as they're not of an embarassing nature. she left for her mother's place, accidently leaving behind some makeup and her leatherwear.

my mother and sister dropped by shortly afterwards for dinner, some fried dumplings. since alias was a repeat, sunday night's television watching was a washout. i look forward to reading my new chuck palahniuk book though. looks like the mongol warlords will have to wait until i finish lullaby.