She only had one sitting per day — which made me a little nervous.
How long would I have to be there? What would we do?
Lady Ostapeck lived out in Fly Creek, in a run-downish sort of house, with an English sort of garden in front.
I knew her from auctions. She often bought the $1 or $2 lots of junk that the auctioneers threw together toward the end. I had heard that she got her camera that way, but it turns out she bought it at the Utica Salvation Army store.
I also knew her from the photographs she had done of my oldest brother and sister, though I never heard much about their sittings.
And from her reputation as odd and artistic. The two go hand-in-hand, don’t you think?
She welcomed me into her home and we walked through a cluttered kitchen.
She paused in a doorway and looked up. “I need to find some spray paint,” she said, ” and paint that.” She was looking at a spider web in the corner of the door frame. “Gold or silver. I can’t decide.” We moved on.
In that moment, I knew I was in the presence of someone who was far more aware of the beauty of her surroundings than anyone I had met before. My mother would have grabbed her lambswool duster and whisked the web away, but Lady Ostapeck saw something lovely.
We sat on a couch and looked through books.
“What time period do you see yourself in?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I told her honestly. Nobody had every asked me that before.
We flipped through pictures in the books. She was watching me. I paused on a picture of a French woman circa 1600.
“I think this is where you belong,” she said finally, after showing me some other pictures from that time.
The next step was the costume. She led me into a room that seemed to be overflowing with clothes. In that small dimly-lit room, she seemed to know exactly what she was looking for. A blouse. A hat. A sash. A skirt. A petticoat.
I put them on and then she set to work creating the scene.
She wanted my sleeves to look puffy, so she slid some rubber bands up my arm and fluffed out the sleeve above and below them. She found a limp fabric rose that she pinned at my bosom.
She pulled the neck lower — “We need to show more,” she said, revealing a little cleavage. As soon as she turned her back to go to her camera, I pulled the dress up a little.
As she crouched beneath the black cloth behind the camera, I could hear her muttering to herself. She bustled back around and arranged my hands just so. “Just relax,” she said, “and let your fingers be long and languid.” Before she went back to the camera, she pulled the neck lower and rearranged the droopy rose.
Her back turned and I pulled it up again.
More muttering behind the camera and she came out again. She turned my head ever so slightly to look out the window. She lifted my chin. She pressed down slightly on my shoulders. “Relax,” she said again, and pulled the neckline down.
Of course I pulled it up as soon as she wasn’t looking.
“Part your lips,” she said.
“Breath out slowly,” she said.
“Think about the one you love,” she said.
The result was the picture you see above.
Lady Ostapeck died on February 2, 2017.
I felt intensely sad when I read it in the newspaper. She left her mark on me. I’m so thankful for the day I spent with her.