Charlie's profile

The Dress

Written by Charlie Cottrell on Friday the 2nd of July 2010
am one of life's hoarders. My too small Clapham flat is crowded from floor to
ceiling with heteroclitaire cupboards, boxes and files containing every letter
I have ever received, every cinema ticket, a breadcrumb trail of matchbooks and
a thousand half finished notepads.


like my clutter. Each drawer-full is a collection of memories; a bus ticket
from a first date I didn't want to end; the McDonald's spoon from a bitter
location shoot in Scotland; shells from a world of beaches. They are the
un-compiled scrapbook of my life, my wanderer's life. And in the nomadic world
of a photographer, jetting off at a moment's notice and living out of suitcases
and lobby bars, they are steady. Solid and familiar. I like my clutter.

people do not like it. My girlfriend does not. She despises the stacked up shoe
boxes and dusty box files whose magnetic clasps have retired long ago and who
expel their contents in hostile protest at the first sign of movement. Her
flat, her old flat, looked as though it had been lifted, complete, fr

ˇom Heals' window. It comprised uniform wooden cupboards with
brushed aluminium handles and accessories aligned in neat trios in accordance
with contemporary rules on interior design. Dust dared not settle in my
girlfriend's old flat. Instead it migrated to mine where it could rest
undisturbed between back issues of Black and White and vintage copies of The

have you kept these for?” She says holding a fistful of textless tickets before
me in dismay. "They're all faded.” They are. To the untrained eye they are
indistinguishable from all the other pieces of paper debris that have failed to
escape the cull but I could look at every one and give you its history. I know
that the shiny one with the creased down corner was REM in Paris (November
1994) and that the pink tinged one was a Patti Smith gig in North London when I
was twenty-one and in love with a girl called Isobel. I let her banish these
into the rubbish pile without argument because I love her and love is about
compromise. Her compromise i

8s to move from her Heals haven into my magpie's nest. Mine is
to sit in silence as all these familiar friends are raked through by hostile
hands and presented to me coldly for validation: Yes that little wooden figure
is creepy- no I don't suppose I need it. The pace she can work at is alarming.
I would rather do this alone and give myself time to revisit the memories of
this lifetime of souvenirs but it is this sentimental nostalgia that got me
here in the first place. It is good to move on. It is good to remember that we
can discard an object and keep a memory.


on earth is this?” Ah. If someone had asked me what had happened to this I
suppose I would have remembered I had it though I doubt that I had set eyes on
it in twenty years. As we look at it my girlfriend thinks it is an old net
curtain (which it

is) and I think it is a dress (which it also is.) I suppose
it might be described, kindly, as a punked up tutu. It has lost some of it's
edge. My girlfriend pulls it out of the musty hatbox to where I had banished it
years before. As she does, a crumpled photograph falls from the folds. I reach
to catch it but she has it first. Her face contorts into that look of distaste
we reserve especially for the discovery of evidence of a loved one's former
loves. "What the hell is this? Some sort of shrine?” She is spitting. She
throws the picture to me and fingers the dress as she might a tramp's nappy. I
look at the picture. Tanis looks back at me. Her eyes bright and holding the
memories of a thousand secrets. The offending dress clings to her slender body
like an affectionate lover.

was the first woman I had ever photographed. We were nineteen, consumed by lust
and ambition and had stumbled into each other during the now foggy period of
week-long parties and bed-sit living of my fledgeling career. I had taken her
home one night to my shabby room (the hallmarks of the hoarder were present
even then) and she had stayed there for nearly eight months, pottering about
the place between castings like an exquisite pet and posing for portfolio shots
that I would continue to use long after she was gone. We might have been in
love, it wasn't really important. What mattered was that we were in belief. I
believed that she would be swept away by a soulful artist as his muse, she
believed that my prolific pictures had insight and depth. We would tell each
other this over paupers' meals of baked beans and

Âmackerel, feeding each other from the same plate in our tiny
attic room and keeping each others dreams a reality. In my hands, looking up
from the crumpled yellow picture, her face brought me back to a time of nervous
uncertainty and the terrifying freedom of beginning.

dress had been her idea. A new outfit for another faceless party. "That curtain
would make a great dress” She had said. She was probably drunk, we usually
were. Alcohol coursed through our veins continually since there was very little
to absorb it. "It would make a great dress” and she had taken it down and
bleached it in the bath, treading it like a viticulturist treads grapes. When
it was dry she wrapped it, tight, around her little torso and had me pin up the
excess as a skirt in big, irregular swathes. It looked like a Miss Haversham
bridesmaid's dress, filthed up by the honey limbs that extended from it and the
just distinguishable pair of pink knickers that she wore underneath. She could
do that. She could

} take something mundane and make it brilliant. That night, in
my beaten net curtain she had owned the room. I had spent the entire evening
waiting to get her home. I snapped her when we had staggered back, tired and
wasted from another killer evening. She was flopped over the arm of my battered
sofa-bed grinning at me with the happy exhaustion of a shared evening. Her
baby-white hair had fallen out of its pigtails and her ribs showed through the
big holes in the net. You can see this in the picture. 

know why my girlfriend is jealous. Tanis was beautiful. A tousled angel who
looks out from her portrait and knows me. To my girlfriend, to the world, she
looks as perfect and as carefree as models always do in pictures. It is my job
to make sure they do, no matter what is happening out of shot. Just to the left
of Tanis was a skirting board that a large and fearless rat had chewed t

hrough. We could hear it gnawing away as we lay in bed. It
terrified Tanis and made her cling to me in a way that satisfied my desire to
appear manly. The rat hole is out of frame. My girlfriend does not see it, she
sees a beautiful girl making a curtain look fabulous. 

photographer likes power, likes to play god. Through my lens I preserve the
world I want to see and discard anything which might taint it. I create small
scenes of perfection. Stolen glimpses of exquisite creatures. Pretty girls in
crazy dresses. It is my job to make women look at them as my girlfriend now
looks at the picture of Tanis. Untouchable perfection. Two dimensional images
of one dimensional lives. We do not present a narrative, we merely suggest it
to our audience and let them create a history. Looking at Tanis' picture and
Tanis' dress my girlfriend thinks she has uncovered a secret but she knows as
little about the woman she sees as I did the day I looked down through the lens
and captured her. She does not know, as I did not k[1]now, the wealth of
sadness behind that pretty face. She would not expect to discover, as I did not
expect to discover, that the lithe body she is envying would be found in a
studio in Milan, as limp and useless as a broken umbrella. Nor would she wish
to learn, as I did not wish to learn, that on the very day that this smiling,
knowing picture was taken, the carefree, exquisite Tanis had been told that she
had less than a year left to inspire jealousy and lust in those that beheld
her. To my girlfriend she i[1]ns
a beautiful ghost in a shabby home-made dress. 

do we need this?” She asks me holding the old curtain on the extremes of her

there it is, before me, as close as it was when I scooped it up, with Tanis
inside it, and nuzzled my face into the warmth of her body. As close as it was
when I tried to drink in the last of her scent through tears that would not dry
on the flight home from Italy. Hanging from my girlfriend's angry fingers as it
had hung from my angry fingers, both of us hating it for the memory of the girl
it had hugged. The object but not the memory. 

we need it? No. We don't.