*ooof*: Pushing Buttons

[Mild RPF warning]

Will she? Will she? Really? But it’s so predictable… She will!

Screen shot 2013-11-16 at 6.32.04 PM

Outwardly shy or inwardly groaning, Armitage?
Richard Armitage in a shot by Leslie Hassler
for New York Moves Magazine, Nov. 2013

How could she *not* choose this one – different, delectable and ‘dorable as this image is. Ladies, Richard Armitage. In a portrait. In casual disarray of a formal shirt and tie, with waistcoat, heavy stubble, his head unceremonially cut off below the hairline, a few curls sticking out behind his neck. His hands are protectively held in front of his head. Not quite – the fingers are spread, and thus we get a glimpse of the subject’s eyes behind the hands, head tilted forwards, forehead scrunched, eyes looking up from under the brow. The sclera are in full force, the look is ambiguous. But his face is obscured: He is hiding behind his hands. We do not get the full picture.

And yet this image speaks to (many of) us more than the flurry of fashion ed images we have seen in the last weeks. Because – and I do the unthinkable, quote myself and use bad language – “fashion photography my arse”. Yes, since there are clothes in this image, there is fashion contained within. But it is most certainly not the focus of this shot. This is a wonderful classic portrait, a photograph of a subject’s face intended to capture a facet of his personality, his mood, his self. You could argue that he is merely posing, acting out a direction of the photographer. And yes, it is unlikely that this is an involuntary pose that Armitage strikes during the shoot and that photographer Leslie Hassler is lucky enough to capture with her camera. Physically, if we want to hide behind our hands, we close the fingers, and we do not hold still to peek and check whether we are being observed. But whatever the origin of the pose is – Armitage agrees to the gesture of putting his face into his hands, and the outcome of the shot looks convincingly real, not unnatural, not artificial, but like a spur-of-the-moment reaction.

Compare this shot to the head-and-shoulders portrait of Armitage stroking his chin. The hand serves a compositorial purpose there. Here, the hands have an interpretative purpose. They act less as gaze-guiding lines or as a provider of contrast (which photographers love so much), but they are an integral part of the interpretation of the sitter. While obscuring what is generally considered the most important part of a portrait – the face – the hands act as a prop that add meaning to the image. Or maybe Hassler has copped on – like we have – to the attractiveness of Armitage’s appendages and wants an excuse for them to be in the shot? According to conventions, in a portrait the sitter shows his face to allow the viewer not just an appraisal of the facial beauty characteristics, but also an interpretation of the physiognomical features in terms of character and personality: We perceive laughter lines as an indication of a happy disposition. A downturned mouth stands for melancholia. Deep ridges in the forehead are indicators of worry and thoughtfulness. A glint in the eye speaks of a mischievous, cheerful nature. Minute details such as a tilt and angle of the head can influence an interpretation – and so certainly does the sledgehammer-symbolism of the face hiding behind the hands.

Mind you – is this the sitter being *shy*and hiding behind his hands, or is this the sitter groaning inwardly and hiding his face in his hands for misplaced embarrassment along the lines of “WTF are you doing???” The interpretation depends on you, and no doubt you will see in it what you want to see, just as we always search for congruence in Armitage with what we feel, believe, hope, want and love. The glimpse of personality captured in a portrait is always open to interpretation to some degree – unless and until the sitter himself offers an explanation for his pose and how it might be interpreted. Chances are that Hassler said “Put your beautiful digits to your face, Richard.” And Armitage willingly complied.

However, this willingness is an important component in a shoot, especially when there is no location, no external context the sitter can relate to, but only a neutral backdrop in front of which he is being photographed. As a trained theatre actor Mr A is arguably used to using his imagination to dramatise a scene in order to act and emote. But how does that work off-stage, in a photography studio which is as artificial and context-less a “stage” can get? Like an actor in the theatre, the sitter relies on the photographer’s direction. I find it extremely fitting that both in theatre/film and in photography the term is the same, because essentially the photographer acts like a director. She gives instructions on how to look act for the camera. Once she has identified a part of the sitter’s personality that she wants to portray, she must help him find the pose/look and hold it for the release of the shutter that will capture it. The sitter, in return, must allow the interpretation, and be willing to act along.

While we do not believe anymore that the camera literally captures our soul, we are reluctant to give away our essence, or to have our weaknesses pictured. Being in front of a camera makes us feel vulnerable. We are relinquishing control over our interpretation. And we simply and literally feel on the spot and under scrutiny. We know that the photographer can see us in detail, yet all we see is the photographer obscured behind a big black piece of equipment. That imbalance of power – being seen while not seeing – makes us feel uncomfortable, vulnerable and insecure. To bridge that gap, photographers need to establish a connection with the sitter, counterbalancing the discomfort and insecurity, building trust and confirming good intentions.

The gesture of the hands in front of the face are an obvious metaphor for this dilemma – I do not want you to see me. It is not as easy as that in this image. Here, Armitage breaks the protective gesture by peeking through his hands. With his eyes connecting directly with viewer, he assumes part of the power. He knows we can see him, that we have the power of the unrestricted look at him. But by looking directly at the camera – at us – he is taking some of the control back. You look at me – I look at you. It almost seems as if he is turning the gaze back on us, while still keeping his hands as a shield between himself and the viewer. The gesture now is less a symbol of passive shyness but one of active defense. (If you want to push the interpretation further, you can apply the metaphor even more literally to Armitage and his role – not in the context of a photoshoot but of celebrity.)

Is this why the image speaks more to us than a polished beauty shot? The feeling of defenselessness transmitted in an image like this is certainly something that many people, particularly women?, can identify with. Any image is composed and made to push buttons. This one is not composed to sell any product (unless you want to call Armitage such) but has a clear *intention* of affecting the viewer emotionally in terms of the sitter’s personality. What exactly you interpret into it does not matter much – the objective was to illicit an emotional response, and with the use of a simple gesture, that has been achieved beautifully. Mind you, I would let Mr Armitage push my “buttons” any day, anyway. Even inadvertantly:

“Chin up a little bit, please. Ya, that’s it. Hold it.” Click. She pressed the shutter release and looked up from her camera at her subject again. Only 15 minutes into the shoot and she was already feeling hot. But strangely exhilarated, too. Photography does that. To outsiders the job often appears glamourous and privileged. Getting to photograph people is, of course, interesting and rewarding. Interacting with clients was what she appreciated about her chosen profession. Getting up close and personal required tact and sensitivity. A healthy dose of curiosity and the ability to light-heartedly swallow her pride helped to get along with the best and the worst of the clients. But she had been through enough years of studying and assisting, of making the tea and carrying the battery pack and the tripod, of sitting through hours of Photoshop until her eyes burnt, of adjusting the lights minutely to someone else’s specifications, to fully appreciate that photographing people was also a technical craft. That needed her undivided attention.

“Are you ok?”

She was yanked out of her meandering thoughts by her sitter.

“Sorry, Richard, just thinking. Back to you.”

He smiled at her and almost imperceptibly nodded from under his brow. “It’s intense work, isn’t it, photographing? “

“Portraiture is very intense work, yes. Very intimate, very personal. But it’s great when you like people.”

“Like people? Or do you need a personal interest in your model?”, he asked with a smirk.

Oh God, don’t let me blush”, she thought. “Um, I guess the former. The latter would probably detract from the work in hand too much…”, she fumbled for words.

Clang! She had dropped the lens cap while exchanging lenses. Her fingers trembled. – “Why?” she thought to herself. She had done this hundreds of times before. It was not the first time she was shooting an attractive man. “Get a grip, woman, this is ridiculous!”, she chided herself. She finished clicking the 50mm prime onto the camera body and turned her attention back to her sitter. After some half-length shots it was time for some close-ups.

“I am shooting with a prime now, Richard”, she explained to him. “So that means I will have to physically move closer rather than have a zoom to get you bigger in my viewfinder, is that ok?”

“Yeah, yeah,” he mumbled absent-mindedly while rearranging his bottom with a wriggle on the barstool she had placed him on, “I am already getti… Eh, never mind.” He angled his head back down with a sharp jerk of his head and threw his hands to his face with a groan, while she let out a surprised gasp in response to what he had let slip. She grinned. He looked at her through his fingers, a burning mixture of curiosity and embarrassment in his half-obscured eyes. A faint blush had spread all over his face… She pushed the button.

~ by Guylty on November 19, 2013.

65 Responses to “*ooof*: Pushing Buttons”

  1. Hehehehe 😀

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  2. . It’s after 3 am here and I need sleep. But I had to speed-read through this. LOVE as usual.

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  3. *fans self* I find this photo most engaging…one of my absolute favourites…and your little RPF was especially good! I would quite like to gently prise his hands away and…….

    *coughs* As you were!

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    • Pass me that fan, Kathryn – I need it, too :-). The image is really nice – because it’s different. It’s emotion rather than beauty… until you prise the hands away and the face relaxes into a smile again. I think someone should continue on from where I left off *ggg*

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  4. It’s 10.00am here and I’ve read and inwardly digested every word……. wonderful! Thank you.

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  5. Again I am the weird one. For me this picture is somehow disturbing and I really don’t feel comfortable to look at it. I know this gesture and whenever I do it by myself, I do it in utter discomfort and annoyance. Like when someone is a real pain in the neck and I want him (or her) to dissapear into thin air. And that quick, please. Wrinkled forehead and eyes rolling included. In context with the other pics I saw of this shot I am a bit surprised by this one – he seemed to have been at ease and comfortable on that day with Ms Hassler. So my interpretation may be totally loony. Sorry, can’t help it.
    But what I can clearly imagine is how difficult it might be for a photographer to stay all prof when having such an adorable subject in front of the lens. I think no matter how many attractive people one has had in his/her studio – some sitters are just a different league. A bit larger than life. At least for me that would be very hard to deal with. 🙂

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    • I totally understand where you are coming from, i.f., and I don’t think that your interpretation of this image is weird at all. There is always an element of intrusion and voyeurism in photography, and especially so when picturing intimate moments. Embarrassment – signalled by the face shielded by hands – is such a moment. And yes, most of us neither want to be observed while being embarrassed, nor do we particularly enjoy seeing others embarrassed. I suppose it speaks for your empathy (and against mine…) that you dislike the image for that… BTW – I do not think that the image reflects a feeling of uncomfortableness of RA’s in relation to Hassler. This could be acted, posed, joked… My impression is that they had a connection and he was happy to act and veer away from the usual fashion poses. That should be attributed to her abilities to put him at ease…
      As for having such an attractive sitter in front of the lens – ok, I really do not how I’d function if I had to shoot RA, but in general, as soon as I take the camera in front of my face, I only see shapes and colours. It’s “what” rather than “who” – and my own embarrassments or thoughts are pushed to the back of my mind. It’s not just being professional, it is also being completely absorbed by the process of photographing. Intoxicating, actually…

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      • Make a sitter act (instead of *only* pose) is surley helpful to avoid weird situations of uncomfortableness and uneasiness (comes in handy if he/she *is* actually an actor). Ms Hassler obviously did a brilliant job. I have a complete new understanding of a photographers ability to put an *object* at ease, as I had to go through this a few days ago when BIL wanted to exercise and study a few hundered different versions of light on a single portrait. Black versus white background, natural light from the right, full flash from the front, subdued light over an angle from above etcpp. Poor sitter was me. Instruction was to look straight away into the camera, no laugh, very small smile allowed, no teeth. When after the 150th photo he (was still full pro and absorbed 🙂 ) kindly asked me if I were *able to make a different face* I could only provide him with gritted teeth. All my *other faces* were not useful. I was in desperate need of the help of an actor. A certain actor of course. *sigh

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        • *LOL* – as I have often said: It is hard work being a model. A few acting skills certainly come in useful when posing. But admittedly – not everybody has that, especially when we are talking about ourselves. In that instance it helps to just let go, not be afraid of looking silly. Sure, there will always be duds, but the less you care, the more fun it is and the better the outcome. When you have fun, you feel good. And it shows when you feel good. –
          Your session sounds particularly hard, though, if you were just ask to sit and look neutral… Direction is a really important part of photographing – an issue I am going to address in my next *ooof* as I had it all researched for this one but then found myself veering off…
          Well done to you for being so patient for your BIL! Hope he was suitably grateful!!!

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          • A very good(and very attractive) friend of mine always looks fantatstic on every picture that is taken of her (not made of. I have learned from you!). I once asked her how she manages. And the naughty girl told me she thinks of (good) sex when posing for a pic. I tried that. But maybe I don’t know what good sex is, or last time it happened is too long ago for me to remember. It didn’t work. So instead I tried to think of Mr. A. BIL attested me to look like a very stern teacher. Dear me, I am doomed. 😦
            And no, so far he was not especially grateful.
            I am really looking forward to your ooof on directions – I hope to profit from that!

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            • LOL – your friend is naughty *ggg*. Actually, if I thought of good sex while being photographed, I would either look really smug or really sad ;-). BTW – being photogenic does not depend on (superficial, outward) attractiveness. I had four days of beauty shoots a couple of weeks ago and shot about 100 girls in four days. I was surprised – once again – how some of the previously plain girls suddenly sparkled in each and every photo while some of the really pretty ones looked awkward and needed me to make them look good. It is inexplicable to me – some people are loved by the camera, some are not. Actors tend to be loved – otherwise they wouldn’t be in film – but a lot of it has to do with letting go, with confidence and with knowing how to move.

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  6. You lovely lovely girl… This is my favourite shoot from the last months. Fashion, clothes I didn´t notice at all. My interpretattion is very special and I keep it for myself 🙂

    Your ficlet is the icing of the cake, RA blushing in front of you, naughty girl.

    Suffering from a bad sinusitis and staying at home, that´s the best medicine I could ever get.

    “Drück dich”

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    • Sorry, I´ve meant “shot”

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      • 🙂 I like being called “lovely girl” – makes me feel young for a change 😀 And I like being called “naughty girl”, too – the mind can go places the self won’t. So keep enjoying your own private interpretation of this shot – sometimes NOT sharing makes them more precious.
        And get well soon – so sorry to hear you are the victim of sinusitis. Grah, horrible thing. Hugs back!! x

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  7. Thanks for choosing this pic for the *ooof. Did anyone else besides me notice the indentation in his skin left by a fingernail? I could see him waiting for a lens change of a film reload, hiding behind his hands to block the lights and rest his eyes. The photographer lining up the shot. The asking just “Richard, are you okay?” And he just wrinkles his brow and opens his fingers and peeks.
    I’ve actually gone on and checked out the photoographer’s website and bio. (http://www.lesliehassler.com/bio/index.html)
    I find this comment she makes about her style interesting and truthful:
    ” I try to keep the vibe loose with an emphasis on capturing honest, candid moments almost always with a sense of humor.”
    Cheers!

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    • You are absolutely right, Sara – there is a clear finger-nail shaped mark between his eyes. I didn’t notice (I think my attention was mainly absorbed by the hands this time) – and it’s important in that it tells us that he was obviously posing with his hands in front of his face for a good bit, leaving marks on his skin… He still pulls it off – as in, it looks still quite convincing.
      I like your interpretation of how the shot came about – actually sounds quite likely to me.
      And yes, I checked Hassler’s webpage, too, and I really like the approach she has detailed on her site. The quote above is probably not suitable for fashion shoots – but this individual shot potentially conveys both humour and candid capture.

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  8. Very nice Guylty, as always. I too love that image. Ooo, that ficlet. 🙂

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  9. […] Today’s *ooof* and ficlet are out on me+r, too – and I belatedly dedicate both to […]

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  10. I love the ficlet as much as the oof, Guylty. For some reason, I’m put in mind of my son when he was little and playing hide and seek or something where he wasn’t supposed to be peaking and got caught…peaking! Especially since my son is such a stickler for playing by the rules, no exception. The photo captures that “guilty and caught at it” look right here.

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    • “Peekaboo” – I was reminded of that, too – the whole thing of hiding away. If I can’t see you, you can’t see me – but never being patient enough to keep the eyes closed. That is certainly an association that is intended with the image – as well as the “guilty and caught look”. The latter suited my purpose better *ggg*. Thanks for commenting, chai! xx

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  11. Love both the *ooof* and the ficlet, Guylty — so delicious.

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  12. subscribing

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  13. Oh my, guylty you really did it this time. There is very little to build on without losing your G rating. Very clever of you. “His hands came down from his face as she lowered her camera to reveal a blush that matched his own. ” i’m sorry it’s so hot in here,the AC hasn’t been working properly
    lately. Let’s take a break to cool off.” He slid off the bar stool and reached for her,”this is not happening”,she repeated like a mantra in her head. His hand continued moving to the mini fridge behind her. “ice tea, water or diet coke?”he politely inquired. “Yes,this is not happening”she thought with a mixture of relief and regret.

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    • LOL – brilliant, Kathy, brilliant. Go on, please :-D.
      But yeah, I am keeping it clean *coughs* – well, let’s call it “smudgy”.

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      • Thanks,guylty. If I went on,smudgy could devlove into dirty in no time. I’m glad you liked it. Continuing story would involve a weapon and a costume change.

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        • Intriguing. Does his weapon have a name? (Sorry, couldn’t resist. Am merely quoting the man *grins*) But I see what you mean. The ficlets are alright that length. Any longer and I would inevitably veer into very murky waters.

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          • Of course it has name. Nothing wrong with murky waters, I just didn’t want to take your readers somewhere they might not want to go. I am following your excellent example of ladylike restraint.

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            • I am gagging to ask for the name, but as you believe me capable of lady-like restraint, I feel challenged to hold myself back… Alas, there are other platforms for giving in to unrestricted smutting *ggg*

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              • Alas,indeed. I’ll give you a hint. The weapon is a sword (which you surmised being possessed of a superior intellect), and you can eliminate Mr.Pointy from the running.

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                • Orcrist.

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                  • Good guess. I was thinking more along the lines of his personal sword, one he had for years, perhaps older than the one he carried in Nottingham. Possible names – Armyraiser, Ovaryslayer, Mindstealer, Fangirlgrabber, Smouldlergiver, etc. But Orcrist definately has a ring to it. It could work.

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  14. Loved the ficlet so naughty and yet so sweet. This photo I did find somewhat uncomfortable and I have to agree with the tired perhaps and trying to rest a bit, looking through the fingers to see if the photographer was ready thing. Really he always seems so up for these things and you know he is responding to whatever they want but this one he seemed not so cheery. I take not the greatest pictures and for those of us who have muscles that don’t move as they should in the face all those factors that should tell things about personality and such just don’t work the same. Still as you note guylty with Richard you can take most of his photos in many different ways. We all have our own ideas of what he is thinking or what the photographer has asked him to emote. I like your ficlet ending better though. LOL

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    • I didn’t find him looking uncomfortable – I suspect there is a cheekiness underneath the hands. But that is not to say that your interpretation is wrong. We have often interpreted him as uncomfortable with shoots, and being someone who likes to deflect attention away from himself, this might well be an expression of that. As a viewer, that would make me feel uncomfortable, too.
      You make an interesting point re. control of facial muscles.

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  15. I LOVE this picture; to me it seems very new and unusual (and I have gazed upon many pictures of Armitage in my time – *cough*.) I feel like the viewer gets a sense of Armitage-as-a-person here. Just one small glimpse. But it’s fascinating, and adorable.

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    • The less artificial a picture, the more effective and affecting, I suppose. I can see how that has always played out with some people’s preference of the event and press coverage photos. In a studio shoot, that kind of approach looks even more intimate. And yes, sometimes it is more interesting to see more than a mere beauty shot.
      Thanks for your comment! x

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  16. Fantastic reading — and I agree very much. The whole shot is ambiguous and the eyes are framed in such a way that the clash of potential meanings as seen from different frames (I don’t want you to see me; but I am peeking through my eyes as if I do or I want to see you; and I am voluntarily putting myself in a position to be photographed by someone whose job it is to “see” me or “see through” me and present me ….) is really rich and it makes the photo continually fascinating.

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    • That’s why images like this one transcend the beauty shots – there is simply more meat in this, even though superficially there is less drool material. The fascination is not only in the attractiveness of the sitter (that, frankly, has long become repetetive…) – it is in imagining what is going on and understanding how and what he feels and thinks, and in forming a response to that. I’d love to know which kind of photographs of himself RA prefers.

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  17. […] This is a photo by David Venni, taken sometime around the late fall of 2009. Contrast to the hand position of the photo by Leslie Hassler in Guylty’s *ooof*. […]

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  18. It’s the first time when I have ambivalent feelings…,(hands are beautiful however 🙂 ) but fanfic is delightful,Guylty. I can’t wait for part three !
    May I ask one innocent question ? Is the dark room is still essential part of photo studio?

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    • Ambivalence is good – it forces you to evaluate and form an opinion and response 🙂
      As for the darkroom – no, by and large that is a thing of the past. Most photographers have made the move to digital, and for that we do not need the darkroom anymore. Of course, many photographers make the conscious decision to work analog, but that has become almost a speciality left for art photography. With very short turn-around times expected nowadays there is too little time for darkroom experimentation – and for risking re-shoots because something could’ve gone wrong with film photographs. So, no, the darkroom has been replaced by Photoshop.

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  19. Hehehe! Love the ficlet.

    I think he was feeling a little cheeky when this photo was taken but I don’t if that is the ficlet influencing my interpretation.

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  20. […] the New York Moves celebrity profile on Armitage – two of which I gave the *ooof* treatment previously, and the wonderful sexy Elvis/Jackson move which had to be emergency *ooof*ed last week. It may […]

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  21. […] in her work in which her subjects appear less iconic and glossy but relaxed and life-like. ooof ooof […]

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