Honestly, it’s really hard for me to feel romantic without also feeling corny. I like to think of myself as a whimsical person, and the idea of fantasy and romance has always moved me. I got VERY serious at a very early age about my commitment to this: I didn’t watch Disney movies, I read mythology from around the world, watched Faerie Tale Theatre, and devoured poems like Annabel Lee and La Figlia che Piange by T.S. Eliot* (because while I’ve had reservations about my approach to being romantic, I’ve maintained a disgusting amount of confidence in my approach to being a snob). When I started going to school, I dreamed of having an “I would die for you,” soul-to-soul bond with someone– it didn’t really happen, but I did have a friend who would pretend to be a vampire with me, and that implied eternity, so my playground days weren’t a total failure. I digress. Let’s get to the part where my relationship with romance hits it’s awkward phase and never grows out of it.
First of all, there’s the fact that the majority of my family is from New York, and is very business-oriented. I was brought up to look at things analytically, and developed a sensitivity to that which is not logically useful, but more importantly, I learned the word “schmaltzy.” Literally, schmaltz is chicken fat, but figuratively it means something that is overly emotional. For me, schmaltzy-ness is a visceral experience: I see a girl stroking herself with a fern, twirling aimlessly on a lamppost, basically anything a manic-pixie-dreamgirl would do, and I feel an embarrassing, greasy schmaltz film fold around me as if I dove headfirst into a bag of potato chips. Same thing if I see a guy take his S.O. to a highly populated area so that he can propose for the whole world to see. I hear the voice of Meryl Streep in the movie “Doubt” saying, “what are you doing?” Cher in “Moonstruck” saying, “snap out of it!” and Robert De Niro in “Raging Bull” spitting onto the ground. I really can’t take it, I think, because it’s so false. With fairy tales, or mythology, or poems, the story gets to exist in another world entirely, where nothing happens outside of what is written on the page. But that’s not the case in real life. In real life, no matter how much you roll in the grass or twirl in the rain, you will be sitting on the toilet in a few hours. As women in schmaltz drown.
As I continue my pursuit of a career in fashion, and feel the urge to push myself toward the practice of styling and directing photo shoots, I feel a lot of conflict between my romantic imagination and my radar for corniness. Theoretically, a photo with a specific art direction behind it is safe from the un-romantic parts of reality, but we all know that at some point, the photo was staged. Is the photo immune to becoming schmaltzy if it acknowledges this, or is it doomed? Is it totally gross if I just think it looks pretty?
In honor of my conflict with portraying romance, I went to a place called Maymont, which is full of romantic looking things, and took some photos. I went for a kind of Rococo painting-meets-Sappho feeling, complete with a mandolin. But in the interest of not totally ignoring my instinctual rigidity, I also chose to create balancing acts for myself involving a tea cup on my head and standing on a tree branch. To me, this felt a little symbolic of the fine line between that which is romantic and that which is corny, and I also broke the tea cup, which was a nice, metaphoric bird turd of reality to balance out any gross, romantic delusions I may have had.
*I know these don’t fall into the traditional definition of Romanticism, but I maintain that romance is nothing without a little sadness and pain