By Tamara Jaffe
His face changed when I told him that I’d started exercising again. We were eating dinner together at the time, baked salmon with dill, rice, green beans—something I made easily—he started eating with one face and ended with another. Everything about the face moved at once, as if a lever had been switched, and a new face covered the old. The muscles moved a millimeter to the left, the eyes narrowed, and something that ordinarily supported the structure of the face deflated. It’s possible that my training causes me to pay too much attention to physiognomy. He said, “I thought you’d stopped exercising!”
But that man’s crises mean nothing to me anymore. I have enough aggravation without him. Just yesterday, when my boss asked, “Can I get a hug?” it wasn’t a question. We were in the blacktopped parking lot outside the Foot Psychophysiology Building, the largest parking lot at the university, and I was very near my car, but not close enough. I couldn’t turn toward it and pretend I didn’t see him. He’s young and tall, with shiny black hair and a black goatee with the hair growing up around the sides of his mouth into a mustache. He has a model’s high cheekbones. He wears citrus-musk cologne. I am a photographer, and my eyes know that his body is photogenic, but his demand for the hug made me feel like I was hugging a sack of nice-smelling sand shaped like a tall man. I wouldn’t have minded hugging sand. I wanted to go home. My stomach leaned away from the embrace, but the rest of me knew I couldn’t. I looked at the sun in the blue afternoon sky and remembered that I was not alone. Many women have been here. Maybe even in this parking lot with this man.
What I do for a living is an important part of this story. I work on people’s feet. When their toes are crooked,not bending right, they have pain in their arches, they can’t bend their foot, or they have trouble standing, they come to me and I take pictures. You would think that looking at their feet in person might be the way to know and see what the trouble is, but it’s the pictures that tell the truth. Pictures show the exact condition of feet. I analyze the line along the top of the foot that slopes down from the ankle, and I examine the tendons that pop up like puppet strings connecting the toes to the ankle. It is also part of my job to know that in some countries there is jewelry for the foot that approximates those tendons, and to know the history of that jewelry.
I also study the patterns in a footprint. Did you know that footprints are similar to fingerprints? None are alike. Foot reading is less popular in the West than palmistry, although the swirls on the foot can be interpreted as easily as those on the palm. People who do such readings usually misinterpret what they see because of their own and their client’s magical thinking. But what exists in our bodies is real, and we can understand it. What exists is real. Beliefs exist. Beliefs are real. I think that’s a syllogism, but I don’t remember. Beliefs are among the most powerful and misunderstood forces in the universe. I believe that if I take clear pictures, and pay attention to my clients, they have a chance of getting an accurate diagnosis, which may help them manage their condition. I don’t know if this is true, but this belief makes my work tolerable, and sometimes enjoyable.
We can understand what has happened to the body in the past, and we can participate in its development in the future, but we cannot change the material truth of the body itself. Foot psychophysiology is science, and sciences exist because scientists demonstrate their willingness to be wrong in order to approach a more accurate understanding of the physical world. When humans refuse to know what is real, science—and humans—will vanish. What is real will remain. Footprints can be used to identify bodies that have been badly mangled in a plane wreck. The grooves, bumps, and wart outcroppings are unique, and are often preserved in a crash, due to the shoe’s protective function, even when the rest of the body is decimated.
I take hundreds, sometimes thousands, of pictures before I complete my study of a person’s feet. Clients return to the office day after day for more photos as I piece together clues about their condition. And I am just the photo technician. Step one. After the pictures they have to see the foot analyst, step two, and then my boss, the foot theoretician, step three. Even if he is vile in his life outside of work, the foot theoretician treats his clients well. I think. I don’t really know. Not many clients have the patience to make it all the way to step three. Many of them claim to be better, if not cured, after a few sessions of photography.
It’s not simple, and I take my time to do it right. It’s possible that my boss admires my work. But that’s not why he asked me to hug him yesterday. He is needy. He didn’t say, “May I hug you?” He said, “Can I get a hug?” He solicited the appearance of a voluntary response, and then he reached his muscly arms all the way around me, and even though I stood there less sensate than the trunk of a tree, I hugged him. That’s the nature of the power relationship. I used to have a girlfriend who would point to her cheek, tap twice with her index finger, and I would know that she wanted a kiss. When I kissed her she and I would both feel a thrill because she liked to control and I used to like to be controlled, at least by my lover. I don’t like being controlled by other people anymore. Taking pictures of feet has changed me, or something else has.
Yesterday I was on my third round of photographs of the space between the big toe and the second toe, on the right foot of one of my clients. I’ve been seeing her for almost three years, and I have clear, useful material on most of her right foot, but until recently I was convinced that my work with her was only beginning. Her feet are complex and in pain. She was sixty-five when she first came for treatment, and in the months that I’ve been photographing her I’ve seen how the bones of her feet are drawing together, the ligaments are less flexible, and the skin on her feet is thinning while the feet themselves fluctuate in puffiness. Her condition might be caused by age, but I’m not an analyst or theoretician. I just take pictures as comprehensively as I can. Changes are undoubtedly occurring in other parts of her body as well, but I only work on feet…
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