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Still Lives: The confession

Stephanie De Leng captures Justina Heslop through a glass darkly at Alma de Cuba

Published on April 3rd 2009.


Still Lives: The confession

I CONFESS, straight off the mark, so that you are under no illusions: While under the influence of fermented grapes I photographed Justina Heslop, here, image resourcer for the forthcoming Museum of Liverpool, and she was standing in front of a church altar.

You may wonder, but let it be said that Justina comes in an extremely curvy and alluring package, a cross between Hermione Granger of Harry Potter fame and a St Trinians hell raiser.

Justina was educated at Archbishop Blanche, in Aigburth, where she was a model student who did her homework and did it well. This girl was an A-star student in fishnet stockings who kept her head down; a hell raiser in appearance only

The first time I met her she was quite tipsy, and did an impromptu photo session of five kooky poses for me. One ended up on my website, and from time to time I went back to it and wondered what more a controlled shoot might extract from her.

Enter the fabulous Alma de Cuba on Seel Street, a restaurant housed in a former church and saved, by a prayer, from administration this week. What better setting than this for a somewhat outrageous girl?

We arranged to meet there, Justina in her outfit from our previous encounter, and I carried along a number of light units to supplement the Gothic darkness of Alma’s interior.

When I arrived, Justina was firmly ensconced at the altar with two companions. A pint of wine spritzer, or at least the remnants of one, sat on the table in front of her. “Hello,” she said, “that’s my auntie, and this is my partner, Phil.”

Suddenly, I was nervous for she seemed very serious and not at all like the girl I had met some weeks before. Had there been any wine in that spritzer? I ordered her another and, what the hell, a glass of wine for me.

While we were drinking, my assistant for the day, fashion photographer Bruce Smith, was setting up the lighting. He declared it ready to go and we had a mini dispute. I need to talk to Justina, I told him, and he replied better take the photo now.

Not my style, but I complied. Justina approached as requested and we set about the mission. Quickly I decided to do the whole thing differently, took my camera off the tripod, and got into it. So did Justina. After ten minutes I declared the job done. We relaxed with another spritzer (for her), a beer (for Bruce) and a massive white wine (for me).

That is when Bruce saw the shot. All I saw was an agreeable haze. He grabbed a reflector and squeezed Justina into a corner, by a stained glass window, on top of a cast iron radiator. Luckily it was not on. “I thought this was over!” Justina protested, as I

jumped on a table to take “the shot”. “So did I!” I exclaimed, and soon it was.

Over drinks I asked her questions and we laughed a lot. Having forgotten a notebook, I scribbled all over my diary in whatever space I could find. How on earth I was going to remember any of this?

Justina was educated at Archbishop Blanche, in Aigburth, where she was a model student who did her homework and did it well. This girl was an A-star student in fishnet stockings who kept her head down; a hell raiser in appearance only.

The package Justina chooses to present is more a reflection of her fascination with Japanese culture, and the sexy, Gothic, Lolita look popular with young girls there.

Justina is very bright. Her eccentricity is but further proof of this. Who else would study fine art and dance at university?

And what about her passion for sword fighting? She prefers the rapier and the dagger, she informed me, because both are short, like herself. “The point is to distract the male with these, and, of course my chest; use what I’ve got…”

Her partner Phil joined us in laughter at the table. They used to live in Yorkshire where, playing Dracula, he earned his daily bread. Every day Justina, the dutiful girlfriend, brought him exactly that, in the form of squishy sandwiches that would not disturb his fangs. This vampire would not draw blood.

We ordered another few drinks. Confessions in the form of witticisms showered thick and fast. And contradictions too. We would like to move to Canada, Phil announced, there is more room there. Yes, added Justina, we live our lives online. It doesn’t matter where you live in the world if you do that. All we need is a bed and a computer screen.

Hail Justina. The sun was nearly over the yardarm for the Gothic model and her ex-vampire. After a very large coffee, I took a taxi home.

*Stephanie’s first book, People in Liverpool, is available for £19.99 from Waterstones, Liverpool, or directly through her website, www.stephaniedeleng.co.uk

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