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The She Man of Camden Passage
by Jilliana Ranicar-Breese

It was the late 70s and I was living in Paris specialising amongst other antique collectables, in pre-cinema. I specialised in French Lapierre magic lanterns, metal and paper optical toys and persistence of vision. This in turn overlapped into early cinema and early photography such as Les Freres Lumiere, Melies and Marey and Muybridge before the advent of talkies. I met the dealers and collectors of early photography who were an enthusiastic collection of characters both sides of the Pond.  New York, Paris and London became my dealing triangle. I was willing to learn from my clients and I did, supplying private collections and film and scientific museums. For a good 15 years I had no competition.

I would buy in London for my French clients and in Paris for my British Magic Lantern Society clients and also my German, Spanish and Viennese clients. There was no Chunnel, eBay, internet or mobile phones to take photos. All I had was a Polaroid camera which cost me 1 to take and print out a photo and so I filled the culture gap. Entente Cordial you might say! I would be scouring Camden Passage market every Wednesday looking for dexterity puzzles, games, conjuring and pre-cinema objects, prints and ephemera.

Every Wednesday I would see Janette always dressed in the same clothes. A She Man in his mid 30s hunting for top end vintage sepia photographs. He had very large white masculine hands and wore no jewellery. A pinched face with long brown hair tied back in a ponytail and parted in the middle like an elderly schoolmarm. Always wearing a cream high neck blouse with a central Victorian pearl drop brooch high up under his long pointed chin. He never smiled and always looked severe. A sight to behold! His figure was most peculiar too. A pinched in waist line with a blouse tucked inside a maxi dark brown skirt with a small slit up the central back and wore pointed dark brown winkle pickers.

We never did any business together but we knew the same photographic dealers. I have no idea who his collectors were. One day Janette approached me in Beryl's vintage photographic shop and suggested we had coffee together. I had no idea what his motive was but I was sure he had a hidden agenda.

It was in the cafe that he confessed he collected vintage corsets and could I help with his collection because he wore them every day. Ah, that was the reason his shape was so odd. I declined because I did not take to him and his off the wall personality. Janette didn't speak to me. There was no conversation. No dialogue. Just a one way boring intellectual monologue. Today I wouldn't bat an eyelid living in gay, transgender, transsexual, same sex marriages, Brighton, but in the late 1970s I felt extremely uncomfortable not knowing if I was listening to a man or a woman. Janette was of course a She Man!

I often wonder how I would react today having a coffee with the formidable Janette and if there would be a dialogue or still a monologue.

Written in Hostal Jayma, Salabrena, Spain on 15/2/17