Monday, January 17, 2011

Questions from an Outsider

I recently received an e-mail from a first-time visitor to my blog. He specified that he is not an artist, and knows nothing about modeling, and asked if I would be willing to answer some questions for him. Absolutely! I highly doubt that he is the only person who has wondered such things, so I figured I would share my answers here. My responses are specific to the world of freelance modeling, as that is where my experience is.


1. What "qualifies" someone to be a model? I know fashion models have to be freakishly tall and skinny. Ad models usually have to be strikingly beautiful. One of your "Highlight" posts is entitled "It's Not About Being Pretty." Reading a few more of your posts it seems like it's also not (just) about being willing to take off your clothes. So unless you're an extraordinary physical specimen what makes people willing to pay you to model? I don't mean to denigrate you (note that I can't even tell from your tiny blog photo what you look like).

The "qualifications" for being a model depend, at least partially, upon what type of modeling one is doing. Fashion (runway, vogue...) modeling does have pretty specific requirements so far as body-types, as does commercial (most ad campaigns) modeling. These are the types of modeling where agencies are the primary means of getting work. Somebody with a suitable look can walk in off the street, get signed with an agency, and being working as a model shortly thereafter. The vast, vast majority of us do not have a suitable look.

Freelance modeling tends to be much more flexible in its requirements. Glamour (ie, Maxim-style) modeling generally requires a curvier figure. Art (ie, what I do) modeling offers the most wiggle room in appearance, though slim, bendy models are generally preferred. The point at which one "becomes" a model within these genres is hazier, and the subject of many extended arguments on the internet. Experience and reputation tend to be more important.

Of course, some people just want to hang out with a hot naked chick for a couple of hours and use "model photography" as a means to do so. Being reasonably attractive and willing to have poor-quality photographers of yourself on the internet are really the only qualifications for this type of modeling.

2. You talk about how you build up a reputation and clientelle as you continue to work, so it sounds like there's something you do as a model that you learn or get good at. Is this just a matter of learning the ropes of the industry -- i.e., are all models who've done enough gigs on equal footing as far as experience, and thus just competing based on their appearance? Or can you continue to build value as a model over a period of years, so that you're competing more on experience than appearance?

Some models pick "it" up faster than others. Experience does help quite a bit, but it would be inaccurate to say that everybody starts, or ends, on equal footing. Some people have brilliant intuition about how to move in front of a camera, and pose themselves. Many people are able to learn and improve over time, though for some it never really quite "clicks." Models can absolutely build value over time as they gain experience, as well as a reputation and name-recognition.

3. Your New Year post noted you "had a couple of less-than-stellar shoot experiences." What makes a shoot experience good or bad?

In a good shoot experience, I am able to help a photographer bring his or her vision into being. We shoot at a comfortable pace, communicate clearly, and produce excellent images. The vast majority of my shoots are positive experiences.

Several things can make for a bad shoot experience. Miscommunications, misunderstandings, and/or full-out intentional violations of boundaries tend to be the biggest problems.

The boundaries can be in poses/shoot content (ie, legs spread, sitting on a toilet, implied masturbation...). By and large, a simple "No" resolves this, and the shoot is a positive experience. I do not begrudge clarifying my personal boundaries and limits. When it DOES become frustrating is when I am repeatedly telling a photographer that I am uncomfortable with the concept or pose that I'm being asked to shoot.

Some photographers have difficulties with physical boundaries. While some touching to adjust a pose is reasonable and normal, some photographers tend to be unnecessarily handsy (ie, just leaving their hand on my waist while they contemplate how they want to frame the shot), or seem to forget that they are moving an actual human, not a prop (ie, unnecessarily rough adjustments).

Some models have had far worse experiences, ranging from physical assault to being paid with a bounced check. I've never had a negative experience on par with either of those, and for that I am quite happy.

Ultimately, the negative experiences that I've had as a model do not compare to the negative experiences that I had working in a veterinary clinic or as a wildlife rehabilitation intern. Quite frankly, the most disrespectful people who I've known worked in the veterinary and animal care fields- usually as my employer.

4. Are there known lines in the industry separating "art" from "pornography?" (And perhaps varying degrees of pornography?) I.e., when you go to a shoot as a nude model is it clear what you will and won't be doing in front of the camera? If so, what are the lines and how are they described in the industry? Or is this something that you have to negotiate on site since you don't "know it 'til you see it?"

Again, this has been the subject of many arguments on the internet. There are some generally agreed-upon limits, though. One boundary that is typically thrown around is "up to playboy-style nudes." Art nudes are generally understood to put an emphasis on form, rather than sexuality. Glamour nudes are generally understood to be more sexually charged, without being explicit (ie, no legs spread, no actual masturbation).

By and large, people who hire me have a pretty good idea of the kind of content that I shoot as a model, and things go smoothly. What one displays in their portfolio generally is used as an indicator of the type of work they are willing to do. Some people do read sensuality into my work as a model, but usually that can be ironed out in pre-shoot discussions. Most people give me an idea of what they would like to shoot, but I have walked into shoots without any specific discussion of what shoot content will be. Because all of my work as a model is within a pretty specific genre, people who hire me are almost always planning to shoot similar content.

Edit: My apologies for the wonky formatting on this.


  1. Another thoughtful and intelligent post on your blog. I always learn something from your blogs and they also make me think.

  2. sweet! thanks.
    this actually answered some bits of questions i've been mulling over but not quite ready to articulate..
    also, i changed my profile name and pic, but it's still me :)

  3. well thought out and nice replies!