Friday, February 22, 2013

Boom

I keep getting this feeling that my days are coming to an end.  Maybe I watch the news too much.  But with this onslaught of gun violence, I honestly worry that I'm going to be gunned down in a public place, in a totally non-personal incident.  Just a tragic deer caught in headlights.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

1...2...3...

My three truths that plague me right now:

1.  My problem is that everything and everyone is a consolation prize to me.  And that's fucked up.

2.  I don't know anything at all really.  And I need to stop pretending I know everything.

3.  Most of my actions are controlled by my pride and ego.  It needs to stop.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Pease Take Ma Pikcha


Part I

Always test up.  Or at least get paid.

A great photographer I worked with shared these words as we finished our session for the day.  This was nearly a year ago and he was curious about my career so far, like what kind of photographers I was dealing with, who was contacting me, who I was contacting, etc.  I was overall pleased with the quality of photographers I'd been working with so far but was still being approached by bad photographers wanting to shoot me for free or downright refusing to pay my (already) low rate.

He responded, “No matter how much money they offer you, you do not want a bad photo out there.”  He explained the concept of being “penny wise dollar stupid” and that if a mediocre photographer doesn’t want to pay me to shoot, it’s his problem not mine and that if I shoot with a bad photographer for free, not only do I waste my time and gas, I don’t get any useable photos for my portfolio.  And what does the photographer gain?  A strong model in his portfolio that he didn’t have to pay for.  In other words, always test up.  Or ask for money.

I am reminded of these words on a daily basis when I’m searching for photographers to shoot with.  When looking to test—or shoot TF (trade-for)—I sometimes start by looking at the portfolios of models I really admire and see who shoots them.  Then I look at their photographers’ portfolios to see if I’d be a good fit for their style, what they could add to my book, what I could add to theirs, how they photograph women, their use of lighting, the types of models they shoot, etc, etc, etc and it helps inform my decision to either contact them, move on, or write their name on a wish list of future photographers I want to work with.

Photographers often contact me asking to shoot and most of the time will ask to shoot TF up front.  I check out their portfolios to see if it’ll be worth my time and effort to shoot for free.  A few things I keep in mind:  I should always be shooting, always honing my skills; I should keep my portfolio fresh and updated as much as possible; I should constantly network and build bridges in the industry by shooting with as many photographers as I can.  So I take a look and see what I could gain from them….some are amazing but most are weak. 

How do I decide that I do not want to shoot with a photographer, or at least not for free?  The very first thing I do is compare their work with the work of photographers I have already shot with.  If they are not equal or better, I ask for money.  A lot of times they’ll explain they cannot afford to pay models or that they’re just starting out and building their portfolio.  If they cannot pay me but have a decent body of work I might negotiate gas compensation, food, and total choice of photo selection.  If they’re just starting out but simply do not want to pay me, I politely wish them well and move on.  I figure they can shoot a model that is also just starting out as its not really worth my time anymore.

I was once contacted by a photography student who wanted to shoot and couldn’t pay but offered to make it up to me once he became rich and famous.  I thought it was a cute and confident tactic, so I checked out his work.  He was terrible.  Months later he wrote again that he still wanted to shoot and invited me to check out his progress.  I took a look and saw that he just shoots nude and semi-nude mediocre looking girls in slutty outfits.  Sure, one can become rich and famous shooting this kind of stuff but this kid couldn’t even properly light or edit his images and managed to find the worst models to pose for him.  I stopped responding to him.

Another answer I might receive from photographers is that they refuse to pay altogether; that they “never have, never will”.  To which I say: you get what you pay for.   My feeling is some photographers are good enough to say that.  Their work is compensation enough to attract a high standard of talent.  MOST photographers however should really change their attitudes as they tend to shoot a very low standard of models which keeps them at the level they’re in—amateur.  I learned the hard way that when a photographer blatantly refuses to pay models and his portfolio clearly shows it, the worst thing I can do is try to negotiate.  A photographer of sub-amateur talent once contacted me to shoot TF and I asked for money but he was of the “never have, never will” ilk.  A day later he wrote back curious about my rate, should he decide to change his mind.  I offered my rate and he asked what I would do for that amount.  I didn’t quite understand.  He explained that he shoots various styles such as beauty, fashion, glamour, nude, erotic, etc. and of these categories, what would I do if he paid me.  At that moment I should have ceased all contact with him for simply being a disrespectful creep.  But I was na├»ve and answered I would shoot beauty and fashion.  He responded, “No thanks, I’ll pass” as if I were offering lemonade.   I was quite offended by his rudeness and overall lack of respect that I wrote him, “Your ego far exceeds your ability, you no-talent hack.  Good luck, keep practicing.”  Not my finest moment for sure but I think he needed a good kick to the crotch.  Lessons learned:  If a subpar photographer is so adamant against paying, simply move on.  And if someone asks my rate “out of curiosity”, don’t tell them because they’re not going to hire me anyways so why give them a free point of reference to use against me like a common whore negotiating her services, like “Hmm I wonder what $10 will buy me from this one?”  It’s creepy, it’s disrespectful, and it’s cheap. 

Most recently a model who practices photography as a hobby (a hobby!) contacted me to shoot TF.  I don’t know her personally and wasn’t convinced by her photography portfolio so I offered to shoot for a small fee.  I figured that as a model she could appreciate and understand my need to earn money for my work.  She wrote back that as a model I should keep practicing with great photographers who can add great images to my portfolio and possibly be published in magazines!  She's absolutely correct, and luckily I do work with great photographers.  Problem is, she is not a great photographer who cannot produce great images that will certainly not be in magazines!  I was slightly taken aback, even amused.  I left it at that.

Occasionally some photographers acknowledge I’ve worked with highly experienced and published photographers and agree to pay me since they know I will bring experience and talent that another model willing to work for free might not have yet.  Or they know their skill is not at the level where I would use their photos in my portfolio.  Or perhaps they want complete artistic control of their shoot and don’t want to deal with “getting” specific shots to please my portfolio so they pay me to show up and fulfill their artistic vision.  If only more photographers could have the self-awareness to compensate models fairly for their appropriate skill level, things would be so much better.

Part II

Getting the Goods.

Now most of what you see in my portfolio has been acquired through testing, or TF shoots.  Meaning I didn’t pay the photographer to shoot and they didn’t pay me to pose.  It was done to build both our portfolios through mutual respect and appreciation for the other’s talent and time.  It’s an incredible way to network and practice. Of course once the shoot is over is where new problems can arise—photo selection and delivery!  In Belgium, most photographers sent me loads of photos within days of our shoot and most let me select my favorites from the raw files and edited them accordingly.  One photographer was even kind enough to give me high quality printed copies of the pictures at no cost!  This was in addition to the edited, high-res photos he was obliged to deliver electronically.  But one photographer in Brussels sent me one low-resolution image weeks after our shoot after we had shot 3 looks.  I emailed him several times asking for more images but received no answer.  Months later I returned to LA and still hadn’t heard from him so I finally wrote a terse email demanding additional high-res photos.  He eventually responded that he was unhappy with my email as he had other business to tend to (which he never bothered to tell me months ago when I first inquired) and sent me one single image of my lips.  Not my face, just my lips.  Grrrrreeeat

Asshole. 


Part III

Take Off Your Clothes.

Like most models, I began with a profile on Model Mayhem.  I still use it to this day, but I’m very discerning when I do.  Model Mayhem is a social networking site for models, photographers, makeup artists, hairstylists, wardrobe stylists, and designers to connect, communicate, and collaborate.  The problem is pretty much anybody can open a Model Mayhem account.  For every talented photographer on that web site, there are at least 20 “guys with cameras” (GWCs) who have no artistic vision, skill, or talent and most likely got into photography to see naked girls.  On the model side of things, most are simply baffling.  More often than not they are located in small, obscure towns where there is no legitimate modeling work or talent agencies to sign with.  These girls are in poor physical shape and look bad but charge extortionate rates for their work.  And why?  Because they get naked!  So many girls (and guys) on that web site earn money by posing nude.  And what’s wrong with that?  Nothing I suppose, but I don’t want you to think that they’re posing in some Herb Ritts-esque shoot with amazing natural lighting and scenic backgrounds taken by a superb photographer with extraordinary skills.  No.  They’re posing ass-naked, bent over in their backyard or bedroom in a photo that looks like it was taken with a cell phone.  And they have the audacity to demand $75 an hour for their time!  Amazingly they find photographers who will pay them.  Granted, the photographers are usually similar-minded in their vision with portfolios filled with images of what they think are “erotic nudes” or “artistic nudes” that are really just cheap pictures of ugly people stimulating sexual positions in very un-erotic and un-artistic ways.  My nose crinkles at the sight of them.  Occasionally I find myself lurking in the underbelly of Model Mayhem when I see a casting call from a photographer seeking a model to pose for 1 or 2 hours whom he’s willing to pay $200.  I’m immediately interested when I see that number but also suspicious when his avatar depicts an overly retouched, above-average sized woman in skimpy lingerie.  I visit his portfolio and realize that indeed, $200 for 2 hours is not worth it. 

But you’ve posed semi-nude, Courtney!  Hypocrite!  Your boobs are somewhere on the internet for all to see!  Yes, it’s true.  I have posed semi-nude and the images are on the internet.  But I don’t mind because I took these pictures with amazing photographers I trusted and who really know how to photograph women.  I was never made to do anything I was uncomfortable with and knew I would be captured in an appealing light.  The few times I shot semi-nude, I knew the photographer wasn’t simply trying to take a picture of my boobies.  It was about the whole picture, the composition, the tone, the story and drama behind the image.  And when I finally saw the finished results I was amazed.  It wasn’t trashy or embarrassing in any way.  I looked beautiful and I was proud of them.  Not to mention I can look back on them when I’m an old lady and think, “Hey, I used to look like that!” 

The problem with having a few semi-nude photos in my portfolio though is it invites proposals from inferior photographers looking to shoot me naked as well.  When I politely decline their offers (as NO amount of money can get me to pose nude for a creepy GWC) they respond, “But I see you’ve shot nude before!”  Indeed I have.  But just because I have shot semi-nude before doesn’t mean I will shoot semi-nude with you. 

Part IV

Teensy Touchy.

On a similar note to creepy GWCs who want to get as many naked girls in front of the camera as possible, there are also GWCs and photographers who get a little too touchy feely or verbally inappropriate when shooting.  Unfortunately I’ve also experienced this side of things.  Here is where I imagine the eye rolling begins.  Whenever I tell people that I often shoot alone with male photographers in their studios or homes or on location, I’m asked if that’s even safe.  In reality, it probably isn’t.  Fortunately no one has ever assaulted or harmed me but I’ve certainly had my share of other harassment and I’m pretty sure every model has dealt with this as well.  In Belgium I shot with an elderly GWC, a retired police officer (!) who took up photography as a hobby in retirement.  Our makeup artist, whom I originally corresponded with, recommended him.  Upon meeting him I had no reason to feel uncomfortable.  After all, the female makeup artist had worked with him before and he was a kindly, old former police officer.  It wasn’t until we got into the car that I began to feel strange.  I sat in the passenger seat and he kept putting his hand on my lap as he spoke.  He also complained he couldn’t hear well so he had to learn in very close to my face whenever I spoke.  Once in the studio he kept leading around the space with his arm around me.  While taking pictures, he physically posed me.  This is actually one of the most annoying things a photographer can do if they don’t ask your permission first.  However it is also common for a photographer to occasionally poke you to get you in the right light, but usually no more than a quick adjustment.  This guy however put his whole hands on my bare shoulders, palms down grabbing me and moving me around continuously.  If that had happened today I would have ended the shoot right then and there and left.  But back then I wasn’t fully aware that he was out of line and taking advantage of his kindly old appearance to get touchy-feely with girls. 

In LA I dealt with several male photographers do the same thing under the guise of “making adjustments” when they were actually using it as an excuse to let their hands linger over my bare skin, be it my shoulders, arms, legs, or face.  Even without touching, photographers can cross the line by making inappropriate comments or asking inappropriate questions.  Maybe they feel that in the moment of artistic creation it’s okay to be open and honest about these things, but actually, it’s not.  I don’t appreciate being asked about my sexual preferences or about my anatomy.  I don’t like being told—while posing—that I’m the object of the photographer’s sexual desire.  Being told I’m beautiful or sexy is one thing, but being objectified and propositioned is another.  Unfortunately these things come with the territory.

Part V

The Beautiful.

Of course modeling is not all horror stories and unsavory characters—though that is a huge part of it.  I’ve also had the fortune to meet some incredible photographers and makeup artists shooting TF whom I trust and adore dearly and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to others.  I’ve shot with several photographers more than once which is great because it allows us to grow together.  I’ve shot with highly successful and internationally published photographers who have taught me so much from their experience in the industry.  I’ve shot with student and amateur photographers who have so much passion in their art purely because they do it out of enjoyment, not as a profession, and their enthusiasm shows in their openness and endless imagination.  In shooting TF I’ve also found other opportunities: One shoot led me to getting signed with an agency. 

I might not have earned a single dollar, but I got great pictures, new connections, more experience, tougher skin, and better negotiation skills—all of which will serve me well in the coming days, months, and years of my career.

My dear beloved photographers, you know who you are ;)
To the others, please stay away from me.