Monday, 30 May 2011

Wise modelling

Photographer: Joanna Nowek. Models: myself and Adrian

I was just reading the blog of a British model whose work I admire. Like a number of other well known UK art models who have recently announced their 'retirement' from the world of modelling - I would not dare use the term top internet models, lest someone takes offense, but I am digressing - she is a little tired of the drudgery and feels it is time to do other things, even though she will continue to model 'selectively'.
I left a comment on her blog post, then I realised I wanted to say more. A lot of it is simply my personal reflections on my own modelling and I dont expect anyone to share these opinions.
I dont believe that modelling is a career that really lasts a longtime. Let me rephrase that.  It CAN last but you will find that many models start very young, do some years of modelling - and some of them do very well financially, then do something else for a while, then return to it, then leave again, in other words  they will continue to model spasmodically and maybe act and do other things altogether. Although there are now several mature models - I love the label - and the demand for them is increasing for commercial work, they do not model full time even though they may be with top agencies. I was recently photographed by Suzy Conway, a model with a very well known agency who has now also taken up photography and alternates photography with modelling. There is not enough modelling to do, she told me.
Photographer: Suzy Conway
In the world of internet modelling there is a lot of work but much of this work, whereas it pays, is not particularly interesting and is age bound. Just today I was looking at a casting for a model 18-30 put out by a semi-professional photographer who is making an unspecified film and wants shots of women who can demonstrate real arousal, willing to be photographed before and after, adult level. All presented as if it were a scientific proposition ( I have nothing against adult work but I much prefer it when people say so upfront, rather than pretending it is an 'anatomical' study).  Even if I were in the right age group and even if paid generously - which in this case is less than  £100 for the job, so not generous in the least -  I doubt it very much I would want to do it, the pictures will not have any aesthetic value and to me that is important.
Photographer: Andy
Art nude is not lucrative. It is often sustained entirely by the enthusiasm of both photographers and models, the desire to make some good images, the desire to experiment  and perhaps in the background there might be the possibility of an exhibition or  a book, often self published. So as an art nude model I dont expect to be making a proper  living out of it. What I expect is quality images. Because art nude is not glamour the age of the model is not so important, it all depends on the look , the ability, the general concept of the photograph. A model with character is often preferable to a 'perfect' model.  It is all quite open ended.
Photographer: Michael Culhane
 So to my online model friend who is contemplating on cutting down on shoots I would say that maybe it is the right thing to do.  It will give her the chance to choose wisely.
 The advent of digital cameras and the efflorescence of degree courses in photography has also meant that there is a young  generation of photographers, well trained and hungry for work. They are the ones that want to try new concepts and ideas and could benefit from the input of an experienced model. I have worked with some of them and have enjoyed it.
Sometimes all you need is to think about something in a different way and then you find that the opportunities present themselves!

(All photos modelled by Alex B.)

Friday, 27 May 2011

Derelict places

Photographer: Vernon Trent

I am in my element when I can do a shoot in a derelict building. I love the sense of decay that abandoned places convey. It probably stems from my earlier interest in archaeology and my wanderings among ruined Southeast Asian temples. Or maybe it is influenced by Romantic poetry and Gothic novels  in which  ruins are a common visual trope.

Photographer: Marc Wainwright

 There is a particular genre of fine art photography which has developed around the idea of a body in a decaying landscape, among ruins and sometimes rubble.
The images are highly evocative and beautifully textured.

Photographer: Neil Huxtable "Talkingdrum"

Last month Dazed Digital, the online version of Dazed and Confused published an interview with photographer Daniel Regan about his Abandoned project, a series of photographs taken in derelict buildings. I was thrilled to see among the images one taken at an unmistakable place, a disused mental hospital now being turned into luxury flats. I too have shot there, with photographers Jan Murphy and Vernon Trent and later with Neil Huxtable.

Last year I went back there with photographer Marc Wainwright and we could not gain access to the building, the security guard escorted us to the car politely but firmly. So we went to another derelict building in the same area and we shot there. Earlier this year Marc told me that even this building is now out of bounds. That's the problem with these locations, one day they are here, the next they're gone as someone decides to get rid of the decay and build something new.

Photographer: Jan Murphy

So these photographs become precious memories, shots taken in places that no longer exist.  I should rephrase that. It is not the photograph that is the memory, it is simply a memory trigger.
"Images have the capacity to create, interfere with, and trouble the memories we hold as individuals and as a nation. They can lend shape to histories and personal stories, often providing the material evidence on which claims of truth are based, yet they also posses the capacity to capture the unattainable"
Marita Sturken

Photographer: Marc Wainwright

(All photos modelled by Alex B.)

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Mature models and internet models

Photorapher: Marcello Pozzetti

A few days ago I wrote about mature models and internet models in a post about model/photographer Yasmina Rossi to whom I have a physical resemblance - "it's our energy, as well as our hair" she said in a lovely personal email she sent soon after that. This provoked the ire of a certain mature model - I beg your pardon, older, as she dislikes the term 'mature' - who had never heard of the term internet model and imagined it to be disparaging and who thought that being referred to as mature was offensive.
She was indeed extremely upset by my post and that was all the more baffling because she was not in any way being referred to in the post.
The term mature model is just a euphemism for older model and I dont find it offensive. There is nothing wrong in being older. It is a fact of life. Older models cannot pretend to be young models, no matter what the colour of their hair or the tone of their bodies.

Photographer: Neil Huxtable  "Talkingdrum"

I am past fifty. I am happy with  the way I look, I am happy with my body and its degree of flexibility, even though I can no longer do free hand stands - I could be less lucky and look a lot worse. I am not and don't wish to appear to be younger than my age. I would never dream of comparing myself to a teen model. When my agency sends me for glamorous granny castings I do not complain and say they should send me for other jobs. That's what they have me in their books for and I am lucky to be getting requests! Plenty of glamorous grannies around, if I decline someone else will take it up, an actress, a former fashion model, you name it! The fact I am not yet a grandmother in real life is neither here nor there, the point is that I could be, I am in the right age group for it.
In that post I also briefly mentioned  'internet models' using a term quite common in the UK  to describe models whose profiles are found on online sites such as Purestorm , Net -Model etc. In most instances these are, young and old, non-agency standard models - no matter how beautiful you are if you are 5'3, young or old, you cannot be an agency model doing fashion and editorial work, unless you are a celebrity. There is however a market for internet models and some of them do quite well financially, modelling full time, though not as well as agency models. I actually thought the term had been coined by Model Bitch, whose blog is the talk of town at the moment -  incisive, helpful and funny. But no, Simon P. corrected me on this and said that the term had been around for a while - and he should know. Perhaps not on the other side of the pond.
The bottom line is that it is a descriptive term, not in the least derogatory. Not all models are with an agency. It does not mean they are not good, it simply means they are not agency standard. Besides art nude is not an agency specialism, but something models arrange independently, that's where an internet profile helps .

Photographer: Joanna Nowek
Apparently what deeply offended this very glamorous, older model, was the fact I mentioned that if one does a search on any of the above mentioned sites one will also find that the great majority of mature internet models  do adult work. I never said younger models did not, I simply said that according to the statistics one can gather from searching those sites, mature models tend to be involved in adult work. It is to do with the fact that work opportunities for mature models are scarce. I never said that all mature models do , but certainly those who make a living entirely  out of modelling do. I do not do adult work, but I am not being judgmental. Adult work is just work.  According to photographer Iain Thomson, the mature and hairy are niche market in the adult genre. "Averageness is a good selling point. This particular market does not like fake boobs, tattoos, piercing etc. but pretty/average looks/average figure are fine" says Iain. He does not think that the best among such models can really be found on internet sites - nor agencies - photographers just have to scout these models somehow. An important factor is that the models should not have been seen around much. Perhaps after being scouted they join model sites? Whatever. The point remains that if you search the sites I have mentioned for mature models you will find that 1) there are not so many and  2) the majority of those with a profile include adult work as one of their specialism - and the profile photos as far as possible match that choice.

Photographer: Sam Pidgen. Models: myself and Enkopte

Now from reading this very general side observation, in a post about a famous fashion model, why would a model who is not involved in adult work, who is over 65 and still amazingly sophisticated, well read, beautiful and sexy, who lives on the other side of the pond, and who does not need to make a living out of modelling alone, take offense? She is in a unique category, a privileged one. Not all mature models are.
All I can say is that some people have a conspiracy theory mind and a very short fuse! Also, getting older is not easy, for everyone, but especially for models. Just as it happens when you are in your teens, when each year counts, there is a gulf between being  67,68, 69 and 70. The Carmen dell'Orefice and the Verouschka of the modelling world are exceptions, the queens of that world and, it shoud be noted,  they were part of it from when they were more or less teenagers. That is no small advantage.

(All photos modelled by Alex B. unless otherwise specified)

Monday, 16 May 2011

The joys and pains of swimming

Photographer: Charles Hutchinson. Models: myself and Skatebabe

I  fractured a wrist last December. It is fully healed now but my physiotherapist recommended I should take up swimming to strengthen the joint. I am not a great swimmer but I can swim and like doing it. So I joined my local pool as a member, to get me motivated to go regularly and started swimming, usually in the evening to avoid school kids and casual swimmers. I have now done five weeks of swimming and am quite enjoying it. I can see the effects on my upper arms which are getting more toned. And the mobility of my wrist has definitely increased.
 I usually swim in  the medium lane because I only do the  breaststroke and want to concentrate on doing it properly. At my local pool we normally do circle swimming.
Now, you would think that people, especially adults,  go the pool to swim. But no. You will not believe how many people just dip into the water, do a couple of lengths then stop by the shallow end and stay there chatting. When they get tired of chatting in the water they finally get out of the pool. This irritates me no end.
Photographer: Charles Hutchinson

 First they make it impossible for me to reach the end wall of the pool without hitting them so I have to cut short my length and turn back before touching the wall. Second they do this not in the casual swimming part of the pool but in one of the lanes, usually the medium. I really have to keep my cool but I often feel like telling them to get out of the way and not so politely either.
Then there are those people that think the pool is theirs alone, everyone else can sod off. They swim splashing water around completely oblivious of others. They believe they are the best swimmers ever, wear expensive goggles, do the front crawl and are simply appalling in their technique, not to mention attitude.
I am not a fast swimmer but I have great resistance. I swim continuously for at least 45 minutes, without a break. Earlier this evening I went as usual and this guy gets into the pool and decides he is going to practise butterfly stroke. I have never seen anything as bad. The splashes were so high I just had to slow down so much it became impossible to swim in the lane so I moved to the casual swimming part of the pool where people were just floating to relax. There I was negotiating my way in a lane full of floaters. They hated me, I hated them, I was about to give up but finally the butterfly stroke guy ran out of breath and got out. Bliss!
Photographer: Charles Hutchinson

Sometimes all you need to do is patiently bide your time.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Ever met yourself?

Photographer: Marcello Pozzetti
Ever since my hair has grown long - and it truly has, to my waist - I have experienced the strange phenomenon of being told "I have seen you somewhere". This particularly  happens when I hang out  with fashion savvy people. "Oh, I know you, you were in..." and I keep on saying no, it was not me. When I did the Tree of Hope catwalk show last month absolutely everyone said it was awesome I should be there and a girl even approached me for some tips on surviving in fashion. I thought it was all a bit over the top and put it down to the weirdness of the fashion crowd. Then, apparently, someone in the audience went up to the organiser to ask how they had managed to get me. I honestly could not understand what they were on about. Finally this morning, by chance,  I followed a fashion thread, looking for more photos from the Tree of Hope show.  And what do I see?

Photographer: Suzy Conway
There she is and she looks like me. Slightly older and apparently slightly taller, according to her stats, but the hair is the same and we could be mistaken for one another, only she is more beautiful. And there are personality resemblances too. She is a fashion model and a photographer published in loads of magazines and books, she takes self portraits, she does yoga, she is someone I could relate to extremely well.  She is Yasmina Rossi,  born in Corsica and currently in the US but also jetsetting around the world. I phoned up the agency I have been the longest with. "Alex"   - his name is also Alex - "did you realise that I look like Yasmina Rossi?" I said. "Yasmina who?" he could not quite remember. I mentioned her most recent campaign "Oh yes. Yes, of course". Pause. "You do, dont you? better put that among your skills". Now that threw me a bit. Resembling someone is no skill, it's just an accident of fate. "Why?" "Oh it might be useful". So that's how it works...
Who knows, it might not be useful at all. But I know a  model who looks a bit like Sophia Loren and makes it a point of saying so, among her 'skills'. Still...

Photographer: Marcello Pozzetti
But actually, on a more serious note,  knowing about Yasmina makes me feel a lot better. I look at her and I think she is stunning, so confident, so radiant. She is more than a model, she is a role model, making  it acceptable for women to be older and be confident in their own skin. I have been  feeling a little sad recently  because in this youth worshipping culture of ours  not only am I sometimes belittled for being older, I also see that many mature 'internet models' do all they can to look hideous in their attempt to copy younger models. That simply does not help! We need, as women, not just as models, to embrace getting older as a fact of life and grow old gracefully. Easier said than done, I know, but then people like Yasmina show us that it is possible.

(All photos modelled by Alex B)

Blogger has been down and thus I have lost all the previously posted comments. Apologies, but there is nothing I can do about it. Grr...

Retrieved post - Unflattering images, a reprise

Yesterday Blogger was down and I lost this post. Fortunately I had a back up

Photographer: Richard Plumb
The other day I posted a question on the forum of a model/photographers site where I have an account. It is primarily a site for British models and photographers, the ones that do most of their work independently and through the internet - hence the term 'internet model' that the lovely Model Bitch has coined. I have been an avid reader of Model Bitch blog since it began. I find it amusing, a real breath of fresh air.
Anyway, I was itching to do some research among models and photographers about what makes them tick.
And I came up with a question about unflattering images. I will be honest here. There was a time, when I first began modelling for photographers, when having unflattering images of myself in photographers folios did not please me, simply because I did not have much in my folio to begin with. When you are eighteen an unflattering image of you is usually seen as cute, but when you are past forty-five (I am in my early fifties now) an unflattering image of you is immediately seen as an indication of you being old and haggard, thus unsuitable model material.
Let me clarify that by unflattering I mean an image that shows all your physical shortcomings AND amplifies them i.e if your hips are a little heavy they make you look as if you were a size 16 or they show up your cellulite (and by the way even young models have cellulite).

Photographer: Richard Plumb

After a while and some painful rows of which I still carry the scars, I learnt to let go of the whole thing. I remember a shoot I did with an amateur photographer who is very good, a real perfectionist when it comes to images. But he is not in the least interested in making an effort to present 'his' models from the best possible angle. He does not work on model portfolios. He only shoots for himself. As part of that shoot there were pictures of me I really did not like. So I asked him not to put them up in his online gallery, as a favour. And he took it sooo badly! I was upset at the time, it was not even a paid shoot, it was a so called collaboration. Many tears (yes, tears) later I realised that the best thing was to pretend the image(s) did not exist and concentrate on shooting and building up my portfolio with other photographers. Meanwhile I learnt what suits me and what does not, but most of all I learnt to trust myself. End of that painful story for me.

The Tree of Hope fashion show Photographer: Michael Cheetham

Then when I went back to doing catwalk shows I learnt to cope with the shots that photographers take while you are walking or posing for a few seconds - and the designer's rants when the outfit was not photographed well.

Why did you not stay there longer and turn to show the back, they would say, and they were ready to pounce on you. They would say that even if you had been given strict instructions to pose for just sixty seconds, the other model was ready to start on the runway and you had to leave! That really marked the end of my worrying about unflattering pictures of all sorts, period.
But I always wanted to know how other models felt about this, I mean it cannot be just me who worries about how I come across in photographs. So I posted on that Forum. Now, there is a reason why many people wisely keep away from such Forums. I got all sorts of answers from photographers, fewer answers from models and then the discussion just went off a tangent and someone again mentioned age, mine that is, implying I should let the 18 year olds get on with modelling, someone felt entitled to call me vain, someone felt entitled to talk to me as if I were a dim wit. By and large though the models were sensible, put it down to experience, they said, nothing you can do about it, remove all links and move on. It happens, it has happened, it will continue to happen. It is part of your professionalism as a model.

Could not agree more.

(All photos modelled by Alex B.)

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Humanizing madness

I met an old friend today. After a career as an agent he is retraining as a psychologist. "I am back at college" he said. He is in his mid-forties now. "I really wanted to be a psychiatrist", he went on. "But between medical school, foundation training and six years specialisation I will be nearing retirement age by the time I finish". Yep. It takes that long. "As a psychologist I can specialise in clinical psychology" he added. "Don't you need a PhD for that?" "Yeah, I am thinking about it". Well, welcome to several years of abject poverty, my friend. PhD training is very expensive and very demanding too. I did one in the Arts many years ago.  Another life.
We had a lovely afternoon. I am retraining as a somatic psychotherapist, he is retraining as a psychologist, with ambitions to become a clinical psychologist.  We sure had much to talk about. We had tea and he showed me an article about the effects of serotonin on moral judgement. According to recent cognitive neuroscience research, said the writer of this article,  serotonin has an effect on altering emotions and thus moral judgement, suggesting that "individuals with altered levels of serotonin in the brain, such as depressed individuals, may also have different morals as a result of this imbalance". I was not impressed, this is the chemical model of mental illness at its worst. It was at this point that my friend introduced me to the work of Niall McLaren.

"Nowadays, we have domestic science, political science, sports science, social science, military science, retail science, management science and so on. The Nazis even had a racial science. What is this strange thing called science that everybody wants a bit of the action? What is its attraction, what is its power over people? When we look at all the dreadful things that have been done in the name of science, you really would wonder why anybody would bother, but still they come" 
Niall McLaren

Dr McLaren, Australian,  is the author of the book Humanizing Madness: Psychiatry and the Cognitive Neurosciences (2007) which counters the tenet of modern psychiatry that mental illness is due to a chemical imbalance. "Because of my work in developing isolated psychiatric services, I have not been eligible for the normal academic posts, as these are not available in isolated areas" says Niall McLaren. This is quite telling.
It is important to be aware of Niall McLaren's critique. It is a breath of fresh air. I have been volunteering for a mental health day centre where I have met  people whose personality has been completely modified by the heavy medication they are prescribed.  Far too often people have complete faith in the power of medication without realising that many of the drugs they are being given are unnecessary or down right wrong. 

"Because psychiatrists are trained in a particular and highly successful ontology, and because medical training does not encourage criticism, there is no reason to believe that orthodox psychiatry will encourage a process of self-criticism sufficient to examine its most fundamental premises. At the same time, students of the sociology and epistemology of science, who claim to have the unique intellectual tools that conventional scientists lack, appear to have contributed very little, if anything, to the question of what is the correct model of mental disorder. This should be cause for the very greatest concern but, if nothing happens, it will be cause for despair."
 Niall McLaren
Where do we go from here? The first step is to challenge Big Pharma and its links with biochemical psychiatry. We need a more humane and less drug oriented psychiatry. We are perturbed when we see a heroin addict injecting and yet we say nothing when we see chronic mental illness sufferers totally stupefied and confused by heavy medication doses. 
"There is much evidence that there is less psychotherapy provided by psychiatrists than 10 years ago. This is true despite the strong evidence base that many psychotherapies are effective used alone or in combination with medications" wrote Steven Sharfstein in 2005. 
I shudder to think what will happen to the mental health sector with all the NHS cuts we are undergoing in the UK.  It is a real cause for concern. And for me the big question is: when I finish my training as a somatic psychotherapist will I only be able to offer my services to paying clients in the private sector?

(All photos by Joanna Nowek and modelled by Alex B and Adrian "LondonNude")

Friday, 6 May 2011

Joanna Nowek's exhibition at the Hatch

In 2009 I posed for Polish photographer Joanna Nowek. Now she is exhibiting her work at the Hatch, London.
See Modern Cave Man
Thank you Joanna, it is an honour to be in this exhibition!

Models: Adrian and myself