Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Those who can't do, teach

Those who can't do, teach. We have all heard this. It means that you can't do what you teach to perfection.  But if you are a good teacher, you can bring out the best in the people you teach. Teaching is something some people can do, others can't, and often the best doers - performers - cannot teach, because teaching requires a special talent and a special attitude. So when people say "those who can't do, teach" they are not telling the whole story.
I am on a dance trip at the moment. I recently started going to Graham classes after a gap of many, many years because I suddenly felt I needed to brush up  my technique - so here I am, practising contraction and release and the spiral. Ecstatic dancing and Five Rhythms are all fine and I love doing them but there is no technique, it is all free style. I wanted order, structure and physical challenge. Graham does it for me.

And then there are the pole dancing classes - hard work, my thighs are constantly aching. Even for that there is technique, a lot of it.
As an older dancer,  I have to admit that age does matter. A lot. There is only so much my body can do. My joints are worn out. My endurance is not the same as that of a younger dancer. For physical activities such as dance and athletics, the peak comes very early on. By the time one is thirty-five the decline begins - just look at footballers.
I have two different teachers for Graham. One is a seventy-two year old former Graham dancer, the other is  a young dancer from a leading conservatoire with a statuesque body and great at demonstrating, but not yet good at teaching.

I love them both. I love the demonstrations of the young dancer - they give me something to strive for even though it is without my reach - because my knees are too weak and I no longer have the stamina of a twenty year old.  But I also love the patience of my frail old Graham teacher who knows how to explain the details of the technique even though she can no longer demonstrate and can get you to do the work through her use of imagery.
Getting older can improve your teaching skills. Sadly, it impairs your physical performance. I wonder whether this is also true in professions that are not as physical as dance. Does ageing affect musicians, for instance?

(All photos taken by Alicia Clarke and modelled by Alex B)

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Experienced photographers need not read

Those of you who have been taking pictures for years will find this post very naive and boring, so please do not read.

I have just discovered the pleasures of taking photographs and developing films and I am absolutely over the moon.
I have not tried to develop black and white films with chemicals yet, that will come later. I have however learnt how to feed colour film into the machine - I spent the morning doing that. It is quite easy but a little tricky, since you have to insert your hands in a light proof box, remove the film from the spool, punch a hole into it, mount it on a paper tray and feed it into the machine without being able to look - you have to 'see' with your hands. Later I scanned the negatives and did a little processing with Photoshop to remove dust and adjust levels. I was disappointed that my very first film came out blank - I had three films altogether, one which I used a few months ago and two I recently used in Spain. I knew one would come out with nothing, because I was still trying to learn how to use my Bronica and made lots of mistakes handling it. The others were OK. No great shots but it is a good start.

Now I have a 35 mm Minolta camera until monday and I plan to spend the weekend taking photos, I might do some street photography. I have also unearthed a whole bag of old negatives taken in the 1990s also with a Minolta, I will try and scan some of them. At the time I was travelling through India, so I have some shots of interesting places.
As soon as I finish postprocessing the images taken with the Bronica I will upload a couple. I'd be grateful for some comments and tips.

Model: Enkopte

I am still interested in working with male models. I got some more messages but from people living outside the UK. Now, realistically, I am an amateur photographer still learning my craft. I am not loaded and I am not going to fly people over to model for me. There are millions of people living in London, which is where my home is. I am pretty sure I will be able to find a couple of male models living in this big city...It's great to know that male models are keen to be photographed but let us keep things in perspective!

(All photos taken by me. Bronica GS-1, Reala film, Epson Perfection V700.

Copyright: AlexBPhotography)

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Women photographing men

I have started using my Bronica more frequently and have finally sorted how to develop and scan my negatives. It is all quite exciting. I am not very technically minded so it took me a while to get to know my camera. But now I seem to have it under control, after a few botched attempts.
Being a photographer I need subjects. After toying with various ideas I realised that my interest is, after all,  in art nude. So far so good. Except that I want to take pictures of men. And in saying this I know I am opening a can of worms.
Roswell Ivory wrote a piece for UdA about the male nude, regretting the scarcity of images in comparison to those of the female form. Model Mayhem has had several forum posts about female photographers photographing nude men.  The score so far: most male photographers who shoot male nudes tend to be gay. Straight male photographers do not by and large shoot male nudes, only a few do. Straight male photographers do not find it easy to capture the sensuality of the male form. A handful of female photographers have risen to prominence for shooting male nudes - Maricevic among others. In the UK Cecilie Harris and India Hobson have published Boys by Girls. It is an ongoing project:

"The Boys by Girls website represents our first book and continues building on the focus on male models being shot by female photographers. For our published (and to be published) boys, we also follow what else they are up to and try to get an insight into their world through our model stories features. We will also be introducing new fresh faces as well as more established boys to share with you through this site and future print projects".

But it is not all that straightforward. My casting call on MM went up last night and I have already received several expressions of interest - all dishearteningly unsuitable. Several male models on such sites are not model material at all, that's the bottom line. So finding the men that satisfy my aesthetic requirements is not going to be easy.

Let's face it. Photographers taking images of women can take their pick of the available models, with hundreds of new comers everyday joining internet model sites, keen to be photographed, and so they can lay down the criteria. Female photographers wanting to photograph nude men do not have it that easy. Still...

I cannot but endorse what the dA group The Male Soul (some superb shots of men can be seen there) say about their raison d'etre, that of showcasing male beauty. That's my goal too.

Men are definitely beautiful... albeit some more than others.

There will be other posts on this topic, as this project develops, so plenty to discuss. The most important, most exciting thing for me is the role reversal that this affords me. As a model I have experienced the chauvinism and arrogance of a number of male photographers, and had to bite my lip. As a photographer, I will be in a position to call the shots, no pun intended... and be able to show the beauty of a man the way a woman sees it.

(Photos by Martin Robinson modelled by Alex B shot at Martin's studio. )

Monday, 19 September 2011

Filling the gaps

I was not able to write blog posts while I was away in Spain but used my dA journals to express my opinions, via iPhone uploads.  This post fills in some gaps.
I have had enough of divas and their elucubrations, good luck to them all.  Everyone loves a diva, male or female, they do give us some entertainment. But they are pretty unbearable to be with.
Spain was delightful but so very hot. I got a number of shots - my very own -which I can't wait to develop and scan,  I posed for paintings, drawings and photos, even a calendar image  and in between, while resting because the heat prevented me from going out, I found the time to set up a new group on dA for models who are also photographers - no mobile phones photography is allowed, iPhone and iPhoto are not welcome in this group, sorry.
I share admin of this new group with the wonderful Iris Dassault. I love her work as a model and as a photographer and trust her artistic judgment.

And while in Spain I learnt a great lesson about commercial photography, namely that  it can be as artistic as any fine art photography.
A major Spanish department store, El Corte Ingles,  has used a reinterpretation of  Las Meninas by Velazquez to advertise its wares. I was completely bowled over by it when I saw it. What a fantastic idea! There is humour and depth in the remake and one of the most gorgeous male models I have ever seen plays the role of Velasquez but recast as a photographer - and am I right in thinking he is holding a Mamiya? I could not take my eyes off him, Velazquez never looked so good.

As I made my way  to the airport to catch my return flight a friend emailed me to tell  me that this week's Today, a BBC radio 4 programme  regularly broadcast on a monday,  was about grey hair finally being acceptable as beautiful and chic. Hooray. I will no longer have to put up with various remarks on how ageing grey hair is. You can hear the programme here 
Today has also had another interesting programme After I was gorgeous,  about being beautiful and what happens next, with icons such as Jean Shrimpton, Deborah Bull and others, including former Bond girl Tania Mallet  telling what it is like when they discover their famous beauty is going.   Definitely a programme that ties in well with my earlier discussions on dA about divas and the myth of eternal youth which sadly some still embrace.

(The two photos of Las Meninas by Velazquez and El Corte Ingles are from Mark Harden's archive and Love Spain, through Google Images.  The other two are modelled by Alex B and were taken by photographer Alicia Clarke)

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

As I get ready...

...to fly to Spain tomorrow to model for Martin Robinson's weekly workshop - and it is hot over there at the moment - I am having a glass of Chardonnay prior to my dinner - nothing fancy I 'm afraid, I am Italian but contrary to received wisdom I can't cook to save my life -  and am reflecting on the day that just went by. I would say that this was a rather special day.

First, as I woke up,  I found in my email box a very flattering and really touching comment left by a perfect stranger who happened to view my portfolio. I am used to compliments and appreciative comments, my deviantArt gallery is full of them - someone once remarked that deviantArt is good for one's ego, that's why he joined. But this one was so exquisitely worded, I almost believed it - I take compliments with a large grain of salt. Politicjustice contacted me via my "Contact " form on my website.  He wrote:

"Dear Alex, 
I just had to let you know how deeply moved I am by your work. As an older man (older than you) I am past the age of "responding" to the standard measures of beauty. You however, clearly transcend such measures. I look at your images, particularly your nudes, and I see a grace and elegance such as I've never encountered before. But there's even more than that. You have a power, a strength that frankly I find both mesmerizing and even a little disquieting. Certain pictures of you portray the human form and psyche in a formidable manner that captivates. 
I congratulate on your body's exquisite physicality but more importantly on the inner power you bare so boldly and so generously to your audience.
Thank you for sharing your gifts."

 I know, I know, this smacks of singing my own praises. Someone might even say that I made it up. I have not, and truly, I am not singing my own praises, I am fully aware of my limitations. But if someone feels this way about my work,  it really makes me feel that what I am doing is worth something. Once in a while.

So this is how my day began. Then I attended a workshop where I learnt to use embodiment to clarify my thinking - how  you would embody a research proposal was the topic we explored. With my group we worked on several ideas and we improvised providing an embodied counterpoint to each other's proposals. It was immensely satisfying and it certainly opened up a new way of thinking - through the body.

Then I met Esther and Lucy at the South Bank and I got to know about Esther's project, Spirited Bodies. A connection was made. We talked for ages and found we were really agreeing on so many things. Our conversation has just begun, there will be more and finally we will do something together, I very much hope we will. Meanwhile do have a look at Esther's ideas, it's all on her website and blog...

(Photo  taken by David Holmes and modelled by Alex B)

Friday, 9 September 2011

Rapunzel or the woman who got fed up with waiting

Photographer: Chris Hutchinson
I did a great shoot the other day - no images yet. It was inspired by the tale of Rapunzel , the princess with very long hair who was imprisoned in a tower and waited for her prince, who'd climb the tower using her long tresses as a ladder and eventually carried her off.
But my Rapunzel in the story board created by Caroline Michael grew old while waiting for her prince, who never came. So what did Rapunzel do?
Caz (Caroline) has been shooting fashion and editorial for years then last year decided to do a MA Photography at the London School of Fashion. Rapunzel is the project she has been working on in connection with her degree exhibition.
Photographer: David John Green
She approached me to be Rapunzel. I was intrigued by the story and accepted. Caz's Rapunzel is an old woman about 60 to 70 years old living in a dingy council flat in the East End. She is quite deluded, living alone and afraid of going out, still waiting to be rescued by a man from the tedium of her life. She has a vast wardrobe of clothes and changes constantly in order to be ready for her prince. But he never comes. And one fine morning too many Rapunzel realises that there are no princes, cuts her grey tresses off and ventures out of her flat, all alone, to go to the local shops. A final act of defiance.
I loved being Rapunzel. They made me look a good twenty years older - I truly looked like an average seventy year old, quite wrinkly (Jane Fonda looks amazing at 69 but she has had a few nips and tucks, your average seventy year old does not look that amazing)- and made my hair longer with extensions. During the shoot I felt so sorry for my character, I began to cry and my make up became undone. This made the shoot different, Caz welcomed the display of emotion. I particularly loved the final scene, when Rapunzel cuts off her long grey plait, dons a  cardigan and some hand gloves, takes a pretty bag and goes out of her flat, out into the outside world - this was still a fashion shoot so the clothes and accessories were all by designers.

Photographer: Alan Bassett. Retoucher: Jade
I hope to show you the photographs soon.
The Rapunzel story is still relevant today. Even today far too many women find themselves trapped as they dream to be rescued by a man. It just does not work that way. Rapunzel has finally realised that waiting for a prince to save her is a complete waste of time...most princes tend to turn into frogs and remain frogs, no matter how often they are kissed...

(All photos modelled by Alex B)

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Guest post by Lucy Saunders

Following my post on art models pay, model Lucy Saunders has contributed the following:

"Pay – in particular low pay – is what gets models engaged.  Everyone is hoping that someone, somewhere will introduce them to the job of their dreams, that pays £25 an hour, cash, regularly and is not too demanding on the body.  Meanwhile, back in reality, every model gets what they are prepared to accept – and sometimes what they ask for. 

I remember when I first started modelling in 2008 and accepted that the RAM recommended rate of £12.50 an hour was gospel and turned down jobs that didn’t pay that much, including some places where it would be possible to get whole days of modelling work not just 2 hours in the evening.  That was foolish.  I should have taken some of those lower paid jobs to get the hours.  Now if asked what I charge, I start at £15 per hour, minimum 2 hours.  Of course, like any model, I work a variety of places and take a variety of pay rates home – including one below £10 per hour because it is so near. 

It is a complex time-value-cost equation, just highlighted because of low pay for a job to which most people have an aversion.  Being seen naked in public is usually the stuff of nightmares.  There is no compensation for being different, for not subscribing to that aversion, for being able to be naked in front of others when they are going to look at yr nakedness. 

There is the double standard, where models are seen as daring ‘ooh I could never do that’ – yet what they actually have to bring to the job is not valued.  ‘you just have to be naked and lie around, how hard can that be?’.  Two excellent models I know, both of whom can hold complex poses for long periods of time, with the classic sleek lines of body that current culture deems best, demonstrate this.  One finds it incredibly difficult to get work that pays her more than £10 per hour – and yes, part of this is her own inability to say ‘no, I won’t work for that’, but part of it is very much that what she has to offer isn’t valued, isn’t appreciated as being as unique as it is.  Models are just bodies, it seems.  The other is getting more and more demoralised by modelling, perhaps seeking something from modelling that works best if you model parttime rather than full time, and because her ego is bashed from lack of positive feedback, she is finding it difficult to move on to another job.  Yes, she is stubborn, she is looking for the experience she had when she first modelled, but at the same time, she is 100% right about the lack of  appreciation of ‘good’ models over ‘bad’ or ‘inexperienced’ ones.   There is no pay differential, so that a model who has worked for 5 years gets the same pay as one that has worked for 5 months. 

Models have constantly got to build up their internal sense of their own value and contribution, because they are not going to receive that kind of approbation from either the world at large, which still regards those who get naked and get paid for it as dubious, living on the borderline of acceptability, or from receiving large amounts of money.  As one said, ‘If I was Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell getting naked or almost naked, I’d command a vast sum.’  Context, as always, is everything.  Moss and Campbell have built personal brands that are seen to have the power to promote goods and services, thjey have teams of assistants and managers dedicated to building this brand and farming it, whereas your average artists models have only themselves to do everything that a big business does – sell, market, promote, advertise, train, develop skills, do the admin, manage the finances.  So modelling does give everyone exposure to running themselves as a business, good lessons that can be applied in all sorts of jobs.

Me, I remember that probably one of the busiest artists models in the UK is the Queen …  admittedly she’s not naked, but she’s doing the same thing as me, remaining still for artists"

(All drawings are of Lucy by various artists)

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Low pay, no credit

Drawing by Martin Robinson
Life modelling is not lucrative. But from time to time you see/hear of things which are truly ludicrous.
Just to clarify: life modelling is what you do when you pose naked for artists and (mostly) art students. I am a life model, as well as a photographic model. I have been doing life modelling for years and years, with gaps of course; I took up photographic modelling much later in life.
Whereas you can do time for prints/cd if you are a photographic model, that arrangement never works for life models. Time for sketches is only worth your while if you pose for someone like Lucien Freud. Who wants to have hundreds of mediocre drawings by would be artists in exchange for what is basically a difficult and very tiring job - try to keep still for just 5 minutes, if you dont believe me.
So life modelling is always or should always be PAID. Having said that, life models are given absolute peanuts and it really makes you wonder.
I am a RAM member, the Register for Artists Models, which has done a great job in terms of campaigning for a minimum pay (at the princely sum of £12.50 per hour). I also have an Equity card - not all life models do but model Lucy Saunders who started a model list a couple of years ago first mentioned that possibility for life models and I went ahead and got one. Photographic agency models get an Equity card through their agency, internet models hardly know what it is, unless they happen to be performers as well.

Photographer: George Swift
The Equity card works for me not so much in terms of ensuring a minimum pay because that cannot be enforced in this kind of work but to give me a proof of ID without making me  produce passport and other documents, which show my real name. Equity allows you to use a stage name and it is perfectly acceptable to use your stage name on model releases and such like, I can  show my Equity card and give my Equity number and my real identity is protected. I like keeping things separate.
This is a long and tedious prologue but we have come to the point, thanks for bearing with me. Yesterday Lucy sent the list an announcement about a job for Monday put by the artist in an Arts Council of England newsletter (and you must read the spiel about unpaid opportunities given by ACE on the front page!). The ad was for a model/performer between 5'7 and 5'11 in height, male or female, slim built,  who would be PERFORMING on  stage for two hours wearing a costume provided by the artist and doing standing poses of at least 15 minutes duration, one after the other, as part of a performance piece involving life modelling. The model -performer would not receive any credit (!) on any publicity and would be paid £20 including travel expenses. Of course for the model- performer it would be more than two hours work: he/she would have to arrive at least an hour in advance of the performance to get in costume, to discuss what they were doing, - so the artist was  really asking for at least 3 hours time.  As Lucy pointed out to all of us on the list, £20 for 3 hours including travelling expenses works out at £4.30 an hour if you take off £7 for travelling peak time on a travelcard - such are London travel costs.
I have done jobs as an extra - extras are not credited - but for a lot more money than that. Moreover  this job is not for an extra. It is a fairly major role. Why on earth should the model/performer not be credited?

All right, I hear you: models are never credited by painters/sculptors. Sure. But they are paid for the session. In fact modelling privately for an artist is the best arrangement as the model is free to ask the artist  for a figure that suits both (but before you start thinking in terms of a three figure sum let me disabuse you of this notion - it will never be over £20 per hour).
This is a performance and there are different rules that apply to performers - or do they?
I could say a lot more but I will stop for now. Low pay, no credit: this seems to be the lot of the life model.

(Photo modelled by AlexB.)