Thursday, 26 December 2013

Christmas gone, new year approaching

Photographer: Steven Harrison Brown. Model: myself
Christmas was yesterday - belated Christmas greetings to everyone who follows and/or reads this blog. Next week the new year begins.
I love Christmas for the opportunity it gives to be or speak with loved ones - are we not lucky in this day of Skype communication? I also understand that people want to make an effort to be together and so this is the time when food is aplenty, even too much of it. People eat and drink to their heart content and it is difficult to say no when delicacies are proffered.
Today I woke up with a slight headache, the result of yesterday's excesses and the only thing that cured it was a session at the gym, usually crowded, but incredibly empty today - I had the pool all to myself!
I was given a great Christmas present - a day at my favourite spa - and will be making use of the gift voucher on New Year's Eve, with an overnight stay in Bath, where I will be visiting the Thermae. I fell in love with Bath when I went there in 2012 as part of the Hysteria tour and it will be good to visit this wonderful city once again and make use of the terrific spa facilities.
Why do it on New Year's Eve? Why not? It is a good way to end 2013 and start the new year, with a thorough cleansing and much pampering.
It has been an eventful year, at a personal level and worldwide.
I feel I am hybernating right now, but I expect to wake up once the new year's celebrations are over.
I did a great shoot with Mark Bigelow last week and it was my first time working with model Ella Rose. I really enjoyed the session, Ella Rose is incredibly talented and beautiful and Mark has a great sense of humour.

Photographer: Mark  Bigelow. Models: myself and Ella Rose

Not much more to say, really. 2013 ended on a very bright note, with one of the pictures of me taken by Steven Harrison Brown being published in Vogue Italia (PhotoVogue). It has also seen my greater involvement with All Walks Beyond the Catwalk.





All Walks : Diversity Now from Lee Jones on Vimeo.

Indeed, what will 2014 bring? I can't wait to find out.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Safety, internet model/photographers sites and Equity Models Network

Photographer: Rosa Rendl

A friend posted today on FB a warning advising models  to be careful and be safe when arranging photo shoots through model/photographer sites, with a link to some news about one of such sites, found to be linked to a case of rape and human trafficking.
I had heard about the dark side of this particular site from an American model and blogger, Unbearable Lightness. However, it is also true that this site has members who are very genuine people. I have certainly met some of my best collaborators through this site. Once I was approached by someone who sounded suspicious and reported his message to the site moderators. The matter ended with him being removed.
 It is very important to remember that wolves in sheep clothing abound and models, especially younger ones, are most vulnerable. Site owners should be screening would be members but let's not forget that people who are up to mischief will be careful and will present a flawless profile. They will clearly not declare their true intentions, certainly not publicly, until much later, when they have the opportunity to pounce on the unfortunate young woman who has approached them and who has disregarded basic safety precautions.

Photographer: Rosa Rendl

Therefore it is all of such sites that should be treated with caution - always check who you are meeting and make sure other people know where you are when you go for a shoot.
Model Roswell Ivory has recently posted on her blog about a photographer she outed in 2011 and whom the police is currently considering prosecuting - yes, it takes that long. She has been brave and courageous, going public about this and taking the initiative to speak in a public forum, to help other models.
I have to admit that I did work with that photographer and though I was not over the moon about the images, my experience was not particularly negative. I am saying this because people behave differently and they may attack those whom they perceive to be  vulnerable and be perfectly normal and pleasant with those whom they know would fight them back or they have no interest in. He clearly made a mistake with Ros, totally underestimating her.
In the fashion world today everyone is aware of the allegations made about photographer Terry Richardson, regarded by many as a pornographer and an abusive man. Model Alliance has bravely taken it upon themselves to out him, collecting testimonies from models that have been the target of his predatorial behaviour. Richardson is one of the highest paid fashion photographers in the world and is the one who directed Miley Cyrus recent video 'Wrecking Ball'




 Which brings me to the point I have made again and again. Models in Britain, whether you are agency represented or freelance please consider joining Equity Models Network. If you have problems and concerns please contact the Network. Founded by models and for models, and linked to Equity, the union of performers, the network is there to protect your interests and help you no matter what the issue might be. American models may find the Model Alliance of help.
Find us on Facebook 
(All photos modelled by me. The photographer has absolutely nothing to do with the topic of the post but she is someone I came in contact with through the model/photographers site I mentioned. The shoot was for Sager Forsberg's look book)

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Shunga art

The dream of the fisherman's wife, Hokusai (Google image)

Yesterday I visited the shunga art exhibition at the British Museum and also the Masterpieces of Chinese Painting at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
It was one of those days when I had some time off and two sets of friends were visiting town. So I spent the morning with the first set and we all decided to go to see the shunga exhibition. After lunch and after saying goodbye to these friends, I met my other friend, visiting London on business and finally able to leave work a little earlier. So we went again to see the shunga exhibition , as he also wanted to see it and then we went to the V&A, where, apart from seeing the Chinese paintings, we were also treated to a catwalk show. The V&A is open until 10 pm on a Friday and you can have a glass of wine, dance to music, go out into the magnificent courtyard, with a pond surrounded by an installation and view the magnificent building that is the V&A museum.

The V&A at night
But I digress. It is the shunga exhibition I wanted to talk about, because it really challenges our views of what is pornography.
Shunga: sex and humour in Japanese art 1600-1900 is an exhibition curated by Tim Clarke in partnership with several international scholars of Japanese art. The name shunga, the curators tell us,  means 'spring' and it refers to sexually explicit paintings, prints, and illustrated books with texts: "early modern Japan was certainly not a sex-paradise; however, the values promoted in shunga are generally positive towards sexual pleasure for all participants".
At various times shunga art was banned or censored but overall it continued to thrive until the 20th century. In contemporary times there are signs of a strong influence of shunga on manga.
Of course, in the early part of the 20th century shunga had an impact of western art through Japonisme and the exhibition has a few art works by Picasso, Toulouse -Lautrec  and Beardsley which show a strong affinity with shunga.
The first thing that strikes the visitor is the explicit views of both male and female genitalia, often rendered in unrealistic size. There are exquisite prints and silk scrolls depicting narratives, with couples shown in amorous embraces, and the whole scene is full of details, including the context, often with cherry blossoms and fabrics with complex patterns.
Once one gets used to the conventions of the style - big vulva and phalluses - which have no real counterpart in Western art, one also begins to appreciate that there is a real connectedness between the people involved in the act, a far cry from the objectification that characterises pornography as we know it. The colours are exquisite and the scenes are often accompanied by humorous dialogues between the men and women.
My favourite piece is the one depicting a woman dreaming of having intercourse with a giant octopus, by Hokusai. A few years ago I worked on my own rendition of it, thanks to photographer Terry Slater


I certainly thought that the visit to the British Museum was time well spent. The friend I went with the second time round, a competent amateur photographer, whose work has on occasion explored erotica, remarked that if we were to translate such images into photography most people would regard them as pornography. Yes and no. Photographers such as Nobuyoshi Araki seem to have imbued the spirit of shunga and I do not think his work is viewed as pornographic, though it does picture genitalia in a very explicit way.
Last year model and writer Roswell Ivory (currently engaged in fighting for a very worthy cause, read all about it in her blog) authored a piece for the art blog Univers d'Artistes which tackles the idea of genital photography. There was no mention of Japanese shunga nor Japanese photography in that excellent feature but I feel it complements this post.
I would love to hear from people who have seen the exhibition, about their reactions.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

A calendar for charity

Photographer: David Nuttall, model: myself

David Nuttall, a photographer I have known for some years and with whom I shot the above picture, recently got in touch to tell me about an amateur drama production by The Hartley Players of the famous  Calendar Girls. It run successfully for five nights. The girls felt inspired to produce their very own version of the calendar, shot by David and currently for sale in aid of the Elimination of Leukemia Fund.The models range in age from early 30s to 67 and none of them had ever done anything like this before. 
I do not have permission to post the pictures in my blog but I would strongly encourage you to get the calendar, for just a fiver. It is for a good cause. You can contact the Fund here and ask for a copy, they still have some, it has been a popular calendar.
I think it is a smashing idea. The images are tasteful and the ladies are truly great, all very confident and natural in front of the camera. Thank you David for letting me know. 


Monday, 18 November 2013

Interview in Image source



I have been interviewed by Image Source. You can see my interview here

Let me know what you think!

Friday, 8 November 2013

Nude as a colour


Photographer: Paul Stuart. Model : myself
It has come up a few times, so I am not saying anything new here, but I am sure you must be aware of the nuances of a word such as 'nude' in relation to colour.
In fashion 'nude' is used to denote shades ranging from champaign to beige. You may remember when Michelle Obama, the American First Lady, attended a state dinner in 2010 wearing a design by Naeem Khan, who described the dress as 'nude'. The Associated Press reported it as being 'flesh coloured' and of course this caused a stir. Whose flesh, exactly? Not Mrs Obama's. So the dress colour was changed to 'champaign'.
Why make a fuss over this? Because it is not a trivial matter. By saying 'nude' and meaning a colour that approximates the skin tone of white men and women, we are guilty of ethnocentrism and plain racism.
'Nude' should embrace different shades of beige, from light to dark, in order to match different skin tones.
Take 'nude' shoes for example. Christian Louboutin has recently introduced a new collection of 'nude' shoes that matches different skin tones. The only problem is that they are hardly affordable, as they begin at £400 - not everyone can pay so much for a pair of heels.

The Louboutin collection. Photo: Google images
Nail polish is next. Nude nail polish is now available in different skin tones. But nude tights or stockings are still very light coloured. They are meant to be invisible on your skin. That surely depends on the colour nuance of your own skin tone.
So no,  it's not just a matter of semantics. It does matter that 'nude' should not be exhausted by just one shade of light beige.
As some writers have pointed out, fashion designers ought to recognise the diversity of the wearers of their designs. It feels uncomfortable to many women of colour that there is no 'nude' that matches their skin tone, it's again to do with being regarded as invisible. That's why a campaign, "What's your Nude", was started to address precisely this lack of visibility of women of colour in fashion. Lingerie is another category of clothing that needs to pick up on different shades of nude - it has not yet.
I mean, what is a 'nude' bra?
What I am really questioning here is the assumption of neutrality of language. There is no such a thing.
As postcolonial writer and thinker Frantz Fanon said, "To speak a language is to take on a culture".

Comment by a reader
The following comment was sent to me by one of my blog readers, The DarkWolf:
"It's not trivial, nor is language neutral. The semantics of word choice reinforce "normalization" of ideas and underlying concepts.
For example, the distinction between "nude", "flesh" and "peach" are appreciable, not only due to the perception of "race" but also to the sexualization of the underlying concepts. Just as the Crayola company made an official statement that "Indian Red" was a reference to a clay-earth tone FROM India rather than a reference to North American native peoples (a downer for me, actually, as a half-Salish kid I loved the colour name!)
I do take your meaning though... When Michelle Obama wears a peach-toned dress it gets described as "flesh" or "nude"... hopefully that merely signifies a reporter oblivious to the connotations of race... However, I have yet to hear of a Caucasian woman in a light coffee coloured dress which gets described as "mulatto"... thankfully... "

Thank you The DarkWolf!

Monday, 4 November 2013

Real women and models

I am not writing as often as I used to, I guess every blogger goes through these phases. It's been a full week, and the highlight of it has been the Mirror Mirror conference at the London College of Fashion, where many people gathered to hear about current research in the field of ageing. I was delighted to have the opportunity to meet Ari Seth Cohen and also the Fabulous Fashionistas, the feisty ladies with an average age of eighty, who recently appeared in the Channel Four documentary as the stylish ladies they are, including the well known 'supermodel' Daphne Selfe, currently featured in Red.
I met interesting people and connected with them. I am also now very aware of a trend called 'frugal shopping' which is basically to do with shopping in charity shops to find vintage items and generally be aware of recycling - I fully endorse this, it speaks to me and my commitment to sustainability.
In my next posts I will explore all this new material, by and by.
But today I would like to talk about something that has been on my mind since I saw the recent campaign by Boots Number 7, which features 'real women'.



I love this campaign, don't get me wrong. But I am always baffled that there should be a distinction between 'real women' and models. I have written about this in other posts, often in passing, so I may be repeating myself, but I wanted to raise this issue once again.
Models are real women. Those who do fashion are usually very young and very tall, with some notable exceptions, Daphne Selfe being a case in point. Admittedly, many are not yet women, they are adolescent women (and men, there are also male models!) but there is nothing unreal about them.
Of course, I am aware of what the world of advertising is trying to do: the young fashion models are cast in the role of an ideal, whereas the 'real women' are chosen for certain advertising campaigns and are closer in looks to the women who are meant to buy the product.

Still from the Anavae "Anti-Faith" music video, model/dancer myself 

Model agencies have always distinguished between editorial models, the ones with a more edgy look, and commercial, the ones with a girl-next-door look. Now there is a category called 'real people', commercial models of both sexes who are even 'allowed' to show signs of ageing.
For novelty, some advertisers go for street casting, choosing models that have never appeared in a campaign before, so the fiction of the real woman can be sustained.
But the women and men who appear in these campaigns  are carefully selected to match certain criteria and some of them may even have modelled (or acted) before. Many, following the campaign, will be signed up by some agency.
Why am I taking issue with this? Well, to me this distinction is a double edged sword.It sounds great, but actually it insidiously perpetuates the status quo. First, as I have already said, models are real women and should be seen as such. They are real women who have embraced modelling as a profession. The 'real women' are also models.

Photo by Elina Pasok, Dove style campaign, model myself

Ultimately, I am taking issue with a definition of 'model' that seems to have wide currency: someone very young, very tall and very slender. I would like the definition of a model to be broadened, to embrace greater diversity on the catwalk as well as in advertising, demystifying the ideal of a child like woman and acknowledging the professionalism of all the women and men who model.
I have not discussed yet the role of celebrities in advertising campaigns, that is a different issue altogether and the topic for another post.
I will leave you with this to ponder: modelling is a profession and those who do it are real women and real men.



Wednesday, 23 October 2013

HuffPost #7


Photo: Mark Chilvers

My new HuffPost blog post is out.
See it here and enjoy it. Let me know your thoughts.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Is nudity cheap?

Photographer: Rachell Smith. Model: myself
I was really stunned to read the following on the FB page of an organisation that purports to be fighting for diversity in the modelling industry:
"What's your price'? In our industry we get offered things that we wouldn't normally consider but these jobs come with a higher price? Your morals as well as the extra cash? I have been asked countless times to do nude 'artist' photographs and so far have turned them down...Guys would you do nudity for a few thousand? " (sic).
Here we go. Nudity is being associated with morality. 
I have just spent six weeks "dying" every night in a gas chamber, totally naked, on the Hampstead Theatre stage in Hysteria by Terry Johnson, together with Angela and Bernie, my two stage sisters. We were Freud's older sisters who died in a concentration camp, appearing to him in a dream, in his last hours. I suppose that, by the logic of the statement I have just quoted, for six weeks I engaged in a job that made me do something immoral i.e. appear naked, for extra cash. Presumably, this would make me cheap.
As I was reflecting on this, I read model Ella Rose's comments on being in Vietnam, where she is holidaying. What a wonderful experience. Vietnam must be absolutely gorgeous, I have never been there but have had the good fortune to visit Cambodia - and was completely bowled over.  I know that in Vietnam there is a fantastic photographer, Thai Phien, who specialises in art nude and who has had to face censorship of his work because art nude was being equated with porn by the authorities. 
Photographer: Thai Phien
I have come to realise that such pruderie is quite widespread, as the incident I have just related demonstrates. In Britain people are not yet being prosecuted for shooting art nude, but only just. For some people nudity is cheap and dirty.
Nudity is not cheap, no more than being clothed. It all depends on the context. 
I distance myself from such narrow minded views, needless to say. 
As someone has said, "No" and "Goodbye" are good friends to have.

In connection with the topic of nudity and art modelling, I would like to mention that The Guardian carried a piece about me as an art model written by Hannah Booth and published on 6/09/13 as part of the series Experience

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Anavae Anti -Faith

Alternative indie band Anavae have now showcased the video 'Anti-Faith' from the album Dimensions, to be realeased in November.
I have danced for it.

Let me know what you think!


Thursday, 3 October 2013

Meet Victoria Gugenheim



This is a post about an artist I truly admire, Victoria Gugenheim. The post is shared with Univers d'Artistes, the blog I still, occasionally, contribute to.
Victoria is a body painter, an art form she has taken to new heights. Her creations are absolutely amazing. She is interested in science and much of her work  aims to explore the connection between art and science.

This is how Victoria describes herself:

Award Winning Bodypainter. Makeup Artist. Art Director. Fine artist. Art and Science public speaker. Alternative Model. Actor. Sapiosexual.

This woman is dynamic!
 She has had articles written about her in mainstream publications, such as The Guardian, her work is known internationally and she has won awards.  More recently, Victoria took part in Catwalk4Change, the event organised by Models of Diversity and body painted model Angela Kelly giving the illusion of a lavish evening gown.


Victoria holds workshops in body painting and make up.


More of Victoria's work can be found on her website at victoriagugenheim.com, and you can follow her on Twitter @quirkathon

Monday, 16 September 2013

A model union


Photographer: Mark Chilvers for The Guardian Model: Alex B

What is a union? A union is an organisation representing workers of a particular sector in order to protect their rights and achieve specific goals which allow their members to work in the best and safest possible conditions. In a democratic society unions are active and negotiate pay with employers, organise industrial action, lobby, and provide a range of services to members, such as legal representation in case of disputes.
Belonging to a union is a fundamental right, enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights. 
Performers have their own union, which in the UK is Equity. Models are categorised as performers and they too have a branch of Equity, the Model Network which is set up for them. 
Why do we need a union? seems to be a refrain as far as models are concerned. Or worse 'My agency does not encourage membership of a union'. What a surprise!
Models need a union because many models are minors and there has to be legislation to protect them. Models are vulnerable. Models can be exploited, working long hours, often being compensated with a couple of garments (lovely indeed but do they help to pay the rent?). Equity has negotiated a Model Programme for London Fashion Week and a code of conduct, known as the ten-point code of conduct. But there is a lot more to be done. Models who freelance are especially vulnerable, they need advice on contracts. 
Photographer: Mark Chilvers Model: Alex B.
There are huge issues to be tackled, such as the rampant racism on the catwalk, and some of them have been taken up by lobbying bodies such as Models of Diversity and All Walks Beyond the Catwalk. These are powerful lobbies but not unions. They can work together with Equity, but membership of Equity is essential in order to safeguard your position as a professional model.  
I have written about this before and will continue to write about it because it is an important matter: if you are a model, a professional, consider joining Equity. You can join online here or contact Equity at models@equity.org.uk
You can also like the Facebook page and if you are interested you may want to join a steering group within Equity, to make it your model union.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

HuffPost blog post #6

Next signs the 10 point code



see my new post at Huffington Post 

Photographer: March Chilvers. Model: Alex B

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Beauty on the catwalk

Capture from Anavae's recent music video. Dancer: myself

London Fashion Week is coming soon and there is a frenzy in the air. Catwalk4Change, a fashion show which aims at challenging received notions of who can be a fashion model, will take place on Friday 6th and promises to be a very exciting event.
Flash Fashion Portobello is taking place on 7th daytime, I will be modelling for it. It is another event aimed at challenging model size stereotypes.
Various articles have appeared once again in the press calling for greater diversity of bodies in fashion. I think it is very important to understand that the issue is not so much diversity in advertising or in catalogues, to some extent we are already seeing it. It is diversity on the catwalk that matters, that is where the very slim, very tall, very white, very young models dominate. They epitomise the edgy look, which is then picked up in editorial spreads. 
It is on the catwalk that we see uniformity rather than diversity and somehow this is brushed aside by saying that 'traditionally' designer sample clothing comes in small sizes, so what can model bookers do? They have to provide models that fit into those tiny sizes. And so the vicious circle is perpetuated. Racism is also constantly covered up, by saying that of course no one is racist, it's just that models of colour do not have, you know, the 'look' (with some notable exceptions). 
What is that 'look'? When you try to pin it down it is, well,  what a surprise, a caucasian look. 
Can things change? Yes of course they can.

All Walks i-D pop up
First we need to educate young designers on the need for bigger sample sizes. This is why the Diversity Now! competition was so important, change begins with the students of today, designers of tomorrow. Another thing that is sorely needed is work among young models, to make them aware of their rights, Teenage models are children who need to continue with their schooling. The right to be tutored when they miss school should be built in their contracts. Teenage models should not be pressurised to lose weight, it damages their physical and psychological health. Equity, the performers union, is currently trying to  build a models network and is calling for all models to join the union and bring up for discussion the issues that affect them.
As an Equity member I shall be monitoring this and report on developments.


Saturday, 24 August 2013

Art Macabre at Barts Pathology Museum


Wellcome, Collection Family Coolen, Antwerp/Museum Dr Guislain, Ghent, Belgium


Anatomical Venuses were very popular in the 19th century. They were realistic wax models of idealised women with detachable parts which showed their internal organs in great detail.
Today I turned myself into an anatomical Venus at St Bartholomew's Hospital Museum of Pathology, known as Barts Pathology Museum, for a life drawing workshop arranged by Art Macabre.
My internal organs were painted on me and I posed in the main gallery, surrounded by skeletons and pathological pots. Barts hosts the skull of John Bellingham, who assassinated Prime Minister Spencer Percival in 1812. Barts is also the place where famously Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson met, in Conan Doyle's novel A Study in Scarlet.  


Barts Museum. Photo: Barts
This was my first assignment with Art Macabre, an untutored life drawing workshop for people of all abilities, in the museum surroundings. I posed together with life model Steve Ritter.
Barts is a very peculiar museum, inside a hospital right in the City of London, in a gorgeous Grade II listed building.
I arrived early and was greeted by loud music in an empty gallery.  I recognised the music as being of one of my favourite bands, Smashing Pumpkins. Imagine that, grunge at Barts!
Later I met Carla Valentine, assistant curator, who said she often listened to music when no one was in the building. I  told her I liked her choice of music, so we agreed on a playlist that featured Smashing Pumpkins while I posed.
Meanwhile Nikkie, from Art Macabre, came with lots of stuff, began to set up and Bloody Marys were offered to the guests. I did not realise how strong they were! I felt quite dizzy after a couple, I don't know how I managed to keep still - never drink while life modelling, that's all I have to say. Afterwards yes, but never before or while still doing it.

Me posing at Barts

Altogether it was a delightful experience, Barts is an amazing place, really worth a visit.


Thursday, 22 August 2013

The new M&S campaign

Photographer: Annie Leibowitz for M&S

... is most disappointing. M&S have put together a bunch of highly accomplished women on top of their profession, dressed them in their new collection, got Annie Leibowitz to photograph them and now they hope to win customers. The idea behind this very expensive stunt is to identify British women who can be aspirational and who can inspire people to flock to M&S stores and buy the clothes. I love and respect all of the women, I really do, but

1. I am so very tired of seeing Helen Mirren as representative of older women. Surely, there must be other older British women who can fit the bill?
2. The thought of Tracey Emin wearing M&S is hilarious. Excuse me, Tracey...Emin...in... M&S?
3. The same can be said about the ethereal Darcey Bussels who always appears elegantly dressed by various top designers - Darcey is not your average M&S customer.
4. As Cambridge don and TV celebrity Mary Beard tweeted, not a sign of grey hair. Helen Mirren's hair is hardly ever grey, always mixed with blonde shades and this time it is carefully hidden under a hat.
5. What's wrong with hiring professional models to wear the clothes? I thought this was what fashion models did as a job. 
What a U turn from last year, when M&S ditched celebrities and had models, including Yasmina Rossi, with her gorgeous silver hair. 

Denise O'Neill in The Belfast Telegraph

Denise O'Neill, recently featured in The Belfast Telegraph as a spokeswoman for grey hair, has commented as follows in a thread started by White Hot Hair founder Jayne Mayled: 

"I think it does matter that there are no greys as it is not fully representative of women. I actually wrote to M&S 3 years ago on this very subject, ie suggesting that they use grey-haired women in the advertising. At that time I stated that they only use a single grey-haired (older) model for advertising their ‘Classic’ brand (which tends to be geared towards the older lady) and never in their more modern clothing brands. This is the very message that we are trying to change. We want to see chic and sassy beautiful grey-haired women in mainstream advertising of fashion, beauty etc – and breaking the stereotypical myth that grey = old. In last year’s M&S campaign, they used the beautiful grey-haired Yasmina Rossi and that was really groundbreaking.
I actually think that Boots, in their current ‘Real Women’ campaign for ‘No 7’ is a step ahead of the game. They featured all types of real women and included ‘Ali’ who is a beautiful grey-haired woman. So I say ‘Bravo Boots’ for showing a balance of real women - you are talking my language!
Why did M&S spend a fortune on this current campaign by using ‘celebrities’? They could have picked real women too, representing all types, styles and shapes. I wonder, do any of these ‘celebs’ really wear M&S clothing? One more point - I think it is vital that grey is showcased at its best, ie with the right haircut, make-up and colour and style of clothing. If it’s not, we are wasting our time – we will never ‘sell’ it and overturn the myth (a myth which has come about for this very reason)"

Photographer: Stuart Hendry MUA: Iveta. Model: myself

Well said Denise, I totally agree with you! Except perhaps on the point of real women. I would like to see models, rather than people who are hired through street casting. Models who are diverse, but nevertheless models. This is what Models of Diversity is trying to convey and I totally support their mission.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Yoga and gurus


Photo: Natalia Lipchanskaya Model: myself

The yoga world has been hit by a series of scandals involving famous gurus, all alleged to have indulged in inappropriate sexual behaviour, of being abusive and even racist. The latest scandal involves Bikram Choudhury the founder of hot yoga. I used to be a regular and loved it, but then got tired of it and switched to another style, I have often done that throughout the years, I have done loads of yoga styles and come to the conclusion that there is only one yoga and the best is the one you practise on your own.
To be honest, I am not in the least surprised by these allegations of abuse. It is not the first time it has happened and probably it will not be the last. If it is not sex, it is money - both attributes of power. Ultimately, this is the main issue: power and its abuse.
I have practised yoga since my early twenties and am now well into my fifties. I mostly practise at home. I have done enough yoga to be able to teach a basic class, but have never felt any desire to do so. When I meet a yoga teacher I could not care less about her qualifications and training, I can see straightaway if she can teach or not from the moment she starts. I go to yoga class when I am too lazy to practise on my own - I loved going to Bikram yoga because of the novelty of the heat, but when the novelty faded I wondered why I was not being pushed further and found something else to do. Yoga is a solitary activity, a personal practice. As soon as you feel confident to do it on your own you'd better increase your practice and be less dependant on classes. Only you can be your own teacher, other people are instructors, some good, some bad. In other words, practising yoga should make you self reliant and be eager to explore on your own, because only you know your own body. Instruction helps but you should not become so dependent on a teacher.

Photographer: Stuart Hendry. Model: myself MUA: Iveta

It is this dependency that leads to these situations in which trust is abused.
I personally regard yoga teachers the same way as personal trainers, professional instructors that can help you with specific problems. I treat them with the same respect and with the same distance.
There is a new movement called I am my own guru, which was started soon after the latest spate of scandals, to restore some confidence in yoga practitioners and in the yoga community.
I have always believed I was my own guru, so it is nice to see other practitioners waking up to what to me is the most fundamental yoga teaching.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Silver: a state of mind, a statement of class

Recently I was directed to viewing a trailer on Vimeo of Vicki Topaz exhibition Silver: a state of mind.



In 2010 Topaz photographed a range of women, over fifty, a mix of models, actresses, professionals - there are quite a few academic women involved in the project.
The photographs are very beautiful, in black and white, very much in the style of traditional expressive portrait photography, wrinkles and imperfections are shown in all their glory and glorious they are. What is common to all these women is that they all have silver hair: long, short, curly, straight but all of different shades of grey.
It has taken a little while for Silver to tour but it is now doing it. It has also been written about in a number of international  magazines and newspapers. Who knows, we might see it in the UK soon enough, I certainly find it fascinating and would love to see the portraits for real rather than having to view them on a computer screen.

Photographer: Branislav Stefanik. Model: myself

The concept of allowing women to talk about their grey hair is not entirely new. It has been used in advertising and occasionally in editorial spreads in which going grey is discussed. Women who embrace their silver with the idea of making a statement about their age and with the aim of encouraging a notion of beauty which is broad enough to accept signs of ageing are still few and far between. Vicki Topaz portraits are beautiful because the signs of age have not been airbrushed, that must have taken some courage on the part of the women who modelled for these images - we all feel a little vulnerable when our imperfections are shown.
I have also noticed that in the media it is mostly Caucasian women who are seen to embrace their silver, therefore these portraits are even more interesting because they do show a mix of ethnicities, with a few non-caucasian women being portrayed.
Going grey is not limited to Caucasian women. But I do worry that in celebrating the beauty of grey hair, women belonging to other ethnic groups are bypassed. It may well be that among non-Caucasian women the idea of colouring to disguise one's age is harder to be dislodged, but wait, no, I think this is not quite the reason, the real reason is to do with the usual ratio of Caucasian to non-Caucasian models
When I look at fashion images of Asian women, for example, even when portraying older women, I see them with black hair. The recent attempt by the Singapore based model agency Carrie Models, which launched a branch for 'mature models' - Carrie Elegance - with a much publicised TV competition to find suitable candidates does not show a single grey haired woman among their  models aged 35+.

Photographer: Branislav Stefanik Model: myself

It also seems, as a phenomenon, largely confined to the middle classes. What I mean is not of course that only middle class women go grey, but that it is mostly middle class, professional women who are likely to embrace silver with the aim to project themselves as still beautiful, claiming visibility.
These are thoughts that I cannot help having when I step back and look at this 'embracing your grey' phenomenon, of which I am also part. By voicing such concerns I am not in any way expressing any condemnation, on the contrary. I simply wonder on the demographics of the phenomenon and why it should be confined only to a specific, ultimately rather privileged, group.


Wednesday, 7 August 2013

HuffPost blog post #5


Photographer: David Newby Model: myself

My new HuffPost blog post is out 
It is something that has to be discussed as there is currently a whole debate on pornography and some of the views make me feel deeply uncomfortable





Saturday, 20 July 2013

A wonderful post and growing old



Photographer: Fal-name. Model unknown

I was contacted via Twitter by a woman I have never met, Diane Roshelle, who was interested in using one of my photos for a blog post. I consented. She then sent me a link to her post late last night.
I found it very moving.
I will not repeat here her words, do read it for yourselves, it is worth doing so. 
I just want to add that it is all about acceptance of oneself as being an embodied being and being beautiful. Not in ways that conform to a stereotype, but beautiful because we have a body, the body is a wonderful thing and we are that body, it is not separate from 'us'.
It has become almost commonplace now to proclaim beauty in diversity and to extoll the beauty of older women, and I do find this very positive. But I also find that for many women going beyond stereotypes of what is seen to be beautiful is hard.

Photographer: D. Keith Furon. Models: myself, Cheryl and Rose

Through my membership of groups meant to encourage older women to get in front of the camera and celebrate their beauty I am often bombarded with shabby images showing them in sexy kitten poses which I would find ugly even if the women in the pictures were much younger. By doing this they become grotesque, unwittingly so, reconfirming the stereotype of the older female body as abject and grotesque.
Growing old is  about structure/agency and the subject/object divide and how one as a woman can attempt to transcend those binaries and work towards integration and constant transformation, which does not stop with age but, on the contrary, is part of ourselves as 'ageing process' rather than ourselves as finished products that work to combat the effects of time.
I have found art modelling empowering precisely because it has allowed me to go beyond preconceived ideas of beauty. The beauty is to be found in the pose, in the exploration of space, in stillness, in looking into the camera and drawing on one's emotions.
I still model for life drawing classes and I find it most rewarding when I am booked by schools. The girls and boys who are drawing are not famous artists and make lots of mistakes but through drawing the human figure, and an older person at that, they learn all about the body and how beautiful it is.

Photographer: Jan Murphy. Model: myself

It saddens me to know that in many schools life drawing has been dispensed with. 







Wednesday, 10 July 2013

HuffPost #4



Me when I was dying my hair, age 35 or 36


Here it is. Don't forget to comment!

Like a Goddess, forever young

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Selfies


 Selfie 1
I too have succumbed to the lure of selfies. You know what I mean, those pictures of yourself taken with your iPhone - I have also used an iPad, but I prefer the smaller iPhone.
I do take self portraits, have certainly done so in the past. But selfies are different, they are snapshots, much like those photo booth pictures we used to take for fun with friends before camera phones were invented. I have loads of them, from my teenage years and later, pictures taken while fooling around with my sister, pictures taken with boyfriends, I even have one series with my ex husband, soon after we were married and probably a little tipsy.
You'd insert the right coins, get into the booth and wait for the flash, posing outrageously.
With selfies it is different and yet it is much the same thing, because they are spontaneous portraits. I still have'nt got the knack of taking them, though.
I do think of things such as light, background and so on. So maybe my selfies are not that spontaneous.
I spent a good two hours today trying to get some. The idea initially came because I wanted a picture of me with an accidental splash of blue in my hair - I went to have my lashes tinted, I always have them done because I don't like wearing mascara, since I swim a lot. Unfortunately the beautician spilt a little colouring on my hair, just a tiny bit and of course was very apologetic and wiped it off immediately. My hair being so light it immediately absorbed the colour and I ended up with a faintly bluish strand. I wanted a picture of it.

Selfie 2
 I managed to remove the blue through rubbing the hair strand with my favourite shampoo on a face cloth. But before doing so I began to take selfies and then after I finished fiddling with my hair I continued to snap away. I was trying to find the right spot and the right pose.
I still find it difficult to take pictures with a camera phone, I am so used to changing settings, not much choice there. But I can see the result immediately. I deleted many - background was not right, light too strong, I was not looking in the right direction, but then I stopped thinking too much about the whole process. The point is to be natural, it is a snap, that's all.
Next week I will start taking photos again with my camera. I am told that the iPad takes good pictures so I will experiment with that too.
I don't know why people keep on discussing selfies as a form of narcissism. Are self portraits necessarily narcissistic? I think selfies have made self portraiture accessible to everyone.
I will continue and use selfies to support my self portraits with my proper camera.


Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Friday, 28 June 2013

Real and unreal jobs

Photographer David Newby for The Guardian 

Not too long ago I was interviewed by a magazine for a real life story to inspire its readers. You know the kind, it carries write ups about how one defeats all odds to achieve whatever, true love, true fulfilment, you name it. The kind of mag I would personally classify as a little trashy. For this kind of mag, stories have to be emotional and there has to be plenty of anecdotes, unlike broadsheets, in which the writer needs to unpack hidden messages and show some depth.
The way it works is that you tell your story to a professional journalist and s/he pitches it to the mag. There is a little money involved, not a huge amount, but still enough to feel like a proper fee. You give details and the writer organises your thoughts/statements and produces some copy which is then sold to the magazine.
What struck me at the time was the insistence on knowing details which to me were quite irrelevant. What do you do for a living, was the question - the piece was about modelling and diversity. Why, I model. No, what is your real job?
I fully well understand what they meant. They wanted to know whether I had another job - or someone - that paid my bills. Because modelling cannot be a real job.


I am not very happy about the label 'real'. I agree that modelling, like many other creative jobs, may not allow you to  earn enough money to live on, with some exceptions. I started off as a dancer and believe me, I soon realised there's plenty of dancers, actors and musicians that have day jobs as waiters and bar staff till they finally manage to make a living out of their artistic vocation. But it's that label real that bugs me. It is used as a synonym for ordinary but real does not mean ordinary. It is such a loaded word, it presupposes an interesting classification: some jobs are real, some are not. Why so?
Surely modelling is work. So is acting, making music, painting. No. These are not, cannot be real jobs. They only become real if they allow you to earn enough money to pay off your rent. So real is synonymous with money making.
But then why, oh why, do we have university degrees in art, music, dance, photography etc etc  if they do not lead to real jobs? Are we expecting young people to starve? Are we deluding them into making them believe that their creativity can support them?
You tell me.


(All photos modelled by Alex B)

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

HuffPost blog post #2


Photographer: Elina Pasok, model: me


Follow this link for my new Huffington Post blog post
As it is a post about lingerie and bikini I thought this would be a fit illustration

Photographer: Marcello Pozzetti

(Photos modelled by Alex B)

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Suicide in fashion photography and in art

A few days ago Vice magazine published a fashion shoot inspired by some famous female writers who committed suicide in a violent manner. We are talking about people such as Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Iris Chang. The reaction was, predictably, very negative and the whole thing was even interpreted as encouraging suicide. Come now!
Vice took down the feature and apologised to readers, but the shoot can still be seen on Policymic.
I was surprised by this hysterical reaction. All right, the photography may not be outstanding but the subject matter is not as offensive as it has been made out to be.
Suicide has been a subject for artistic depiction for a long, long time. There are paintings and sculptures showing famous mythological as well as  historical characters as they are taking their life, with a full depiction of gore, as Delacroix "Death of Sardanapalus." Suicide is often seen in films and people will not bat an eyelid.

Image source: Wikipedia

Alexandra Cardinale, author of the Policymic article says, very thoughtfully, that the photo shoot "presenting these figures in such visceral moments of their lives through carefully designed clothing, location, and action reminds us that their deaths were just as surprising and detrimental to the rest of the world as their work was inspiring and unforgettable".
The problem seems to be that most people still regard fashion as being trivial, about selling, whereas fashion, and especially fashion photography, should be regarded as a form of artistic expression. If people could make this shift, then there would not be such an outcry every time that a fashion photo shoot addresses a point  that is not to do with the specific concerns of fashion design.
The purpose of art is to ask questions,  and sometimes such questions can make you feel uncomfortable. The main issue with this photo shoot was, apparently, that under each photo the clothes' designer was credited and a price was given for the garments.

Frieda Kahlo "The Suicide of Dorothy Hale" source: Wikipaintings

How different is this from, say, having a painting such as "The Suicide of Dorothy Hale" by Frieda Kahlo, being sold at an auction and thus being put in a catalogue with its starting price?  (this is a hypothetical question, just to make a point). Or reproductions of it, sold online?
It is hypocritical to view fashion photography as being solely about consumption:  all art ultimately is, because of the economic structure of the society in which we live.