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.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Blogging for HuffPost

Photographer: Daniel Ward 

I have just had my first blog post published by the Huffington Post. I will be blogging for HuffPost from time to time.
See it here and don't forget to comment!

Monday, 17 June 2013

Models of Diversity Catwalk 4 Change

This is Models of Diversity poster for Catwalk 4 Change
Read up about Models of Diversity mission on their website
If you wish to sponsor Models of Diversity please contact them at

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Credit, acknowledgement, inspiration

Photographer: Elisabeth Jacobsen

I don't post every day, I only do so when something happens that is worth writing about. And something happened yesterday that called into question some of my beliefs and my terrible, terrible attitude.
First of all, I woud like to issue an apology. R. if you are reading this, please know that I am very sorry for overreacting and I really did not realise I would cause you distress. I did not appreciate that you were paying me a great compliment.
What happened made me come to terms with the fact that as a model my images are in the public domain. People may come across them and they may post them on their Facebook pages simply because they like them. They may not know who the woman in those images is and ultimately it does not matter. If they credit the photographer it is absolutely fine for them to use the photos - not to sell them, not to impersonate anyone but simply because they like them. I have myself used images of beautiful sunsets or landscapes, which I have found inspirational, in this very blog, and those images had not been taken by me nor was I modelling for them.
I am very careful about crediting photographers and also models, because I know that models love being credited, but I am also aware that it is not a real requirement to credit models, only a nice gesture of acknowledgement.

Photographer: David Newby for The Guardian

There are of course people that steal images and use them to impersonate someone, or claim that they are the person in the picture. This is plainly wrong. I came across something along those lines a while ago, when I spotted a would be model who had an online profile with pictures of me! I don't know who she was fooling, because when applying for castings with my photos, if she got a request to be seen  then photographers and clients would have definitely got a surprise when she turned up. How bizarre. Someone suggested that she probably did not go to castings, she just pretended to be a model and enjoyed receiving accolades for my pictures.
So when I discovered that a member of a Facebook group to which I belong had used one of my pictures as a cover, I fired off a stern message believing she was up to no good. It turned out that she had simply found the image inspiring.

This morning, after sleeping on it, I realised I had made a big mistake and did my best to apologise. I also reflected on this very issue of whether images such as the one this lovely woman used, or other images of me as a model, really are pictures of me. And my conclusion is that no, they are not. They are pictures of me as a model. Look for example at the images for White Hot Hair. It is my hair and to some extent my face but they are taken in such a way that anyone could identify with me, that is the whole point. And with this realisation the idea of being tagged or acknowledged also melts away.
I have also realised that I still have a big problem about accepting a compliment graciously, there is this little voice inside me that tells me that no, it cannot be true, something has to be wrong. A lot of work to do, it seems!
Thank you, anonymous Facebook friend, for teaching me an important lesson. And thank you for liking my photos and for acknowledging me as 'your inspiration'. I am really touched.

(Photos modelled by Alex B.)

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Lily Cole and the impossible

Model and enviromentalist Lily Cole. Photographer: Geoff Robinson

I really have a soft spot for Lily Cole, the 25 year old British supermodel who has a double first from Cambridge University in History of Art. She is beautiful, intelligent and articulate.
I love her attitude - she seems to care for the environment and for a better world. I know that cynical people will immediately jump on the fact Lily is a millionairess, so perhaps it is easy for her to be 'ethical'. Perhaps. But why do people always have to criticise a rich person for being socially committed?

Photographer: Nagib El-Desouky

I am particularly intrigued by Lily's new venture, a social networking app through which people connect and swap skills. It works on the basis of wishing for something eg 'I wish someone would babysit my dog next thursday evening' and then someone offers to fulfil that wish.
At the moment the app, free from iTunes, is only available to Cambridge students and staff on a trial basis, but later it will be accessible by everyone. It can already be downloaded.
No money can be exchanged through and people are encouraged to thank each other. The app also encourages people to be vigilant. I have not tried it yet, so I don't really know how it works, it would be great to get some feedback by those who have.
How are people stopped from asking for sexual favours, for example? There must be some mechanism, no doubt.

Lily expects this to be of help in developing a gift economy.
There are many people that seem to embrace an alternative life style. Theresa Webb, a vegan raw food nutritionist, founder of Kitchenbuddy is currently teaching people to use herbs and more unusual plants which they collect while going on foraging walks and then prepare into fresh, uncooked lunches.
We live in a world that is full of riches and yet so many people live in abject poverty. It might sound simplistic but if we start making small changes in our lifestyle it might lead to big changes around us. It is certainly worth a try.

(Photos modelled by Alex B, unless otherwise specified)

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Art nude photography: to capture vacuousness or vitality

I did a shoot the other day with a photographer I have now known for five years, or maybe even longer. We are not close friends, we meet only from time to time to shoot. At some point we even had some miscommunication but it all resolved itself. I don't bear grudges nor does he - those who do always strike me as tremendously opinionated and, deep down, extremely insecure. I love his work, as he painstakingly turns his photographs into delicate, painterly images, which take a long time to be completed. But he also produces very realistic portraits, nude or clothed, with perfect lighting and the ability to capture the humanity of his subjects.
We shot digital and film. It was a cold morning,outdoors, early start for both of us and neither of us loves getting up early. But we did it. We then continued indoors. It was a leisurely shoot, during which we talked a lot, as one sometimes does on shoots, ending up revealing very personal things. I could have spent hours just shooting.
He teased me because apparently when I first met him I told him I would not carry on modelling into my 50s. I have obviously reviewed that opinion, because I am still doing it. Now what I say is that I will give it up when people stop asking me.
And thinking back I don't think that modelling 'at my age' as someone recently and very bluntly put it, has been particularly difficult. For every ten, even twenty photographers obsessed with youth and willing to photograph only young things, there is at least one that is willing to photograph older women, because the beauty of photography is not necessarily dependent on a conventionally beautiful and young subject, but on being able to bring out the character and beauty of the person that is being photographed. That is the true challenge. Think of Ari Seth Cohen's project. He photographed the beautiful woman who then went on to model for Lanvin - yes, Lanvin! Haute couture, no less (and how many young things get that honour?)

Jacqueline Murdock for Lanvin
What about art nude?  Art nude too. In real life people come in all ages, shapes and sizes. It is ridiculous to think that eroticism is predicated on youth. Would you say that Michelle Pfeiffer has lost her sensuality - I will not point to Helen Mirren here as she apparently hates being the poster girl for ageing gracefully, according to celebrity columns. Or Jerry Hall, 57, mother of two beautiful daughters, Lizzie and Georgia May, both models. Yet Jerry has her inimitable style, a statuesque body and could teach younger models a thing or two. Or Yasmina Rossi, also 57. See her in this shot, with her taut body.

Yasmina Rossi by Djamal Zoughbi

One of my favourite photographers is Josh van Gelder, who photographed the women chosen for the Dove campaign. I would love to shoot with Josh and who knows, it might just happen. I like Josh's work because he loves his subjects and is able to bring out their beauty, retaining their personality. Josh specialises in fashion but he does other things too. There is an interview in two parts with Josh, published on Models 1 blog. I was struck by three of his statements:

1) you can't transform a picture of a girl that is dead in the eyes into a picture of one who is full of life no matter how much retouching you do.
2) His favourite thing in the world is to photograph a beautiful girl using nothing but daylight, with very little hair styling and make-up involved, and to shoot her as simply as possible.
3) He is always inspired by the subject of the shoot, trying to put across who the person is.

If Josh is able to achieve this in his fashion and editorial photography, I see no reason why this could not be achieved in art nude. The fans and copy cats of David Hamilton (with slightly older girls than his child models) abound, but thankfully art nude goes beyond Hamiltonesque tastes.

(Photos of Alex B taken by Nadia Lee Cohen)