Saturday, May 9, 2009
A tribute to my favorite model
I have enormous respect and gratitude for all the models who help me create my images. I never loose sight of the fact that without them my artwork wouldn't exist. You may have noticed that, while I'm not the type who's inclined to pass out hollow, fluffy compliments, I'm not shy about letting you know that I honestly admire and appreciate them. That said, some contribute more than others, and there's one model who, aside from the fact that she's just a real pleasure to work with, has been such an inspiration and influence on my work that she will always have a special role in my identity as an artist. She was 17 when she first e-mailed me to inquire about modeling. I wasn't desperate for models, and my first inclination when I saw her age was to say "no thanks," and leave it there, but her e-mail was different than most that I receive. She was an artist herself. She had clearly spent time studying my work. She wrote intelligently and articulately about how it made her feel, and she was realistically enthusiastic about participating in it. She communicated with a mixture of confidence and humility that matched perfectly with my approach to creative endeavors. I was intrigued, so instead of saying "no," I said "I'm interested, but not until you turn 18." She understood, and was fine with waiting, but not any longer than necessary. We shot our first session on her 18th birthday. Three things struck me about working with her during that first session. One was her face. My first thought when I saw her was "oh my god, what a beautiful face - I really want to do some work with those eyes and those freckles." I don't remember if I told her that or not, but she didn't want to reveal her face in any of the photographs, so it didn't matter. Trust is essential between a model and photographer, and one of the foundation principals for how I deal with models is that you can't get trust if you don't give respect so, though I wanted very badly to photograph her face, I didn't press the issue. And trust is, I guess, the best word for the second thing that truly struck me about working with her during that first session. I had worked with many models previously who trusted me in the sense that they were cooperative and enthusiastic about developing a concept and creating imagery, but I had never worked with someone who made me feel so creatively trusted and free to explore inspiration. We produced some of the best work I had ever done up to that point, and had more "keepers" than I had ever produced in a single session. It was the first time I realized that one of the most important qualities in a model is her ability to trust in my creativity. It was a turning point in my pursuit of photography. I've worked with many great models since, but only two who were able to make me feel that trusted and give me that degree of creative freedom in their first session. It's a rare quality, and the chance to work with a model who has it is a privilege. The third thing that struck me during that first session was the depth and complexity of her beauty. There are many different kinds of beauty in the female human. Some are aesthetically exquisite, with graceful lines, intriguing textures, and flowing curves. Some are boldly feminine with an aesthetic that solemnly proclaims the supple strength and regal power of woman. Some are sensual with subtly erotic undertones. Some are alluringly sexy. Some are unassumingly pretty. She was everywoman - I didn't have to hunt to find some degree of every kind of beauty there is to be found in women. After just a couple of shots, I knew I had a rare and special model in front of my camera. I started out wondering how she would do, aware that she was very young and this was her first nude session. It didn't take long before the biggest question in my mind became whether or not I had the talent and skill to do her justice. Shortly after that first session, my life got thrown into turmoil for several months as my dad succumbed to cancer, and it was over half a year before I was able to get her prints to her. I explained why and she said she understood, but I felt very embarrassed about it and I assumed I had probably lost any chance of ever working with her again. I'm not one to dwell on regrets, but as I said she is a rare and special model, and I kicked myself for blowing the possibility of working with her again, regardless of the reason. To make myself feel better, I decided that I wouldn't insult her by directly asking her to work with me again, but I would keep her on my general contact list for model castings and such, just in case. To my great surprise and delight, it paid off. I posted a general casting call for models the next winter and she responded, saying she'd like to work with me again. It took a while to get our schedules together, but we shot two sessions close together. They were both great creative, exploratory experiences for me. Not all the concepts worked out, but a lot of them did, and she gave a hundred percent for all of them. I had never produced so much diversity nor so many "keepers" from a session. Her beauty was just as complex and inspiring as before, and her trust just as creatively liberating. In many respects, I grew more as an artist during those two sessions than I had in the previous two years, and I don't believe there is any other model with whom that could have happened. We were in touch on and off after that - someone she knew wanted to shoot with me, and she contacted me to set that up; one of the images from our very first session did really well in an international competition and we traded e-mails about that - but we were both busy and things just never seemed to come together for another shoot. Just a funny sidebar: In the mean time, I worked with another model for a project, and during that shoot we had a conversation about freckles. I told her about a gorgeous model I'd worked with who's freckles I dreamed of shooting. She told me about a friend of hers who had the most beautiful freckles in the world. Little did we know we were talking about the same freckles, but we wouldn't discover that until much later. (Incidentally, this other model is one of the two others who've given me the same feeling of creative trust in their first session, allowing me to produce some fantastic work. See my blog titled "The backup model" for more of that story.) We hadn't communicated for about 6 months, then I got an e-mail saying she had run into one of her friends who had also modeled for me (the woman I had discussed freckles with) and was thinking she'd love to shoot again. Almost as an afterthought, she wrote "Also, I wouldn't mind having my face in the shots if you are interested!" I immediately remembered my first thought the first time I met her - "oh my god, what a beautiful face - I really want to do some work with those eyes and those freckles." I quickly cleared some dates and we set up a session. Given my previous experience with her I figured it would go well, but it was an even more comfortable, satisfying, productive session than I expected. Her beauty had grown even more rich and complex. She flowed with my creative thought process so well that at one point I wondered who was leading whom through the session. We didn't explore as wide a creative range as in the previous two sessions, but almost everything we shot turned out great. I usually try to edit a session down to 20 or so of the absolute best shots, but after three harsh editing sessions I still had nearly 70 that I couldn't bear to cut. She has been a major influence on my development as an artist, on my thinking about beauty, and on my ideas about the dynamic between model and photographer. She will be a part of every image I ever create, and she will always be in my artist's heart. I've always been skeptical about the concept of a muse (for various reasons that are best saved for another post), but if ever I've had a muse, this is her. She's moving out of state for school, now. We've agreed to shoot again when she's back in town, and I'm really looking forward to that day. What ever the future brings, though, this seems like an appropriate time to say: Thank you so much for everything. I would not be the photographer I am without your creativity and courage, without the trust you placed in me, and without the beauty you shared with me. You're a wonderful model, a beautiful woman, and a creative inspiration. You're my friend - and yes, my muse - and I wish you the very best that life can bring.