When I’m traveling as a model, I’m only with a photographer for a few hours, or a day at the most. This is completely different from when I’m working at home. Then, I usually have a continuous relationship with the photographer. But when I’m on tour, especially in a new market, I’ve oftentimes never even shot with the photographer previously. I only have a very limited amount of time to make art happen, often with a person that I don’t know terribly well. I have to walk into the studio, ready to go. I enter the room, make art, and leave.
Or at least, that’s the part that people see.
So much of the art I make happens before I ever enter the studio, or before the camera is ever turned on. Being able to walk into a room and make art requires a ridiculous amount of prep work, which—if I do it right—no one ever notices but me.
It’s easy to gloss over all of this prep work. To be honest, I do so myself on a regular basis. I forget how much I put into a shoot; I only think about the time in front of the lens. But going on tour is an effective reminder that there’s more to art than just the finished product.
Some of the prep work is obvious, like hair and makeup, since my appearance is literally what I’m working with to create art. I often joke before a shoot that I’m getting paid hundreds of dollars to shave my legs--I’d certainly be too lazy to do it otherwise. Some of it is tricks I picked up over time: I always bring a little wardrobe, even to an art nude shoot, so the photographer will have some variety. Some of it is just basic modeling: I need to know my poses, and my expressions.
I also need to be on time, in the right location, chipper and ready to work for hours. A lot of this is organization: keeping notes of travel times, addresses, and other relevant information. I need to be careful about self-care, particularly on the road when it’s hard to eat and sleep well and get alone time. Some of it (more than I care to admit) is accomplished through copious amounts of coffee.
But most importantly, a large portion of a successful shoot is psychology.
So much of modeling for me is not just posing my body, but reading people. It’s knowing what the photographer is trying to accomplish. It’s knowing what their goals are, and what they’re aiming for. To a certain extent, it’s even knowing what they’re thinking so I can anticipate them. I want to be able to create poses and compositions that resonated with the photographer—with minimal direction on set.
This relationship is particularly hard to create when a collaborator is someone new to me. To help, I end up listening carefully during all stages of planning. I take notes from almost every email, and I watch for vocabulary, inflection, and body language in person.
I also analyze portfolios in detail to get a sense of artistic style and direction. Not just their portfolio—I look through my own as well. It sounds silly, but it works. I look for overlaps in theme and style to see where we’ll fit well together.
There’s more to a tour than managing the external business side of things. There’s also managing myself. I’m often exhausted from back to back shoots, a lack of sleep, and a bunch of emotional labor to make sure everyone that I’m working with is happy. The trick is learning to move through all this and make art confidently anyway.
When I’m worn out, it's easy to let myself get discouraged. I’ll worry when I walk into a studio with a new photographer that I won’t live up to expectations. I’ll often find myself thinking that this is the shoot where they figure out I’m not a “real” model and don’t deserve to work. That I’m not pretty enough, skilled enough, or business-savvy enough.
To help with this, I’ll usually look at my own portfolio one more time while I’m drinking my ritual pre-shoot coffee. Looking back through my own port reminds me of the fact that I can create amazing art and can help me push through the hard times. Reminding myself of what I can do really helps. The coffee doesn’t hurt either.
So what does preparing for a modeling tour teach me about making art in general? (Besides the fact that I can get more done by drinking obscene amounts of caffeine, of course). It’s that making art requires work that is never seen during the actual process because it happens long before. And that all this work is easy to forget or ignore, even when I shouldn’t.
These hidden challenges are easier to see when I’m traveling, because I’m making art on a deadline, and art under time constraints requires specializing in prep work. But now I try to acknowledge all the work involved in whatever it is I’m doing, instead of just the finished product.