I think most people have an idea of what modeling entails, even if they get their notions from pop culture or the movies. Maybe they think of the pulse of a strobe flash, or the click of a shutter. Maybe they imagine a model posing in front of a studio backdrop, or strutting her stuff on location or down the runway. Maybe, if they’re very familiar with modeling, they know it’s not always as glamorous as the pictures make it look. Maybe they know a little bit about the behind-the-scenes: the cold, the discomfort, the physical labor, and the long and odd hours.
However, there’s another aspect to modeling that I rarely see mentioned except by the models and photographers themselves, and even then only to other people in the industry. It’s as if they wouldn’t expect anyone else to understand. It’s the intimate conversations that happen.
I like to jokingly refer to myself as a naked therapist. Talk on a shoot rarely sticks to shallow topics. I hear about my photographers’ art, and their purpose behind making it. But it also goes beyond the art: I hear about their lives. I’m told about relationships and breakups, celebrations of all kinds, and life events—both good and bad. And what’s more interesting, I’m told how people actually feel about these things: the joy of a grandchild, the anxiety and pain caused by a car accident. When they feel lonely and disconnected, and when they feel loved.
These connections are often reciprocal. I talk about my life too, between shots or when we’re changing up backdrops or walking to a new location. It’s not the “what do you do” casual resume type of information either. I share about my unconventional relationships, and my sexuality. Sometimes I think modeling is what taught me the openness I try to employ in this blog.
I usually take this ease of connection for granted. It’s become such a part of my day-to-day life that it doesn’t even register anymore. But I was reminded of it on my latest modeling tour, when one of my photographers told me how much he enjoyed the conversations that we had in addition to the art we made.
I realized that this was a person that I saw maybe once a year. Someone who, outside of that interaction, I had only exchanged a handful of emails. Someone who I had just been nattering to about the latest polyamorous drama in my life like I would to my best friend. And it felt completely right and normal to do so—just like it did when we shot together last year.
It started me thinking about where this connection comes from. I believe, in many ways, it’s unique to modeling. At least, I haven’t experienced it in the other arts that I’ve practiced. I’ve created some amazing connections through music and writing, but nothing like this depth from what would otherwise be a short and frivolous interaction.
I imagine most people would guess it has something to do with the nudity aspect of my art. And I don’t think being nude hurts. It creates a sense of honesty and vulnerability that I think encourages people to open up themselves.
But more than that, I think it’s the nature of the shoot itself. Culturally speaking, a photo shoot is an odd thing. When I’m traveling, I’m working with people that I would otherwise never meet, let alone interact with. And we two strangers have to come together on a deep enough level to create something emotionally moving. Society at large doesn’t have a script for that. And so I think people gravitate towards being their authentic selves.
Of course, I don’t get this connection with every artist I’ve posed for, and that’s okay. It’s not necessary to create great images; it’s just a bonus. Sometimes photographers are more private, or quiet. Sometimes, I just plain don’t get along with a person, and that’s fine too. But it happens more often than not.
And of course, sometimes it can be a bit much. Sometimes I’ll get a photographer that’s going through something terrible—or I’ll get several in a day, back to back. At that point, modeling becomes more about emotional labor than making art.
But human connection, for me, is what creating art is all about. When I write, I’m trying to open myself up to my readers. When I pose nude, I’m trying to create that intimacy with my audience. That I can create that connection with my fellow artists during the creative process is, quite frankly, one of the best parts of my job. Even if it’s something that’s rarely discussed.