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Life Lessons in the World of Modeling

Among my other pursuits, I still love and enjoy modeling! There is so much hard work followed by so much varied reward. No, it’s not the type of hard work that puts callouses on your hands. It is the type of work that tests every fiber of your resolve, mental strength and self-worth…and it is hard. Models willingly and knowingly subject themselves to the inevitable ridicule of the public, all the time hoping for its adoration and support.

Sadly, over the past several months, a lot of models, photographers and ‘friends’ cut their ties with me because I tend to be more than a little outspoken. I have a hard time finding not only models to work with but also photographers to shoot me. In reading my blog and essays, you know I am opinionated and I stand by my convictions. Apparently, my conviction means nothing to a lot of them solely because, at times, it is in direct opposition to the popular vibe. I can’t help that, and I will never acquiesce to another’s view of the world…especially when that view is nothing more than parroting someone else’s agenda.

So be it. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that I’ve learned a few things along the way, and I possess the means and ability to share it all with anyone that might want to learn from it.

No matter what industry you work, no matter what job you take on, there are a few universal lessons I’ve picked up over the years. The more I analyze it, the more I see them fit every path I follow and every piece of work I accept.

These are just a couple, and they seem to be the things that come up the most, not just in modeling, but also in service and management. I hope that someone might benefit from my life lessons in modeling.

Before you brush off modeling as nothing more than pretty-people-narcissism in motion, ask yourself this question…

Would you have the spine to pose for a commercial, poster or magazine ad and trust that your images will be loved by the public and not ridiculed and trashed?”

The next time you’re watching TV, pay close attention to the commercials.

Not any one commercial in particular, but just whatever happens to be on.

Take a good look at the variety of people you see in each one…the different ages, sexes, nationalities, and body types…take a good look.

It’s a rarity to see the picture-perfect GQ man or SI Swimsuit woman because commercials are full of everyone. Advertisers have to be able to field every possibility and reach every demographic without excluding any of them, and do it all in a small window of only a few seconds.

This is opportunity.

Print ads will always be a little different because when someone is holding a picture in their hands, they’ll tend to study it over for the things they like and want to see. It’s not a 30 second jolt that just leaves a lingering memory of what you wanted to see…it’s something of substance to analyze because you keep seeing it.

That’s where you’ll see the vast majority of the GQ’s and SI’s, but it is not their exclusive domain.

People are more likely to focus on a watch or cologne magazine ad if Jonny Depp is the model.

Make women want the man; make men want to be the man – simple advertising.

Even still, pick up any magazine and randomly page through it. You’ll still see a mix of all types – not necessarily as pronounced as a TV commercial, but they are all there, and for the same reason.

Advertisers have a need for people of all shapes and sizes. As models, the only thing we have to do is target that need, grab ahold of it and make it work.

Everyone has a place if they have the want and desire to take it for themselves.

It can be so difficult, and it can be so trying that you begin to question yourself. I do, anyway…all day long. But when I hit the mark, it’s golden and it’s stellar. I instantly forget all of the doubt, and my determination is strengthened for the next step.

It’s so difficult because we all have to sell ourselves as the best possible means for the client, for the advertiser, for the publisher. In a lot of cases, there’s a pigeon hole to fill and they look for that turning a blind eye to everything else. In a lot of cases, a man or woman’s physical, striking beauty will instantly win. It’s a simple fact of life.

BUT…people of all walks, shapes and sizes still manage to get into these things, not just because of any natural beauty but because of their drive, confidence and determination. It’s a hard sell. It’s hard work. But it is so worth the effort…especially if you respect your own power and do it for yourself.

My own personal case in point is my first feature article in Skin & Ink Magazine. I had been published in a couple artsy magazines by that point, but Skin & Ink Magazine was a global publication. Global exposure…Now that is a choice proposition!

I reached a point where I had enough ink in my skin to form an opinion about a lot of the tattoos I saw being published – mine were better. Of course, that’s subjective, but that’s my opinion and that was my impetus for getting published – I wanted to show the world that my ink was better.

Overbearing? Yes.

Borderline obnoxious? Yes.

Balls to the wall? Yes!

But it was that simple. And there was no better place to start. And more importantly, I knew I could do it, so I set out to do exactly that.

I got in touch with the Editor of Skin & Ink Magazine, Paul Gambino, whose office was in New Jersey. How’s that for an ominous beginning? Going into business with a Gambino from Jersey!

It was surprisingly easy to get in touch with him, and looking back, I think it was easier because it was unexpected, and I caught his attention with my audacity.

My pitch was simple…

I am a heavily tattooed, white collar professional, and I embody the whole “tattooed and employed” concept and movement (which coincidentally got me one of my favorite pictures/ads wearing that exact logo for Steadfast Brand). Paul loved the idea…a white-collar guy, showing all of his tattoos, showing that people from all walks of life really do have tattoos.

The talks commenced. And continued. And continued.

I set up the shoot at a barbershop here in Erie. And we killed it.

And the talks with Paul continued. For months. Then after 10 months of the back and forth and planning and money spent, Paul said, “I don’t know if this has a place in my magazine. I don’t see how it’s relevant”.

My answer was simple, “The relevance is why you agreed to publish this in the first place! ‘Tattooed and Employed’ is not only a slogan but a vindication! How is it not relevant to your magazine’s message?”

He said, “Ok. Let me think about it.” Mind you, this was after 10 full months of co-operation and planning and money already spent!

Later that day, a junior editor in their office emailed me that he had assumed control of the project and we were cleared to publish in the January issue.

He was true to his word. Although, I didn’t fully believe him until I went to Barnes & Noble and found the issue on the newsstand, and my feature story/article was in it! Of course, I bought up every copy they had on the shelf. My first copy is under glass on my office wall.

And here’s the real kicker to this story…The three-page article was all about me, and it had a few pictures, but only one of them showed any of my tattoos, and that was a side angle of my forearm! The article had very little to do with my tattoos and everything to do with my attitude.

Maybe they respected the fight, and that’s what gave the final go-head to publish. I won’t ever know, and it doesn’t really matter.

I still think back to those moments of uncertainty; those moments of weakness that I felt day in and day out. I still wonder where I would have gone and what I’d be doing if I had given up at the first sign of a door closing; if I gave up the fight because I could see it was going to be difficult and seemed like it was unwinnable.

And now, several years later, I keep surprising myself with the projects I take on.

I laugh when I hear those familiar words, “You can’t. It won’t work”. Simple fact of the matter is that I don’t care if things don’t always work out – I understand and I know they won’t always work out. The odds are stacked against us, and the rewards are plentiful, and THAT is what makes the fight worthwhile.

I already did the impossible. That means I can and will do anything I want to do.

Respect the power that you possess, and use it. Don’t ever stop fighting until the fighting is done.

And that brings me to the single largest obstacle to success…fear.

There is no reason to fear everything that could possibly happen as a result of your efforts. Quite simply put, they are just that…fears. Very few are based in reality, but those seem to be the fears that are the most debilitating to the vast majority of the people.

It’s the difference between saying, “I could’ve done that.” and “I did that!

Social media doesn’t help models at all with its fear-mongering. The truly tragic end of this is that the very real threat of crimes such as human trafficking are not only glassed over as people get jaded to hearing about them, the very thought of it happening is holding people back from living their lives.

I mention human trafficking because I once went to a group shoot in Ohio, where after months of planning and prep work, two models bailed at the last minute citing their fear of being kidnapped! The two of them kept calling for advice and asking questions, and we spent weeks talking over safety and all we could do together as a very public group. So sad that they still allowed themselves to be convinced they would be kidnapped and shipped off to the Middle East for sale! Actually, looking back I think they probably thought I was one of the kidnappers!

If we all take a few simple precautions, we can all be safer no matter where we go for a shoot, no matter what we’re doing at the shoot and no matter who we’re working with on the shoot.

And by all, I mean guys as well as girls, photogs as well as models. If we’re not careful, any one of us can run into a big, steaming pile of trouble!

These are some of the rules I play and work by and they’ve served me well for many years. It’s interesting how much they relate and apply to practically every facet of life.

Never go it alone. You do not have to be entirely alone and by yourself on a shooting set. I’m talking about something different from needing a closed set for lighting, to eliminate distractions, or for space. I’m talking about being told that no one else can be there with you, period.

If a photog or promoter tells you no one else can be there and you must go alone, DO NOT GO!

If a photog tells you this, you tell them you are uncomfortable and unwilling to shoot without a friend present. Reputable photographers and promoters are going to work with you, and allowances and compromises can be made both ways. The ones to worry about are the ones that will try to talk you into doing it anyway. There’s no need for it. If that happens, DO NOT GO and just move on to the next project.

One critical point must be made concerning who you bring to a shoot, and it is this…

Significant others (bf, gf, wives, husbands) can create very serious distractions and obstacles for the photographer and a set could get very ugly, very quickly.

Think about it. A female model is set to shoot a collaboration with a male model. These types of collabs tend to mean close proximity to each other and a lot of times, skimpy clothing and some kind of touching. As models, we know that it is ALL acting for the lens intended to create a specific picture. A jealous boyfriend does not necessarily see it this way. He usually only sees another guy touching his girlfriend. These situations have the potential to go ballistic. Most times, they do.

All I’m saying is choose your shooting companion with some consideration. Maybe your boyfriend’s sister? Maybe one of your drinkin’ buddies? Maybe just a friend that you trust?

Never go it alone, but always consider the effects of bringing someone with you that’s too close to you. We all have to be able to work together to get the job done.

Never do anything that makes you uncomfortable. Did you get that? Never do anything that makes you uncomfortable. One more time to be sure…

Never do anything that makes you uncomfortable.

Never let anyone talk you into doing something you do not want to do!

If you do not want to shoot nudes, then do not shoot nudes.

If you’re uncomfortable with any action, pose or prop, then don’t just do it. Voice that feeling!

The photogs to work with are the ones that can still make their concept work without intimidating or coercing their models. There is always a way to get things done. Always, and without exception – always.

It’s been my experience that a shoot is very rarely done the way it’s first envisioned. Changes are always being made from the first shot to the last. It is the nature of this beast.

The idea that a girl MUST shoot topless or the picture is ruined is ludicrous! Besides…sometimes less can be so much more! If a photographer has an actual business need for a nude model, he is going to seek out models that are willing to shoot nudes. It’s that simple. There are plenty of other modeling jobs and opportunities to be had without compromising your safety or your principles. The next time you’re watching TV, take a good look at the commercials. Look at just how many different kinds of people are represented in them. The idea that you must shoot nude or you’ll be out of work is ridiculous and usually points out a photographer that just wants nude pictures of you for his own personal use. Don’t believe it!

So as not to confuse the comfort issue, I have to mention probably the single best piece of modeling advice I ever got.

The first time I met Mr. Mike Miller of Erie, PA, and pretty much every time I worked with him after, he told me, “Oh, you’re comfortable? I can change that. If you’re comfortable, the shot won’t work. If it hurts, then you got it.” And that bit of advice has held true – for me anyway – on every shoot I’ve ever done! He’s not talking about psychological comfort levels. When it comes to psychological comfort levels, he is the first to say, “ok, let’s find another way.” What he’s talking about is the actual physical discomfort that is sometimes required to produce the best shots. The real trick is when I’m in so much pain that my body starts to shake, and still being able to hold the position…and create a picture that looks comfortable and easy and fools the world. It makes for good stories at the bar after the shoot, too, and I love that part of modeling! Anyway…

Not all Group Shoots are human trafficking traps!

I’m really not slamming the girls that bailed, but it’s worth talking about this a little more. Their fears were very real to them, and sadly those fears forced them to miss out on what could’ve been a wonderful – and potentially lucrative – experience for both of them.

Educate yourself.

Educate yourself.

Educate yourself.

If you see a post that scares you or see a news report that scares you, investigate it before you let it debilitate you. To be blunt, this world is always a scary and a sometimes very dangerous place. There no debating that. Be careful. Be safe. The only way you can hope to navigate it all and still have a good time, and still do the things you want to do, is to educate yourself about the world around you.

So…you hear about a Group Shoot that looks like a great time (by the way it was!) on the same day that you see a social media post and a TV news segment about kidnapping and human trafficking close to that area. You can go one of two ways....

One, you just forget about the shoot and move on to something else.

Two, you research the shoot, the promoter and the attendees and then make a balanced and informed decision. Where will it be held? How many people are going? Do you recognize any of the models and photographers listed as going? Do you have any friends that go along with you as your assistants? Are there a few models willing to carpool or meet up at the door and all go in together? There’s always more strength in numbers than going in alone. If the details seem scarce, then ask the promoter. These things always have the promoter listed and, at least in my experience, every one of the them has been easily contacted and always helpful, answering any and all questions I throw at them…and I can come up with some off-the-wall questions, believe me!

If you don’t like what you hear…if you don’t like what you find out…if you don’t like the people, then don’t go. It’s tragic to rob yourself of experiences based on a panicking, uneducated whim. You can miss out on SO much!

Go with your gut.

I always joke that there’s a definite reason I’m still alive after all these years, and it is only because I trust my instincts. It’s that simple.

Whenever I’ve researched the hell out of an opportunity and I still come out the other side with a lingering, uneasy feeling, I walk. It really is that simple.

If it doesn’t feel right TO you, then it will not be right FOR you.

When all is said and done, you have to trust yourself.

Trust yourself.

Go with your gut.

It really is that easy.

Here Endeth the Lesson

1 Comment

Unknown member
Oct 29, 2020

Very very interesting blog and educational. So you say that models and photographers have stopped working with you since you are so outspoken (yes you truly are). Do you mean in your local area of Erie or have you branched outside of Erie.

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