I have always found models both enjoyable and frustrating. My first model came from the dime store and snapped together. Everything was going along fine, I was having a good time, until I discovered the grill was missing. I can look back now and laugh at the line of cars and airplanes and ships with bits of modeling glue dangling from various places. Some came out surprisingly well. My model of an early rendering of the space shuttle might have actually been put together better than the real thing. Playing with models was fun.
Oh, but wait, that’s not the kind of models you expect me to discuss, is it? Actually, there are some important similarities between those glued-together pieces of plastic and the scale replicas of cars and planes and ships. I can joke about it, but if we apply the lessons to be learned we’ll all be better for it. I’ll get to those in just below the photo break.
Modeling is, for the most part, a major-market occupation. A generation ago, models had four options in the United States: New York, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles. Now, however, with catalog printing a mere sliver of what it one was, only New York and LA remain as viable markets where a model can actually hope to make a decent living. Everywhere else … well, one can always dream.
Online outlets such as Model Mayhem and One Model Place have made it far too easy for a person to toss up some random pictures and call themselves a model. Girls, especially, have responded by the hundreds of thousands, hoping to be discovered. Yet, for most, the dream ends in disappointment. For some, the results are much worse. So, for the sake of anyone who lives outside New York and LA, here are a few guidelines to consider before you go uploading pictures anywhere.
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UNDERSTAND WHAT “MODEL” MEANS
Let’s get excruciatingly specific, shall we?
mod·el [mod-l] Show IPA noun, adjective, verb, -eled, -el·ing or ( especially British ) -elled, -el·ling. noun
1. a standard or example for imitation or comparison.
While the 4th and 5th definitions are both applicable, let’s focus on the first and primary definition. What was it about all those cars, planes and ships that held my interest when I was younger? They helped me to better understand those objects. I was too young to mess with a real jet engine, but I could assemble one made of plastic and better understand how it worked.
Likewise, human models, utilized both as an example for imitation and comparison, help us to better understand the elements with which they are posed. Fashion is the best example of this. Want to know how well a dress flows? Put it on a model. Curious how a make-up technique effects a face? Try it on a model. Care to see at what temperature skin turns blue? Stand a model naked in the snow.
Models help us to understand, to compare, to consider how different clothing, make-up, hair styles, lighting and natural elements work, how they relate to the body, and how they interact with skin. Sometimes the results, like my space shuttle, are attractive, but the primary purpose is to create an example for comparison and consideration. What matters most are not the individual pieces, but the quality of the end result.
NOT EVERY MODEL FITS EVERY CONCEPT
I remember being especially excited on one occasion, because I had found a model set that was a replica of a car my father had owned, a 1957 Ford Fairlane, with the two big headlights up front and fins on the back. The kits were difficult to find and I couldn’t wait to put it together. But when I opened the box, the parts inside were not for a Fairlane at all! They weren’t even for a Ford! The instructions were for the Fairlane. The diagrams were for the Fairlane. But the parts were for a 1963 Buick. I was crushed!
Models are rarely chosen for specific projects because they’re nice, friendly, and play well with others (though that does sometimes factor in to the decision). Ultimately, models are chosen because they fit. That’s why the further up one climbs in the industry the more difficult time a model has landing work. Models are not asked to just fit a piece of clothing, they have to exactly match an entire look.
When small-market models are just starting out, their local photographer is likely to let them use their own wardrobe for pictures, because there’s no client involved. The pictures are just for practice. When photographs actually matter, however, be sure there is someone controlling every possible element in the frame, and considerable study has gone into exactly how the image must look in order to create the precise example or look desired. So, it now matters if one is blonde or brunette, fair skinned or dark, 5′ 6″ or 5′ 10″, blue eyes or green eyes, full lips or thin.
Being turned down for a concept is rarely personal. We just have to make sure we have all the right pieces so that we put together the correct image.
THE QUALITY OF THE PICTURE IS CRITICAL
Mass printing in the 1960s and 70s wasn’t as easily achieved as it is today. As a result, I would sometimes open a model kit and find that the ink had smeared, the illustrations were inadequate, or, on occasion, the whole mess was in a language I didn’t understand. Being the rather stubborn child that I was, I would go ahead and attempt to assemble the model on my own, but the results were never of acceptable quality. I would end up putting the model back in the box and leaving it on the shelf.
Small-market models often have a similar problem in that the pictures in their portfolios are of insufficient quality. While I could list a variety of reasons for this issue, ultimately models are simply choosing to work with substandard photographers. In an effort to “get out there,” and put a portfolio together, models (especially young women), have taken to letting every meatball with a camera take their picture. The images are of poor quality, do a bad job of representing the model or anything else, and often result in a model being ignored.
Good photography can be found in most small markets, and those photographers are a great place to start. However, the images that can ultimately make a model’s career come from great photographers and those can be much more difficult to find. Adding to the challenge, when one does find a great photographer, they are usually busy and difficult to book. Models may have to pay the photographer’s full rate for pictures rather than the trade that is common at the bottom of the ladder. Yet, having great pictures is ultimately what makes the difference between a model who is successful and one who is, figuratively speaking, left in the box on the shelf.
MODELING IS NOT THE GLAMOUR IT PRETENDS TO BE
The very first model car my father bought for me, I opened the box, looked at all the plastic pieces inside, and asked, “Where’s the paint?” The picture on the box, which was an illustration, not a photograph, showed a car that was bright blue with yellow stripes. The pieces in the box were a dull grey. I was disappointed, but understood from then on that if I wanted my model to look like the picture on the box, I was going to have to buy the paint (and glue) myself.
Contemporary media makes modeling look glamorous. Television shows such as America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway do all aspiring models a disservice by presenting a lifestyle and work conditions that are not applicable to even the most elite one percent of models. The shows, the photo shoots, the locations and the concepts are all contrived specifically for television and have no foundation in reality even at the highest levels, much less small markets. To enter modeling in a small market thinking that someone is going to pamper you, wait on you hand and foot, that every concept is going to be more spectacular (and expensive) than the one before it, or in any way, shape or form treat you the least bit differently than any other person, you’re going to be disappointed. And if you think someone is going to pay you for a portfolio piece, you’re dreaming.
Reality check: small market modeling means 5:00 AM call times, sitting for hours in uncomfortable conditions waiting your turn, buying your own coffee, getting yelled at for having bags under your eyes, having to change clothes in the same room with everyone else, losing things, missing out on good times with your friends, wearing clothes you don’t like, working with people who are sometimes rude and don’t give a damn about your feelings, not answering the phone when your boyfriend calls, being sore and catching cold the next day, and only getting three usable images for your effort. Sure, there are some good things that go along with it, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who couldn’t handle the good things; it’s the bad stuff that catches aspiring models by surprise and creates disappointment.
Hint: if you want modeling to be a positive experience, work to make it a positive experience. Be on time. Don’t complain about little things (and they’re all little things). Wear what you’re asked to wear. Don’t try to “fix” the make-up. Maintain a cheerful and positive attitude. There’s not a set anywhere that doesn’t improve by having people with good attitudes.
BEWARE OF FAKES AND FRAUDS
I was always on the lookout for new and better models. One day, I was sure I had found one. An ad in the back of a paper offered a real working model of an engine for only eight dollars! My father was skeptical, but I sent in my money and waited. Several months later, long after I had completely forgotten about even sending in the order, I received a small box in the mail. Inside was an empty spool, two match sticks, and a rubber band, with instructions for how to construct the “engine.” I had just learned a very valuable lesson.
Many small market models are easy prey for con operations, fake modeling agencies, and people who offer paid “work” but are wanting something other than photographs. When one wants something so desperately, it is easy to ignore the warning signs. Unfortunately, taking a chance with the wrong people can result in losing more than just money. There is never any instance under which a model does not have to be careful.
A model’s best defense in many situations is to simply ask a lot of questions. For example, if an alleged modeling agency is wanting you to sign with them, ask who their last three clients were, and then confirm with those clients. Fake agencies like to toss around a lot of names, hoping you’ll not question or check up on them. You must! Never give money to an “agency” in advance. You’ll never see that money, or anything from it, again. If someone wants to fly you out of town for “work,” insist upon a non-refundable round-trip ticket in your name to be delivered to you before you leave home. Get names and check references thoroughly. Insist on meeting photographers in advance and don’t shoot with them if they refuse. Similarly, never shoot with a photographer who does not allow you to bring an appropriate escort without good reason (such as there being 30 other people on set, in which case having an escort is usually moot).
More than money, your safety is at stake here. Don’t let your life be a valuable lesson for someone else.
LEAVE YOUR BAGGAGE (AND BOYFRIEND) AT HOME
One of the most difficult models I ever attempted was a replica of the Santa Maria, the ship on which Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain. I knew before I opened the box that this model was going to be challenging. So, I invited a friend over to help. Almost from the moment he arrived, problems ensued. First, he was more interested in doing things other than working on the model, such as watching cartoons on television. Then, he wanted to jump ahead and work on pieces several steps beyond where we were. He talked the entire time he was there, but never about the model. Then, in his hurry to get the model done, he broke pieces and tried to cover it up with glue. In the end, the ship looked more like it had run aground on a coral reef and been scuttled. From that point forward, I was more careful in asking for help, and made sure everyone stayed focused on the task at hand when I did.
Two common mistakes small market models make is a) talking about their personal life too much, and b) bringing inappropriate escorts, especially boyfriends, who cause problems with the shoot or runway show. Yes, being social and conversational is a good thing, but there are some things no one really wants you to share. That list would include any details about your menstrual flow, a blow-by-blow account of the last five encounters with your baby’s daddy (or mommy), any extended discussion about the personal lives of people no one else knows, or your cat’s bowel issues. Conversation is nice, but it should be something positive and inclusive of others in the room.
While I fully support and encourage models to take escorts with them to any shoot where they are the only model, one needs to be careful to choose escorts who are going to be supportive and stay out of the way. I cannot begin to list the times that shoot have either been delayed, altered, or cancelled because of something an escort said or did. More often than not, the offending escort is a model’s boyfriend, who may try to be too involved in the shoot, interferes with wardrobe selection, or is unreasonably distracting. Escorts have also, on occasion, been known to pilfer things from other models’ purses, or from the studio, or even stow away designer’s garments. Know that you are fully responsible for the actions of anyone you bring onto a set with you. Choose carefully.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO DO SOMETHING YOURSELF
Since the closest hobby shop was always several miles away, my father usually picked up my models for me. He usually had some idea as to what I was interested in doing next, but he didn’t always read the box all that carefully and sometimes brought home models that had unique challenges. Perhaps the most challenging was when he brought home the model of an F-14 that contained no paint instructions. That may not sound like a huge problem, but it was. Fighter aircraft have very specific paint schematics to deflect radar and keep them from being seen as easily from the ground. In these days long before the Internet, I had to go to the library and hunt down photographs of the plane, then create my own paint diagram for what color went in each position. The work was tedious and time consuming, but in the end, that plane was the prize of my collection, far better than any of the others on the shelf.
Models in small markets have a tendency to let photographers dictate what is in their portfolio. As a result, many models end up with books that are boring, unimaginative, and uninspiring. Bikini shot after bikini shot does not help anyone. Models need portfolios that are well-rounded and demonstrate their strengths as a model. Ready-to-wear is a must. Formal and athletic wear should also be included. Themed shoots such as vintage and/or fantasy are never a bad idea (in moderation). Different seasonal looks should be represented as well, and make-up and hair styles should change along with the wardrobe.
So, what is a model to do if they’re not getting these shots? Take charge of your career and make them happen. Yes, this probably means you’re going to have to pay for a lot of things out of your own pocket, the tasks will at times be tedious, but the results will likely be far superior than letting someone else always choose the concept. Taking control also gives the model the chance to write the contracts herself, with the potential to control when, where and how the images are used. Know that doing this means being particular and finding a photographer, make-up artist, hair stylist, and wardrobe that fit the concept. Be prepared to pay a premium price for premium work. Still, at the end of the day, you are going to have the images you need to move forward and succeed.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO LEAVE
Building models of cars, planes and ships was fun when I was young, but by the time I was 16 and able to drive, I was ready to move on to more adventurous things. The time came to leave the models behind and move into the real world. The models sat on a shelf for a few years, then were put in a box, and … I’ve no idea whatever happened to that box.
Similarly, small-market models must realize that making a living in a small market simply is not going to happen. Small markets are wonderful training grounds and a great place to discover and develop new talent. There are wonderful people in small markets who have major market skills and are often willing to help aspiring models get their start. Find those people and latch on to them with a passion! Ultimately, though, one must be ready to make the decision whether to move to a major market and continue their pursuit of modeling, or move on into other aspects of life.
Don’t make the move blindly. Know what’s going on in major markets before you leave. Get honest, if not brutal, assessments of your look compared to what is currently in demand. Make sure your portfolio contains only the best images possible. Learn to dress, walk, and speak like an intelligent professional to everyone you meet. Learn how to do your own make-up and hair, so that you never can be seen out in public looking like anything less than a model. Choose your wardrobe carefully, and make sure what you wear fits you well. The competition in major markets is a degree of fierceness absolutely unimaginable in small markets. The rewards can be great, but the number of failures are high, and the sidewalks are full of people who tried to be models and didn’t make it. Moving can be scary.
Yet, if modelling is truly your passion, if it is the only thing that consumes you, then do your homework, lay out a plan, then a backup plan, and then a backup to the backup, and get going! Some of the greatest models in the world have come from small markets. If you have the look and the determination, there’s no reason you can’t be just as big as any other supermodel. Get out there. Go!
A FINAL WORD
Obviously, this short article does not cover everything a small market model needs to know. I only have time and space to hit the high points. I tried to cover the most crucial points. In the end, everything is up to you. You, and no one else, determine whether you have a career as a model.
I wish you the best.