Yes, it is possible to make a living doing this. But it takes a lot of hard work and a good reputation. For every hour spent in front of the lens or canvas, roughly nine million are spent networking, updating portfolios, organising work, advertising, applying to castings, travelling to and from locations, packing/unpacking for jobs/trips (because even nude models are expected, often, to bring props/accessories/items of clothing) and attacking what I like to affectionately refer to as ‘the email mountain’. We are grateful for the email mountain; it keeps us in business; we just wish we could hire some hobbit minions to live underneath it and help us out every now and then (perhaps with purpose-built sticks and digging equipment) so that we don’t accidentally offend the creative types who grow more and more anxious by our lack of reply (because we are busy modelling by day, or sleeping by night, or, you know, doing other important stuff).
1. We don’t assume you’re a pervert, when you hire us for your artwork, personal projects or even just to test your ability to turn a lump of wax into a decent, human-shaped figure. (But we do seek standard references before meeting new clients, if we take our personal safety seriously). This should go without saying, of course; nudity is perfectly normal, but I have modelled for the occasional ‘newbie’ whose hands have visibly shaken at the experience; who’ve wanted very much to mention their wives and happy marriages within the first two or three sentences (perhaps in the opening email) to assure me of their lack of intention, and who announce that they will be leaving the room every time I change pose. It’s sweet, but largely unnecessary. Rest assured that if you’re not a lech, you probably won’t come across as one.
2. That said, we don’t really want you to touch us, especially when we’re nude. We are not made of fire (you don’t need to bounce away from us as though we might burn you), but if you think it’s appropriate to move our limbs for us instead of at least attempting to first describe a pose you are trying to capture, or push/poke us into position, without asking permission first (not while you brush our hair away from our faces) we may find you rude at best and threatening at worst. Any contact should be careful and brief; this isn’t because we’re precious (seriously, nude models are not divas!) but because we value respect. Most humans are intuitively aware of personal space and how the etiquette is naturally rather amplified by nudity, but if you know you happen to struggle with social convention, it’s best to steer clear of any physical contact unless specifically agreed upon by the model. Do offer to help us down from that tree if we’re looking a bit stuck, but don’t linger about it.
3. We really do care about your results. Chances are, if we weren’t in some way artistically-inclined or interested in modelling as a creative ‘vocation’, we wouldn’t be in this job at all; we’d be doing something else completely. (Probably something more boring). When hiring us, you are under no obligation to show us the final images, and we know that, but we really hope that you might anyway – it makes the whole thing more satisfying for us. This isn’t vanity; it’s fun to see the fruits of our labours, and we like to celebrate successes with you.
4. We are full of doubts, about whether we’re slightly mad for being involved in this quest for producing interesting, beautiful and engaging imagery via the media of our faces and bodies. We know this isn’t a normal job. We secretly quite enjoy the surprise on people’s faces when we tell them what we do for a living, but we also know it doesn’t quite sound like a ‘real’, grown-up job. We can’t pretend we have an office or a company car. We’re proud anyway.
5. In fact, we consider ourselves quite lucky that we get to experience things that other people might never even think of doing, in places we might otherwise never think of visiting. There is something very special about posing in a field of tall sunflowers in Germany, tip-toe-ing around beautiful old, derelict baths in Manchester, and lying on your back on amazing, cracked earth as a Californian storm builds over the desert. When we’re old and wrinkly, we’ll look back at these many, varied and surreal experiences with such excitement that we did them, that we didn’t say no; that we didn’t take the conventional path through life.
6. We really don’t mind at all if you forget to take your lens cap off your camera ten times in a row. We know there’s a lot to think about at once when photographing a subject, especially if you’re not that experienced (and sometimes even if you are). We don’t think you’re an idiot, even when you put your camera down then can’t remember where you left it afterwards (my most amusing memory of this particular mishap to date involves a camera being discovered in a draining board next to a kitchen sink; the photographer in question works mostly from a home studio – a backdrop against the lounge wall – and produces well-respected world-class photos of the quality that people all over the globe aspire to).
7. We like it when you talk to us. Sometimes we’re booked specifically for our own style of posing, and essentially ‘lead’ a shoot. (It’s surprisingly common that a photographer will set up the lights, then basically say ‘go!’ offering absolutely no input from then on.) That’s OK; we can work with that. But it’s nice when you balance that out by telling us what you want, what you don’t want, what you like and don’t like. Don’t be silent; it can make even the best models nervous (‘does s/he hate what I’m doing? Is s/he still there?’). Instead, offer some encouragement; or at least evidence that you are alive and haven’t accidentally morphed into a human/camera hybrid via some fluke melding tragedy, never again to converse with humankind but simply to roam the streets clicking at birds and wildlife like an interesting but somewhat deformed artistic robot.
8. But don’t over-direct us. Unless we are new, we probably know how to pose to create flattering angles and interesting imagery. It’s nice when we are allowed to get into the ‘flow’ of things, especially if we have a dance background (note; dancers make excellent models!). It can sometimes work against your own interests to interfere too much, unless we are doing something badly wrong (in which case, please do intervene!). I was once directed into each and every pose after each individual camera click, body part by limb by gaze direction, by a beginner photographer who, after tiring himself out towards the end, suggested I do my own thing for the last 15 minutes and marvelled at how much more productive we were. Unless you really do want exact, meticulously pre-planned poses (which is fine!), don’t be too much of a control freak.
9. We don’t like being compared to other models. It’s not big, healthy, helpful or clever. Being told that a previous model you’ve worked with did/was x, y and z, and it was simply wonderful, is all well and good, but can be deflating if you are saying it to imply that you don’t think we’ll be as good/the same. It’s good if you can appreciate what’s in front of you; after all, you didn’t rehire your previous model, you hired us. We can offer something different!
10. This is the eleventh point. I know that. Don’t assume your model is stupid. Personally, I have a degree in philosophy; utterly impractical, of course (and if my date with an Oxford philosophy lecturer last night is anything to go by, these deep-thinkers can be a really unusual bunch, let’s just say), but at the very least I came away from university with the ability to win every single argument I am ever involved with for the rest of my life (and beyond…), using the much underrated tool of logic. Ahem, anyway… Most models I know are quite impressive, prolific and multi-talented, even just in terms of juggling all the organisation. You’ve got to be on the ball to make a career like this work. We’re probably not complete air-heads. But you knew that.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ella Rose Muse is a professional model-actress-dancer from England available internationally for artwork, film, photographic and commercial projects. You can learn more about her and read more of her musings here.