Connection and chemistry are two key components of creating compelling portraits and fashion imagery. There is a give and take, often nearing an unspoken intimacy that takes place between the model and the photographer. There are numerous accounts of models and photographers falling in love, take Kate Moss and Mario Sorrenti circa 1993 for example, and there are no issues to be had when this occurs naturally. But the ongoing problem is when lines are crossed and boundaries are bulldozed by a predator when a model is already in a vulnerable state. And to be sure, this happens with frequency, and at all levels – they don’t have to be Terry Richardson.
Take the following message to a model as a perfect example. This is real, and just a snippet of a significantly longer, more heinous transcript, and we are sharing it with permission. And the following was one of the responses from the photographer.
A model will most likely be asked or suggested to bare some part of themselves during their career. Agencies are often eager for a young model to book the shoot, especially with a well-known photographer, in hopes that it will launch their career. When conducted in a very professional manner it can go down without a hitch and the end product is breathtaking. With social media influence on the rise, it is becoming evident that photographers on a lesser scale are using their social media to leverage risqué photoshoots and get away with lewd behavior and commentary.
A photographer recently demonstrated that this unprofessional manner is still alive and well after he sent some questionable texts that were shared online, some of which are shared above. When brought into question he insinuated that if a model can’t handle a little flirting during a nude shoot that she will never make it in the fashion industry. This is absolutely inaccurate, and damaging.
A model absolutely needs thick skin to withstand the demands of the industry, not for being subjected to lewd objectification of someone’s desires on set. Nowhere in the agreement of a nude shoot does the model sign on the dotted line to flirt with the photographer throughout the day. Also, let’s get one thing straight – partaking in a nude photoshoot with a pinup and alternative glamour photographer with a large social media following will not launch a model’s career.
Not only is this type of behavior unprofessional, it is a dangerous game, especially when dealing with young women. It is not uncommon for them to mistake the sheer physicality and sex for actual affection. This pushes the boundaries into a dangerous territory that shouldn’t be crossed, and sadly the wannabe Terry Richardson’s of the world view it as a right of passage. Coercing a model into these explicit scenarios when they are already in a vulnerable situation is downright predatory, and exploitive.
“When a beautiful young girl is standing on the paper, and the photographer is looking at her—that thing of being told you’re the most beautiful works everyone into a state of desire, where the girl is being appreciated and she feels loved. There’s a very fine line between abuse of that innocence and validation of their beauty.” – Joan Juliet Buck, former editor of French Vogue.
Model Alliance was founded in 2012 to give models a platform to have their voices heard in the industry. It also provided protection against sexual harassment and other pressures that are an ongoing problem by calling for transparency within the fashion industry. This was a monumental step in the right direction, as previously the reaction to allegations of sexual harassment were met with near rape culture responses and victim blaming, while the accused perpetrator rose in popularity as a result of the controversy. This is clearly what the photographer above is trying to do.
Nudity has long since been a part of the arts, and if the SS/18 NYFW is any indicator, it will continue to be a part of the world for years to come. If and when the situation arises for nudity in a photoshoot, it is our job as photographers to make the model feel safe and comfortable. Be forthcoming with the demands and intricacies of the shoot for them to agree to the terms at the beginning. Make sure they feel secure in the environment and immediately communicate any changes that arise.
Models are so much more than live mannequins that showcase clothing. There is a proper way of communicating and maintaining a level of professionalism from the onset of the planning stage and throughout the completion of the shoot. Treating a model with the utmost respect and integrity will go a long way and keep the trajectory of the industry on the right path.