When you hear the word "model", what image comes to your mind! If you're like most of us, the first thing you visualize is a tall, arrogant beauty who appears in Vogue or Elle and wears the latest fashions from Chanel or Dior. It is true that some models are exactly like that, but there are far more who make a good living posing for photographs for more mundane magazines or working in television.
Think for a moment about Maytagís lonely repairman or Mikey who eats the new cereal his brothers are suspicious of ("He likes it! He likes it!"), or the woman who uses Amway. Every one of these is a model just as surely as the tall skinnybones in Harper's Bazaar, and some of them make a lot of money doing every day or silly things. What's a lot of money? How about $100,000 or $250,000 a year! That's what some of the top TV models make when the residuals are added in, and that's a living in any league.
When the average woman decides to be a model, what she wants most is be that woman on the cover of Vogue. She doesn't understand that no one can model fashions unless she's 5'8" tall and she cannot do HIGH fashion unless she's about 5'9". She may be utterly gorgeous, with the greatest shape since Marilyn Monroe, but if she's only five feet two, she can never be a fashion model.
Does that mean all modelling doors are closed to her! No, it only means that she can't be a fashion model. Unfortunately, when most women decide to pursue a career in modelling, fashion is all they can think of and that's too bad. A pretty woman who is shorter can have a great career in modelling, earning $1000 or more weekly, even if sheís too short to make the fashion scene. The trick is to convince her not to chase that dream, but to go after the much more realizable dream of selling stuff on TV or being photographed for Popular Mechanics or Family Circle magazine.
If a model comes to me before she has been to a talent agency, she doesnít really know what she is capable of doing. She may think of herself as high fashion, while she actually looks like a cute kitten of a high school girl. If I see that she has not really thought through her appearance and basic look, I will talk to her like she was my own daughter and explain what the real modelling world out there is like.
If she accepts what I say, thatís great and we work from there to present her in the best possible way. But if she insists she wants to look like the Vogue cover woman, what should I do? The only thing I can do is present her exactly the way she wants to be presented, as a high fashion model. Sheís the one paying for it and she has the right to insist that I photograph her exactly the way she wants to be presented. Itís what happens afterward that I cannot control.
Letís assume that Daddy is staking his precious daughter in her pursuit of a modelling career. Sheís fresh out of high school, perhaps has a year of college, and she has the modelling bug. She prevails on Good Old Dad to buy her pix and composites and support her until she begins to earn some modelling bucks. Heís agreeable to it because thatís what his Baby wants and it surely won't cost as much as sending her to college.
So she comes to me for a set of photographs that will make her look like the cover of Vogue. She is very pretty, with nice hair and figure, she handles herself well and everything looks great for her, except sheís only 5í4".
So I go to work on her, explaining that there is no way she can make it as a high fashion model unless she knows how to add four or five inches to her height. But high fashion is what she wants to do and thatís the way she wants to be presented. Besides, what other kind of modelling is there?
So I begin to explain all the other types, explaining about character modelling, TV work, and the marvellous residuals that go with it, magazine work that is not high fashion, and so on. In the end, she may accept what I am saying or she may not. If I can get Dad into the act, I know my chances of getting my way are much better because he can grasp what I'm driving at without the emotional hang-ups about fashion she has generated.
But what happens if I lose and have to present her as the ultimate clothes rack? That will be the end of her modelling career. When the agencies compare the sleek image on the composites with the very pretty, but short reality, they may send her back to start over from scratch to get a new set of photos made according to their specs. But that doesnít happen often enough to mention.
Do you want to sell a new chewing gum? You wouldn't ask Lillee and Marsh to pitch it for you, would you? No, I look for some fresh young high school kids to bounce and prance through the commercial, dancing to music or horsing around at the beach. I probably look for someone just like this young girl. Thatís the spot I should aim her for, and with a little luck, she'll find work in that slot and keep busy at it.
As I can see, she should exploit her youthful freshness and vivacity to get the modelling jobs that a thirty year old looks right in. Sheís part of the Coke generation, so I stick a coke in her hand and shoot her smiling her toothiest at the camera. Thatís a natural for her.
What is unnatural for her? I think about it for a moment; what sort of women model what sort of things? The women who model Blackglama minks, for instance, are all in their thirties, forties and fifties. Women who have succeeded in their careers, all of them seeming to be supremely confident of their own "glama" and cachet. Can I visualize this eighteen year old girl who has done nothing more noteworthy that be a high school cheerleader wearing a Blackglama mink?
And what kind of car would I use her to sell? A Rolls, a Mercedes Benz or a Jaguar? Hardly! Maybe I put her in a Mustang, but probably in a Ford Escort, a Corolla or a Nissan, the kind of first wheels Dads buy for daughters. That is realism; it sells cars and fits her image perfectly.
Now I think about the woman who pitches Tide detergent on TV. Is that the same sort of woman who wears Blackglama mink or drives a Bentley? Never! She looks like the woman who lives a few doors down the street, but maybe a little prettier. She wears a house dress or a pair of jeans and she may have her hair wrapped in a dish towel to keep the dust out of it. Sheís your neighbor and thatís the person you trust to tell you about a great new product she just tried.
In a few years, this high school girl can move up to the young housewife image and sell breakfast cereals. If she keeps her figure trim, later she can be the mother of a teenager and eventually she can learn to bellow out, "Whereís the beef?" Itís just a question of making her fit into the image people will have of her because of her age, size and other factors.
This type of modelling is called "character" modelling, and good character models can go on forever. This is especially true if you get an ongoing character part such as the Maytag repairman. He has been around for maybe ten years, looking mournful because no one ever calls Maytag for repairs. In actual fact, he probably smiles continuously as he considers his career with Sony which must be worth at least a quarter million to him every year. Those residuals add up, you know.
Almost any modelling except fashion is called character modelling and it is what people do who work as models. The demand for people who can realistically portray "characters" is much greater than for high fashion modelling. And thatís why I never discourage even women who look like Plain Jane on the park bench. There is a spot for just about everyone who wants one badly enough.
If the woman goes with the part or character I am trying to establish for her, I will present her in a variety of situations that will sell her in exactly the way the agencies will like. This may involve set-ups that do not make her look good, but which will sell her perfectly to the agencies and their clients. I'm not boasting; I can do precisely that time after time. For instance, more than once I have ended a session by having the woman soap up her hair as for a shampoo ad. These will be the last shots of the day and she rinses her hair and leaves.
If sheís pretty and has outstanding eyes, I can position her for eye makeup ads and Maybelline alone could keep her busy. If she has beautiful, slender hands Ė a real rarity Ė she can pose for gloves, jewelry ads and hand lotions. Her face may never appear in a single ad, but she can work steadily at her speciality and make an excellent income.
This is also true of the woman who has a size five foot attached to a shapely ankle and calf. A womanís size five foot is the precise size to display shoes in perfect proportion. The woman who has one can work all day, every day until she drops dead. She'll make a lot of money for as long as she wants to work and never once have to make up her face.
Great legs are always an asset, so if I get a leggy one in the studio, I am sure to feature the stems in her photographs. Long, slender legs are valuable and they should be highlighted in at least one of her composite photos.
With the modelís cooperation I do whatever is necessary to get her new career off on the right foot. She is obviously making a career move as she leaves her current work and goes into modelling. Sheís probably bored with that she does and wants to get into work she sees as exciting and glamorous.
But, I ask, won't she be bored with modelling, too, in a few months or a year? I have never met anyone who was. I have never heard a person returning from a modelling job say, "This is such boring work, really terrible, that I have to get out of it." People donít leave this industry. Once in it they stay until theyíre no longer wanted.
As I write this I'm reminded to say that a tall, heavy woman can find work modelling fashions, at least sporadically, in certain catalogues such as Ramanís, 16 Plus, or Lane Bryant, which are aimed at large women. It is also possible that a smaller woman of the right age can model junior and petite fashions, and so might find a temporary career in that niche of the fashion market.
The smaller woman must realize that itís not her image of herself that will get her work, but the image the industry has of her. If sheís a neat petite, thereís no way she'll ever appear on the cover of Vogue or Elle, but she can stay forever busy selling soap or shoes or sweat shirts or almost anything but fashions.
She might look great using Ivory dishwashing liquid with a smudge on her perky little nose; selling the latest shampoo with her hair all sudsy and smiling at the camera; or telling her dumb husband why he should take Robitussin for his cold. But if she doesnít yet see herself doing any of those things, she'll be convinced you want to turn her into a frump rather than bring out her beauty. Because she wants to be beautiful in her photos, itís difficult to sell her on being a "character", but thatís what I have to do. If I do it correctly, I will be well paid for my trouble.