A few weeks ago I was on the phone with a good friend of mine, Jordan, and he was talking about doing a human figure study with a photographer that was referred to him by a friend. The photographer, Kiqe, wanted a female model to compliment Jordan in the shoot. Jordan called me because he knows that I do figure modeling for art classes. We talked about it for a while had aairly extensive conversation with Kiqe prior to the shoot, which was yesterday. All I can say is: what an awesome experience.
At first I was incredibly anxious about even agreeing to this. Sitting for an art class is one thing. The artists can only capture your likeness. A photograph is a photograph – and once it exists it can never un-exist, particularly when it is published. But, I felt that at the very least I could explain my boundaries to Kiqe and see what kind of vibe I felt from him, understanding that at any moment I could back out if I felt uncomfortable.
So, yesterday, I went to Jordan’s early and we shared a bottle of Ginger Beer and talked and caught up for a while. We talked about what was going to happen, and especially how much closer our friendship would be after the shoot. It’s not very often that you just hang out with your friends in the nude. Well, unless you live in a nudist colony, then it’s probably pretty normal. But we had time to polish off the bottle and get nice and relaxed and just chill. Then Kiqe arrived.
At first I was just really put at ease by his whole approach. He was very businesslike, almost to the point of brusqueness, without losing the friendly demeanor. He was just very matter of fact, came with armfuls of tools (as opposed to some random guy with a camera), and knew exactly what he was doing. Once everything was set up, he took the time to talk to us about his goals for the shoot, our comfort levels, and what would happen with the photos. He explained that he does not work with model releases because all we have is his word. Instead, he explained, he would ask permission for every single picture that had our face in it. That relaxed me quite a bit. Rather than just being the subject of someone taking my photograph for a few hours, I would be a part of the process the entire way through. He was very sincere and serious and made sure we understood completely what was going on.
After we got that out-of-the-way, we talked about different ideas for shoots. Jordan has quite a few tattoos – over ten – and Kiqe wanted to capture these in really interesting ways. We talked about props and I watched as this complete stranger unfolded in front of my eyes. The really interesting thing I learned about Kiqe over the course of the shoot is that he truly is an artist. He sees things and you can just watch the mental gears running at top speed. It was really awe inspiring, honestly. As a model, my job is to show up and follow instructions and communicate with the artist. It was a pleasure to work with him for many different reasons.
Reason number one that I loved working with Kiqe: he was in constant communication about my physical and emotional state of being. He never stopped communicating with us. Sitting for an art class is a very specific kind of relationship between the model and the artist. Working with a photographer felt very different and yet the same, in a way. For starters, Kiqe was never more than a few feet away from us while we were shooting. The poses took time to set up and then he had to find the shot and capture the image. This requires a different kind of bravery from the model. At least in an art class the artists are across the room and I have a huge bubble of personal space. Working with a photographer produces a little more anxiety because they are standing right in front of you, next to you, etc. In addition to that, Jordan was even closer, which was a little nerve-wracking but also completely comfortable. I don’t know that I would have lasted several hours with a complete stranger as the model with me.
Working with Jordan was extremely fun. We laughed and joked and it wasn’t all that weird being nude with him, because you get into this state of mind where you feel like you are wearing clothing even if you’re not. It takes a great amount of focus to model, and your brain can’t focus on the nudity. It’s really the most natural state of being in the world, and once I accepted that all those modeling sessions ago, it became easy and felt more natural than wearing clothing.
So, throughout the entire shoot, Kiqe kept saying things like: How are you feeling? Are you okay? And I could tell it wasn’t in that flip way that people say because they are obligated to, he was taking responsibility for being aware of our state of mind. One thing I think I learned from last night’s shoot is that photography is about capturing moments, memories, and emotion. Whereas in an art class I pose and the artist interprets it, Kiqe was capturing things exactly as they were happening. It was emotionally exhausting to keep that level of energy. In an art class it’s more physical work, holding still for long periods of time, but my mood does not affect the artists. I have an expressionless face and my mind wanders. Photography captures exactly what it is you feel at that moment, and the poses and moments were as much about feeling as they were about the figure.
Another wonderful part about working with Kiqe is that his mind is an incredibly creative one. He would look at me so intensely as if he had just asked me a really hard question and was expectantly awaiting the answer. When he looked at me, I felt like I should be saying something, because he was looking at me so hard. But then I realized that he was thinking, and studying my face, and thinking some more. It made me smile and laugh because it is not often that you get to witness creative genius being borne.
He was professional, as well. He never looked anywhere but at my face when we were talking, and when he was placing us in poses he always explained what we were doing and asked permission for everything. He would say, I am going to step closer to you now. I am going to step to the left to capture from this angle. Is it okay if I adjust your hair? Are you okay with Jordan’s hands being here or here. And more of How are you feeling? It really helped to develop a level of trust. By the end of the night I felt like we were old friends, in a way. This style of art is very intimate, I feel, because it’s necessary to really connect with the artist. Not intimate in a sexual way, far from it, but more vulnerability because you are really putting it out there emotionally for someone else to witness.
A good example would be a photo he sent me today. As promised, he has been sending me photos and asking my opinion prior to posting them on Facebook or his private web page. I explained to him that if the picture wasn’t appropriate for Facebook, I didn’t want it posted publicly. I also kept in mind the following: Would I proudly show this to my father? Would I show it to his mother? Would I defend this photo, would I even have to? Will this ever compromise my career later? All these questions weighed on my mind prior to the shoot and during. And Kiqe delivered exactly what I asked for. He played with angles and props and the frame to protect my modesty, which I really appreciated.
Anyway, so he sends me this picture today that made me a little uncomfortable. It wasn’t even remotely revealing, but the expression on my face was one I could not fathom. I had never seen that look on my face before and I didn’t know what it meant. We talked about it, and he told me his opinion (only after he asked for my permission to speak frankly, which was charming). He told me that it was a magnetic come-hither look, which made me laugh. I suppose there are many moments in our lives where we don’t know what we look like. If I am remembering correctly, that’s not how I felt. I was laying down and he was standing over me and I kept laughing. If you’ve never tried to make “eye” contact with a camera lens without smiling, you should try. It’s really hard. All you see is this giant black circle that moves around as the focus is corrected. And for whatever reason I would keep my composure for about three seconds and then burst out laughing. Kiqe’s patience was endless and he had creative solutions to prevent the giggles as well. I think at this point I was just really concentrating on not laughing and I was feeling tense, because I had laughed like four times and I was started to feel a little irritated with myself for not just keeping a straight face.
Anyway, so once we talked about the look on my face, he decided not to post it after all. Which I thought was pretty cool, because after I told him my boundaries, maybe he guessed that something on the could-be-interpreted-as-sexual side was not a wise idea. Either way, sometimes people tell you what you want to hear and sometimes people tell you the truth. Kiqe falls under the latter category.
All in all it was a wonderful experience. I have often said that on my bucket list I would love to spend a day with a photographer just having my picture taken, and this came up in conversation last night. He told me he would work with me any time, which is really exciting. We talked about adding another female model to the shoots and working with body paint (awesome. awesome. awesome.) and having an outdoor shoot somewhere in the woods. All of this is great. Not only that, but something happens to a person when they do this kind of thing. It promotes growth. I am a different person after every one of these experiences and it’s really exciting. There’s nothing quite like that rock-solid feeling of sureness deep in your gut. The feeling that we get when we meet the right person, when we have the right job, and when we make good life choices. I am so excited to continue to build a portfolio of all of the work I have done.
Addendum: Here is a picture I took of Kiqe when he handed me his camera – a beautiful piece of equipment that costs roughly the same amount as a new car – and said “Take some pictures”.