Monday, 9 April 2012
The model that I'd booked about a month before, met me in the street outside her apartment. She was shaking, crying and speaking into a mobile phone. Her eyes were reddened and her black eye make up was streaked down her cheeks.
All the while continuing her somewhat animated discourse on the phone, she led me into her house, up some dark stairs and into a small funky smelling apartment. In the living room I found another woman sitting on a couch. The couch was surrounded by discarded clothes. It was clear that the other woman had been asleep on the couch until a few moments before I arrived. There were more clothes laying around in other piles around the room.
For the next hour or so, the model wandered around the apartment, chain smoking and arguing, sometimes almost hysterically, on the phone. The model's friend told me that she was arguing with her boyfriend who was currently being very difficult over non-payment of some urgent bills.
Eventually some sort of denouement was arrived at, the model calmed down slightly and decided to have a shower.
I passed the time by chatting with the model's friend who, it turned out, was a model herself and also a keen photographer. She had me look at her photography portfolio. Some of her photographs were quite good but there was a such huge melange of different styles and techniques on display that I suspected it was more by luck than judgement.
Twenty minutes later the model emerged from the shower. Still dripping, she then wandered about in front of us naked and resumed the telephone discourse with her boyfriend.
Finally, getting on for an hour and a half after I arrived at her address and for the first time, the model turned her full attention to our shoot together.
She asked me what I wanted her to wear and pointed to one of the piles of what looked like dirty washing on the floor. She held up a couple of items. Everything looked creased and grubby. She told me that one particular pile of clothes had all been picked up on the streets of New York. She may have been joking, I couldn't really tell.
I suggested she wear whatever she'd feel most comfortable in. She pulled on a short black dress with some stains on the front. It was at this point that she decided what she most needed was some breakfast.
So we had another delay whilst she toasted herself some waffles. Since her kitchen was well lit with natural light and an almost perfect '50s period piece, I tried to take a few photographs of her there but found that after about every half dozen shots, her friend would jump in front of me and take some photographs of her own. This sort of thing really infuriates me but I must admit, I didn't say anything for fear of negatively effecting the delicate mood of the model, which by now had become almost cheerful.
But by the time we were all able to get out of the model's apartment, I'd hardly done anything and we were getting close to two and a half hours late. Even though it was approaching mid-day, the traffic on the eight or nine mile drive over to the studio I'd rented was completely backed up and I lost even more time. During the drive, the model applied her make-up.
I'd booked her for only three hours. We arrived at the studio well over three hours late and, as I parked my rental car, the friend started moaning that it was already time we were headed back, in order to get to the model's next appointment. Although I'd rung to let the studio know I'd be late, I had no idea I was going to be quite this late. When we arrived, I detected a distinctly frosty atmosphere from the woman running the place, who'd always previously been very sweet.
By now I was just about ready to scream in frustration. I was too hot, completely stressed out from the drive and lengthy search for a parking spot and I was starting to worry that I'd be devoid of any inspiration. Any sensible individual would probably have cancelled the shoot before it had even started - back during the telephone row. But I had plenty invested in the day, both in financial terms and in time, and I've never particularly been known for my good sense, so I just got on with it.
Somehow, and I'm not sure how, I managed to squeeze out a quick studio session of about 30 minutes before we all made a mercy dash back through the traffic, so that my model could get to her next appointment (which, I might add, she did). On the drive back, it took the model about 15 minutes to fill out her name and address on my release, during which, several times, she appeared to have fallen asleep, giving me some indication of what might be other issues.
In getting close to five hours, I'd shot only for about 45 minutes in total.
Absolutely nothing had gone right except for one thing.
As a model, she was fantastic. I'd never photographed anyone remotely like her before. Either with make-up, no make-up or make-up running down her face, she was gloriously pretty. And she had this peculiar ability to look great in anything - not least her grubby and crumpled clothes. Doubtless she would even have looked wonderful in the proverbial potato sack.
I didn't have to direct her once, everything she did was ridiculously photogenic and just exactly right. It was a strange and somewhat magical experience. She may have left a little to be desired in terms of professionalism but once she was in front of a camera, she was some sort of genius.
From her website and blog it seems that she's very sought after and always extremely busy. It's not hard to see why. Her website is full to overflowing with great photographs by a lot of different photographers. Not only does she look fantastic in almost all her photographs but she seems to have the ability to make all the photographers seem fantastic too. I have to admit, this was why I was so keen to book her myself. I wanted some of whatever it is that she brings in my portfolio too.
Reading what she writes (and she writes a lot) it's clear that she's an intelligent but very complex character. She also takes photographs and has a deep and very genuine interest in both photography and photographers. Maybe this is the key factor? In my experience, very few models are like this. But it also begs the question "How would she deal with photographing a model like herself?"
Maybe one day I'll have the gumption to ask her.
2012 is my 40th year of taking photos and I think it's safe to say that I learnt more from taking photos of this one, particular model (or should I say, trying to take photos) than I've done from any other photo shoot for years. Everything I learnt from this episode I'm not fully aware of yet but I recall a William Blake quote "Improvement makes straight roads but the crooked roads without improvement are roads of genius."
One of the things I did certainly did learn is that sometimes working with a difficult model can be hugely rewarding.
I'll let you know how my next photo session with her turns out.
I'm purposely not naming the model or, for that matter, when or where I shot her.
And the photograph to accompany this posting is not her. I have no reason to personally malign her on the internet. This posting is more to do with my own failings than hers.