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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

How To Work With Models

As photographers, we should pause and occasionally remind ourselves that the life of a model isn't all manicures and massages. They're among the hardest-working people in our business.

Indentured Servitude For The Beautiful, Or Making A Buck As A Babe?

You've been abandoned by your peer group. You've been fondled, stalked and propositioned, and you're bouncing around crowded apartments with crappy furniture. At least you're making the big bucks, right? Only if you're smart. Earlier, I wrote about how the foreign agencies pay for a model's flight, car service and apartment. This is basically a loan. Models have to repay the agency for the plane ticket, the crappy apartment and the cash advanced to them for living expenses. Basically, when traveling to a foreign market to work, a model goes there already indebted to the agency.

In the models' apartments, there are usually two camps—the girls who are there to work and the girls who are there to party. The party girls have a short but fabulous run. The girls who are working after four years are the ones who gain a distinct understanding for their industry. Making money requires a good deal of focus and business acumen. It usually takes the agency three months to get paid from the client and another three months for the agency to pay the model. By the time per diems, rent and plane fares are deducted—and commissions are paid to the foreign agency and the model's home agency—a model like Rebecca may only see 35 percent of her money. Granted, it's 35 percent of a nice chunk of money, but it still requires management and hustle.

Getting the jobs is an exhausting process. In a city like Paris, 12 to 15 auditions a day is the norm, and the auditions are from one end of the city to the other. Says Rebecca, “For how pretty models are supposed to be, look at any one of a working model's feet—they're blistered and calloused and toes are warped. There isn't that much that's glamorous about our jobs.”

Rebecca has been around the business long enough to understand where she works the most and the markets where it's easier for her look to sell. In Paris and Milan, she'll go to auditions and compete with dozens of other girls. In Germany, the market isn't as glamorous, so there are usually less than 20 girls at the audition—less competition. And the bonus is that German clients like to travel well, so many jobs end up shooting in exotic locations like the Dominican Republic or Majorca.

Pardon Me, But Could You Pass The Grey Poupon?

So why do it? What makes a working-class model like Rebecca keep going? In many respects, she does it for the same reasons that we photographers do what we do. When you land a great job that pays great bucks, it's a fantastic day. When you survive a crazy situation, it's a great story. No matter what happens, it's always different, and you never really know what's around the next corner.

One day Rebecca called to tell me she felt like going to Australia for a few weeks. Seven months later, she flew back from Sydney, just hours before her first day of school at the University of Washington. The money she made working as a model during her teenage years helped pay for her education. As soon as she graduated, she was back on a plane to France, where she and I met and conjured up the idea for this story.

In her words, Rebecca loves this business for “all the weird little situations you get in that you'd never experience in a normal life, that for some reason just works while you're there going through it.”

I conducted Rebecca's interview in northern California, where we were doing a photo shoot. We've been working together for more than 11 years now. After the shoot was over, I peeked into her bag. I saw a bathing suit, a change of underwear and a toothbrush.

Louis Lesko is a fashion photographer based in Los Angeles. He started his career at the age of 19 in San Francisco and celebrated his 21-year mark last October. All this, and he doesn't look a day over 39. Lesko is also the owner of Blinkbid Software, estimating and invoicing software for photographers.



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