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Monday, September 1, 2008

The Real Next Top Model

Finding the next supermodel is the result of diligent work and plenty of model tests. It’s about much more than just a TV show.

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Next Top ModelSoon after my seventh or so year in fashion, I began to notice that my perspective of the world began to skew a bit. Perfectly normal, lovely people I met were subject to aesthetic scrutiny in my head as if they were being cast for a job. I tried to shake the critical voices, but when they persisted, I became convinced that I was destined to be a great discoverer of new modeling talent.

It was an embarrassing and expensive two years of shooting test shots of young women whom I thought had the “look.” I dismissed the first few misfires as a learning curve, but by the 15th or 16th presentation to a modeling agency of what I thought would be the next great face, I was advised to just focus on making beautiful pictures of the models who were sent to me.

A young girl who goes on to a successful career as a model needs to have more than just beauty. Recognizing the myriad of raw attributes that make up a potential model is an innate gift that, in spite of our natural visual ability, not all photographers have. To aid me in discussing what to look for in a person who would be identified as a potential model, I’m sharing the pen with one of the most iconic models of our time, Christy Turlington.

Beauty Is Only Skin Deep
Not all beautiful faces are meant to be models. If you come across a beautiful, tall, young girl, watch the way she holds herself. If she seems at ease in her body and in her walk, there could be potential. Great models know how to work the camera. Consider this: When you shoot, you’re only part of the equation. A fashion spread comes alive when all the parts—lighting, location, photographic talent and a model’s ability to convey a story through action—come together. A prospective model will exhibit her latent ability to move well in subtle ways. I can’t offer you a checklist, but after you’ve worked with some good models for a few years, you’ll have a gut feeling about them.

Personality And Beauty Go Hand In Hand

There’s shy, and then there’s really shy. During the years I was shooting model tests, I’d occasionally work with girls whose parents’ ambition for their modeling careers was far greater than their own. A photographer creates an atmosphere where a rookie model can bring her personality to the surface. But if the model isn’t one for extroversion, you have to be sensitive to that. Some girls break out of their shell much later in life than others. Trying to cajole someone into being someone they’re not has a boundary. Be aware of it. And please don’t ever say something like, “It’s a tragedy that a girl who’s ‘perfect for modeling’ isn’t working out in front of the camera.” Just because a young girl has a beautiful face and body doesn’t mean that she’s preordained to be a model. It’s a choice she has to be comfortable with.

Miss Turlington points out that although it wasn’t the case for her, many girls who want to be models do it of their own volition. “Many of my peers pursued their careers and, as a result, were maybe even more satisfied with their careers in the end,” she says.

On the other hand, some personalities are perfect for the fashion world. As Miss Turlington puts it, “Having a distinct personality can certainly set you apart from many beautiful young women who have yet to come into that side of themselves.”

These are the girls destined to quickly graduate from the local Sunday paper Macy’s ads to the international scene. Almost all of the models I’ve worked with have had wonderfully distinct and interesting personalities. And there was a precociousness that I think is helpful in dealing with such a crazy industry.


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