Model ProtocolFriday, May 11, 2007
When I woke up today I remembered that May is the best month in the garden. This is the time when my hostas grow many inches overnight. You can see the change from one day to the next. The slugs and other pests have yet to do their damage and the plants look fresh, green and luscious. I also remembered that after months of nagging by my full-time-term students at Focal Point I am giving them what they wanted. This means that aroun 18 of them will feast their eyes (or will they do this in the sly?) on our two models (one male, one female) as we proceed with the nude portrait (that's what I call the course)class today for three hours. For many it will be a right of passage as they have not photographed nudes before. Even though I have done this for many years, the prospect of having a couple of brand new models for me is always like an early morning in the garden in May.
To make sure that the class goes smoothly I always distribute (a week before) what I call the model protocol to both my students and the models.
The Nude Portrait
About 23 years ago I photographed around 9 exotic dancers dressed as London Bobbies (cops). The resulting photograph was framed and was placed inside the Cecil Hotel. It may still be there next to the pool table. The photo imitated a large mural/painting of 9 Bobbies that at the time graced the wall of the hotel. When the women arrived to the warehouse where I took the pictures (a white brick wall was needed) they asked me where they could change. I had set up an area with a large sheet where they could do this. My assistant commented, “Why would they need a place to change. They are strippers, aren’t they? “
It is obvious that my assistant was horribly wrong and no further explanation is needed.
But some of us, particularly, when we are behind the camera forget that the person who is our photographic subject is a person, and to be repetitive, a human being. I am sure that my assistant had objectified the exotic dancers and it never occurred to him that they were women who valued their modesty and privacy when not working at their job.
A variant of being aware that our subject is a person should be our ability to put ourselves in their position. While we may not want to pose now or in the future either clothed or unclothed we should think, “Would I do this?” “Would I do it like this?” Why am I telling the model to relax? Could I do it (relax) if I were facing that camera and that big soft box?”
Models, even very good models cannot predict what a photographer may want. They can do this if they have worked with you before. You cannot expect them to do something while you wait to snap your shutter unless you give them the proper and courteous indication. Saying, “Please”, and, “Thank you, “is appreciated. If you cannot verbally explain the pose you want, you can step in (don’t touch!) and show the model how. My advice is to watch your models when they are relaxing during their rest periods as they will do things that come naturally.
You should not only provide your model for an area to change where they have privacy but you should also expect them to clothe themselves (there are a few that don’t!) when they are not posing for you. A cooling fan on hot days and a heater on cold days is most necessary. An area where the model has a mirror and a stool with table where they can apply makeup is nice to have.
It is my personal rule that I never touch my models, particularly when they are unclothed. The exception can be a stray hair that may cover an eye and I will sometimes use my pinky finger to move it out of the way.
Looking at your model, when not through the camera, should not be an obvious stare. Learn the way doctors do it. You look at them at eye level. Until you know your model well and you know about their sense of humour, or lack of it, you should never make any jokes about their body.
When I photograph anybody, clothed or unclothed, I don’t point out their physical demerits. If their face is too wide I narrow it with lighting. You don’t say, “You have a chubby face.” If the model has stretch marks you find angles where they don’t show. Unless your model wants you to document their body as it is (this rarely happens) it is your duty to make them look as good as you can and not blame your lack of lighting skills, bad equipment, or their body for your unsatisfactory picture. Unless you are really very good with PhotoShop, a Polaroid or the image on your screen will never look that much better.
In our class we should take as perfect a picture seconds before we press that shutter, be it film or digital.
Again I want to stress that you must respect a model’s privacy in the way you may show the pictures that you have taken. They should be seen only in your hard copy (as in one of those black books with plastic sleeves) and none of your photos should be posted on any web page be it a personal one or another type. If you wish to do this you must get permission in writing from your model.
Any model, and particularly the unclothed one, is in a vulnerable position when they face your camera. They trust you. Some models (if not most) will object to showing parts of their anatomy that they deem to be extremely private. When they pose for you, you may be in a situation to be able to photograph what the model does not want to show. It is your duty to move them until the pose is a correct one.
In the end it is more difficult to not show the external sexual organs of a male model. Male models will have different requests to that of female models. In our class sessions we will bring this up. In your own sessions, out of school with other models or friends, you should always bring up this sensitive area before you begin to shoot.
I always prefer to shoot without any kind of music, unless my model specifically requests it. I like to work in silence. The idea that the young thing in a bikini will remove her clothes, just because you offered her wine and play loud heavy metal music, only works on planet Jupiter. From the beginning you tell your model where the bathroom is and you should have plenty of bottled water. Alcohol always shows up on your model’s face and pot makes their eyes go red. And the last, often overlooked, recommendation is that models like to be given positive feedback on how they look in front of your camera and how they are taking to your instructions. Give them plenty of this stuff. They will warm up to it.