Brains Before Beauty by Hollis Ireland

Photo by Christopher C. Pickrell


This article was featured in issue #8 of Sinical Magazine. Print copies can be ordered here.


The niche of alternative modeling is an odd market to navigate. Somewhere between the vague categories of art and porn, it’s not a business that can truly be defined. Aspects of horror and fetish culture, gothic art, and even a bit of mainstream beauty, albeit of the “neu” sort, come together to form an odd hybrid of small industry and popularity contest. Like any place of work, the artist’s studio (or, in the case of a model or photographer, hotel room or abandoned building) can be a wonderful and terrible place to work depending upon the attitude of the collaborators. Unlike most places of work, however, the world of models and photographers is an open market, and can be pursued by anyone, for better and for worse. The lack of a job interview or background check opens doors for both undiscovered talent and less-than-business-like intentions. The experiences had while working as an alternative mannequin or photo-taker are unique to the niche, which is a far cry from the more selective, closed industry of mainstream, commercial agencies. Our little, underground world of professional weirdos is rather eyeopening and testing. While the positive experiences are usually fulfilling, both artistically and professionally, the negatives should be a call for outrage.

For the past 6 years, I have worked as an alternative, nude model. I modeled part-time while finishing college, and then I made the jump to full-time after realizing that I wasn’t ready for a 9-to-5 after graduation. The job offered professional freedom, the opportunity to travel, and a chance at financial independence, which is something my classmates couldn’t seem to find while navigating the more typical career market. Most of my experiences were good, some were nothing short of wonderful, and the rest were enough to drive me to make the decision to work towards a different occupation in the New Year. The rate of burn-out is high because there are too many individuals, models and photographers alike, who seem hell-bent on turning a great underground market that is full of opportunities for creative minds into a sleazy, back-alley-type business. From tales of photographers asking models for sexual favors to models almost asking for ill treatment through their lackadaisical actions, the lack of professionalism has always astounded me.


Photo by Christopher C. Pickrell

What bothers me the most, and what truly inspires me to write this column, is the lack of outrage among all involved. Why are flaky, unintelligent models with attitudes that would get a fast food worker fired consistently hired? Why are photographers who ask for sex acts and conduct themselves in a less-than-business-minded manner allowed to remain with their reputations practically unscathed? And why are those who choose to “rant” about these inconsistencies few and far between? I write because those questions don’t have answers; because some refuse to even ask such questions and simply accept the niche for all it brings. To quote a rather cliché statement by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “Well-behaved women seldom make history,” and although I doubt I’ll change the course of the entire alternative modeling business, I can at least hope to inspire the dialogue that might incite change. I feel passionate towards the creation of art; towards the opportunities presented that aren’t available in a mainstream industry.

The alternative niche allows those whose voices might otherwise be silenced to find an outlet, and that is why I believe we can come together to work towards a better professional environment. More of us just need to be willing to speak out against the abuse of the modelphotographer relationship. We need to take a stance against perverts masquerading as business professionals, and push the abusers out of the industry. When there is an incentive to be honest and ethical, anda disincentive to treat our co-workers and clients with disrespect, I believe creativity and passion can finally thrive.


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