Photo by Rob Butler, Bellbrook, Ohio.
Written by Hollis Ireland. This article was featured in issue #10 of Sinical Magazine. Print copies can be purchased here.
Three years ago, after graduating from college with my Bachelor’s, I chose to pursue modeling full-time in lieu of a more traditional job at the bottom of the career ladder. Discouraged by the flailing job market, I realized I would be much happier creating my own success and opportunities. Like any profession, modeling has proven to be full of high and low points in direct relation to the effort I exerted (and being the fickle niche that it is, sometimes in opposition to my efforts). Unlike most professions, though, it appeared that the older and more skilled I became, the fewer gigs I was able to book. A career is, by Merrian-Webster’s definition, “a field for or pursuit of consecutive progressive achievement, especially in…professional, or business life.” By traditional standards, the more years I spent as a model learning the business ropes, improving my posing and styling skills, and improving my means of interpersonal communication, the more I should have been sought-after and hired for more prominent roles with better pay. However, the opposite seemed to be happening. The more I toured any given area, the less willing those with whom I had already shot were interested in hiring me, and the older I became, the more I saw myself losing opportunities to younger (looking) women. On top of all that, I saw myself losing gigs to models I knew to have awful reputations. Though many of these occurrences weren’t at all surprising given the nature of modeling in general, I quickly realized that I needed to begin searching for other job options if I didn’t want to see my work load, and thus my ability to support myself, fall downhill.
Though it depends upon how well a woman ages and how much popularity she acquires (and notice I said “acquires,” not “earns”), I often question whether modeling is truly a career. Some are able to continue into their 30s and 40s, and some are phased out before reaching 29, and often the reasons have nothing to do with each woman’s drive to succeed or behavior as a professional. Even if a model is beautiful, reliable, and skilled, she can easily be passed over for an untrustworthy, amateurishly-behaved flake who happens to be younger, in literal age or just in her appearance, and/or more technically popular. Age and appearance are no doubt important to a niche job based upon looks, but it’s not the inevitabilities of such a job that I’m questioning; it is whether or not this is the sort of job a woman should even attempt to pursue for a living without having a more diverse background as an escape route when time takes its toll.
The biggest problem I’ve had with my current line of work is the amount of professionalism that often goes ignored. A smart woman will look at herself as more than just a mannequin, but often the industry does not recognize this. Freelancing takes a decent amount of brains, entrepreneurship, and a good but realistic attitude. Simply calling oneself a “model” underscores all that goes into booking a gig: appropriate conversational conduct, clear communication about shoot details, a comfort in negotiating payment, and the simple but often overlooked ability to keep one’s appointments in line. Posing for the camera is only half of the work, and models don’t get paid to answer emails and sit in front of computers like typical office workers. Instead of looking at myself as just a “model,” I see myself as more of a “freelance photo shoot coordinator and manager,” but unfortunately that doesn’t seem to matter when a more well-known girl happens to be touring the same area as I. It’s frustrating to know that having experience, a good track record, and a polished portfolio don’t earn bookings as well as a lengthy resume and great references can earn a coveted position for a job seeker in another field.
As a staple of the mainstream working world, resumes, past job references, and cover letters are of utmost importance in securing employment. Modeling portfolios, networking, and photographer reference lists technically serve the same purpose in our niche. However, I find it disturbing that even when a model’s poor reputation precedes her, she can still obtain a high level of demand. What many models either fail to realize or self-deny is that the types of unprofessional behaviors that are forgivable in the eyes of a photographer will lead to being fired in a more typical setting. How can an honorable worker find true success in such an environment? If models had bosses who could fire them for flaking, horrendously late arrivals, unpreparedness, and unsuitable workplace behavior, some of the most popular names in the industry wouldn’t exist. The conduct of such models couldn’t have earned jobs in fast food or convenience store retail, so why are these women still booking work over more reliable yet less industry-famous professionals? And how did these models become so popular with photographers and fans in the first place with such atrociously unprofessional attitudes? In a true career field, proficiency earns recognition and a chance to advance to higher pay and a better position, even if such earnings take a while to achieve. I’ve watched countless, business-minded models, including myself, lose work to women that would be much further behind in another career. To say I find this frustrating is an understatement, and it’s one of the main reasons why I’m pining for a better work environment. The situation becomes even more confusing when one considers the lack of action towards such incompetent workers from other models and photographers. Most work environments naturally reject those that are unreliable and immature in their business dealings. Poor behavior usually leads to negative consequences from fellow employees and superiors, yet models with an eye-catching look receive almost no reprimanding, loss of bookings, or ostracization from peers and clients. Though undeserved advancement is not a concept exclusive to the independent modeling and photography community, such asinine behaviors are bound to be inescapable without intervention and action from those who hold the future of the industry in their hands: the artists.
Unfortunate but true, models have never been considered to be the most intelligent, hard-working types of individuals in popular opinion in the first place. Every very single time a girl flakes on or shows up hours late to a gig, acts like a snob on set, or refuses to clearly communicate with a client, she enables that negative stereotype and serves an injustice to every driven female trying to make her living through photo art. Even when an independent model chooses to pursue a righteous path, her efforts can often be fruitless thanks to the countless number of photographers and models that do nothing to attempt to curb such behavior. When a model finally achieves her desired level of success, she can usually look forward to watching younger and/or greener girls climb up the ladder as she is forced to climb down. Photography is a kind of art that the world could not do without, and it would be disappointing and devastating if there were no models to aid these artists in creating. The negatives of any given environment are rarely a reason to fully withdraw from the beauty it can also hold. It would be an illogical shame to dismiss the entire photo art genre in light of a few bad eggs. However, if we are to maintain the production of great art while enabling the careers of talented, virtuous creators, our professional standards need to be raised. We can’t always alter the expected nature of an industry, but that is no excuse not to improve upon what can be changed. |
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