I am a professional model. When I tell people this, the eyes-rolls I sometimes get in response reflect a common thought How is that a job?
Clever kids are sent to law, medicine, engineering or business schools, not to dance, carpentry or glass-blowing ones. Even though clever kids will eventually become bored white-collars, perhaps even trapped in bullshit jobs, who will buy art and high-end craftsmanship, go to concerts, ballet and so on, either to show off their social status or to genuinely buy themselves some dream and soul in order to forget their moron boss in their shitty office. Once they get corporate-intoxicated enough, you often hear them claiming that music is not a real job, and yet buying a thousands-dollars Hi-Fi sound system.
Art is a career because there is a market. The next response I am usually asked: why a professional model and not just a hobbyist ?
You probably know the saying “go big or go home”. As you dive deeper and deeper into an activity you are passionate about, it starts taking an increasing amount of your time and investment. Basically, if I had to maintain another job alongside, that job would suffer from my modelling activity and would probably have to pay for it too. So, modelling is a full-time job just because it requires a full-time investment.
Rarely do I have the opportunity to break down what going big entails as a professional model, so here it is. As a freelancer, I work 45 to 60 hours a week. 15 – 20 % of that time is spent on actual shoots, in front of a camera. 35 to 45 % of my time is dedicated to the legwork of travel planning (including visa preparation and obtaining travel insurance), market researches, responding to emails, negotiations and background checks (on photographers) to ensure my safety. When it comes to travel, 10 to 15 % of my time is spent on transportation, literally sitting or riding from point A to point B, making it difficult to reduce the time on administrative routines due to improper or unreliable internet access and/or space to unfold a laptop. The remaining of my time is spent on development — I stay sharp and up-to-date on current art trends and past work by visiting as many museums, galleries, and exhibitions as possible wherever I travel — and portfolio updates - website maintenance and social media.
Every shoot begins with 45 minutes to one hour of body and hair care and make-up, which is touched-up roughly every two hours during shooting, or when I squeeze in a bit to eat or drink. One full make-up costs around 13 € in beauty products for every shoot, not counting any makeup retouch and the daily skin, hair and nails care. So, by the time the photographer and I are ready to work, I have already accrued two billable hours, at least 13 € in make-up and transportation fees.
Photographers cannot work from their imagination only, they need at least a subject to photograph. But oftentimes, they do not know exactly what they want either, so I fill in as an art director and provide ideas to create a story and adjust the setup. I am not short on crazy ideas and that is a part I enjoy very much.
More and more, as I gained experience and knowledge of photography over the years — as an art director — I am able to work with novice photographers and provide lighting and composition advice (lighting is an Achilles’ heel for most beginning photographers). My insight with photography also helps shape my body and face while retaining my natural complexion. It all goes toward communicating a certain feeling, mood or concept.
For shootings, I maintain an eclectic and colourful wardrobe that I update regularly with designer clothes as well as thrift store findings; and I regularly alter the clothes myself for fitting or embellish them with trimmings.
This is, in a nutshell, the added value you get when you hire a professional model to create your pictures. I am not only a model, a person posing for the camera: I am also an advisor, a secretary, an art director, a manager, a logistician, a make-up artist and a stylist. I provide make-up and clothing, ideas and create opportunities by travelling the world to meet artists.
I get to make art every day by collaborating with inspired and skilled artists wherever I go. That is the glamorous part of my work, and it is really what makes everything else worth it 🙂 .
In fact, I regard photographers as my clients, to which in deciding to work with them, I take financial risks by advancing treasury (flights and hosting are usually paid ahead of the booking deposits I ask) and I have to make strategic decisions based on ROI (return on investment), to ensure a fair and balanced fee between them and myself. Not to mention personalized client requests and budget ties, offsetting last-minute cancellations & flaking, overcoming unreliable public transportation networks, or (oh, I don’t know) maintaining work during a world pandemic 😉 .
The other aspect of dealing with photographers as clients is billing them. The billable hours written on a receipt have to account for certain deductions; and clients do not always understand that up to 75 % of my fee accounts for social insurance, travel and administrative time. I can only do so much to reduce this overhead. My rates are determined (calculated) on a case-by-case basis such that, after all expenses have been deduced from a bill, my actual net income may be at France’s minimum wage (now, isn’t that glamorous ?).
Also, when one calls a plumber, an electrician or a locksmith, there is an understanding that a trip charge may be applicable, in addition to any provided services. As a professional model, it is assumed my trip time is benevolence, no matter how far in the suburbs I need to get. And as I have mentioned (above), public buses and subways rarely allow any work to be done effectively during commuting. It is just not sustainable to lose working hours while travelling and not ask for compensation, but diplomacy is not always enough to convey this message.
In the past, I have witnessed some people getting uncomfortable when I speak about the detailed matters of professional modelling, because art and passion somehow are not compatible with the business world, or vice versa; and mixing them is like pouring cold water into hot grease. So, I often suggest this relationship to be looked at in a different way: business is what keeps the art going, by ensuring everyone gets enough income to stay healthy and to keep making art.
I never saw myself as a businesswoman. I studied art and sciences, fashion design and then beauty. Never business and administration. As I have been levelling-up in this area since two years ago, having burned out from overworking and not being able to make an affordable living, I have come to this realization: work needs to pay for itself and for the worker to carry on.
This mindset is difficult to enforce in a lot of art fields, where unpaid work has become standard and companies have made it a practice to exploit creators without compensation — except for visibility — and no means to even pay for food. Sorry, but I cannot eat my photos or my visibility. Everyone keeps working for free while waiting for the big breakthrough that will pay back for years of precariousness. This sick trend has gotten so bad that it now gives editors and clients a bullying power to bargain against paid work.
The only solution is for artists to respect themselves and their craft. Enough so as to enforce a proper living for creatives. Just like fair trade did for the food industry, to which customers are now willing to pay a bit more for chocolate and coffee, knowing farmers will get a decent wage in return, the art world needs to galvanize and set a uniform standard of doing business and creating quality work which the general public won’t mind paying for. It is simply not acceptable that some work gets paid if you climbed high enough up the food chain, while others are used without compensation because online magazines and social media provide ”free” content (which, by the way, they are not, watch out for advertising and private data reselling).
Art is not “useful” or utilitarian. It does not cure cancer (or Covid-19), yet there are spectators to enjoy it, so it still fills a void or fulfills a need, one way or another, and that means it has a market. Let us face it, if artists got as little as 1 € per Instagram subscriber per year, most of them would have at least their basic needs covered. So that market needs to be schooled about what fair use and consumption of art imply because it is simply wrong that hundreds of thousands of subscribers all over the internet still produce so little income that many models have now to strip-tease on OnlyFans.com to make it through COVID times.
Special thank you to Aurélien Pierre and Kelly Johnson for corrections and collaborative writing.
Photo : Walter Sans