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