Thursday, September 17, 2009

Musings about Models

I've had some interesting conversations with people lately about models and modelling and selling my work.  I'd like to share them in a stream-of-consciousness way.  Please comment if you have thoughts about this subject.  I'm intrigued by it presently.

My models are doing me a favor by modelling for me.  What do I owe them in exchange?
I give them copies of the photos.  I hope they have a lovely experience being seen and that they learn more about themselves.  I hope they learn to accept their bodies more than they did before.  I hope they have fun.  I hope they feel enriched.

Here's what my husband wrote me in an email today after he and I talked about this this morning:  A friend of mine had emailed me to ask how I would feel about photographing her and said some lovely things in her email.    
"What a lovely reminder about why you’re doing this.  The beauty of your art is that you manage to convey the sentiment of women in the images you portray: acceptance as opposed to denial…opening as opposed to contracting…standing proud vs. shrinking out of fear…attending to the nurturing, goddess-nature within instead of the critical, denigrating voices from without.  That’s the resonance of your work."          Chris

A couple of my models have been too uncomfortable with their photos to have me paint from them.   

Most of my models have me take the photos then don't really care what I do with them.

I told someone I might be selling a piece and she asked me if the model was OK with that.  I told her that the model was welcome to buy the piece, but if she didn't want to, then it's my prerogative to sell it.  I'd be in a real bind if I were to paint paintings then have nothing I could do with them because the models didn't want me to sell them.  Hopefully we figure that out before I paint them!  It raises an interesting question - what "rights" do I have?  What "rights" does the model have?  What responsibilities do we each have?

It's easier when the model is paid and it's a straight financial exchange.  In that case, the model signs a release and I have permission to do what I want to do with the photos.  The way I do it is not so black and white.  I've signed agreements with a few people.  For instance, one model doesn't want me to leave the photos on my computer hard drive.  Another one asked me to sign something saying I wouldn't publish them and that her name not be associated with them.  Some models don't want their faces showing.  Sometimes this is because they're professionals and don't want nude pictures of themselves out in the world.  Some women want their faces beaming out to the world and are proud to be out there like that.  Each person is different and has different thoughts and feelings about it.  I absolutely respect those requests.

When I painted men, none of these issues arose.  The guys modeled for me.  They were also friends.  I also gave them copies of the pictures in exchange for modeling.  They were curious to see what I came up with and many of them came to the show I did with them in it, but none of them bought the pieces, and I don't know that any of them gave it a lot of thought.

Except one man who wasn't sure about having me photograph him.  He wanted to, but he didn't want to tell his wife about it.  Not that there was anything between him and me at all.  Simply that he felt she wouldn't understand.  He and I wrote 30+ emails back and forth about the experience of being photographed.  He was around 50 and for the first time realized through looking at the pictures that his body was no longer 20 years old.  I think the picture I did of him evokes his new awareness.

I had that same experience when my husband photographed me the other night.  I enjoyed the experience of modeling, but it wasn't easy to look at the results.   He did a lovely job with the photographs - it wasn't that!  I just wasn't all that accepting of how I look.  I recently developed a roll of fat where I'd never had one before, and I didn't like looking at it in the pictures.  My wonderful husband talked about how beautiful he thinks I am and how authentic and genuine I look in the pictures.  All I could see was that roll of fat.  It was painful.  I think I'll have to paint one of them just to work through those feelings.  Yikes.

It's easier painting other people.

Painting the human figure is much more complex than painting a bowl of fruit.



  1. You know, it never occurred to me that the artist herself may have the same "I'm not perfect" painful feelings that a model may have. Thank you for sharing your own thoughts and emotions regarding your modeling experience. That somehow makes it okay for others to have similar "less than" feelings.

    We all live in the same world, and have to come to grips with the same media that promotes 'perfection'. You take the time to celebrate the perfection of reality. We're not used to it, seeing the beauty therein. But you bring it to our attention. This makes you one special lady and artist, in my opinion.

  2. Thanks for that. It's important stuff, this loving ourselves.