I have been privileged to specialize in the photography of the female form. This has been a central feature of my photographic, professional and family life. There has been a succession of models. Most have come to my photography by word of mouth, or by access to a network of family friends. Some drifted into modelling for me as part of their transition from school to young adulthood having heard of me and my work from their friends. Some asked to model as they saw what I did as compelling, creative and offered them an expressive outlet – a break from the grind of study or as an opportunity to respond to or engage with ideas. The creation of a web site has helped too in attracting interest in my work.
Again, some models came to work for me simply because I asked them, when I showed them some work and outlined the principles upon which my work was based. Some I wanted to work with saw my work but decided not to do so. It was not for them. A few took their time making a decision. In one instance, close to a decade passed by, before she finally agreed to work with me. The wait was worthwhile. It was just before Christmas 2012 and we had just met socially. As I was heading off I casually said, “would you like to come and do some work for me in the studio – you will be wearing a mask.” To my surprise and delight, she agreed and the images that were created figured prominently in an exhibition in 2013. Well worth the wait.
Most of the models have become firm family friends. The studio photography is essentially an outshoot of this connection with family. It is this sense of growing together that is very important for the type of work and the process I follow. I call it incrementalism. That is, we take an idea and over a series of shoots progressively test, review and revise the material until we get close to the previsualised goal – the agreed outcome. For the most part it is non-threatening and rarely confronting. I cannot do this work; achieve this level of intense collaborative creativity, with one or two studio sessions. The ideas have to be worked. The idea is allowed to evolve. Often, the work is re-visited after a break for a while to see if it has grown.
I never photographed any of my students. This would not have been appropriate even though some volunteered to do so. However, a small number of ex-students with a shared passion for photography came and worked with me, over the years and in various guises. A smaller number worked with me in the studio long after their student days. By then they had become friends. They had become the source of inspiration for what I wanted to say with my camera and its studio. Having models that are photo literate as these folk were makes the task so much easier.
The relationship between photographer and model, I am told, can be vexatious. However, this has not been my experience. There have been many models. A small number have stayed with me and explored the art, the craft and the creative dimensions of photography for more than a decade. We have grown up and evolved as people via the camera and the lens. It has been a wonderful journey of mutual discovery and learning. These models became friends of my wife and myself. Long after our shooting life has concluded they remain part of our family. They visit, show or share with us their latest adventure. Some now are married, or, are in a relationship, have children or on the first steps of significant and substantial careers. A number have moved overseas but thanks to the ‘net’ we can keep in touch.
From time to time a model evolves into a special character that moves from simply a photogenic and expressive person to one that contributes to the creative process in diverse and often unexpected ways. When this happens it is a special moment. They are no longer a model, they have become a muse. That is, they become the source of or convey the inspiration for the making of an image. At this point, the studio life evolves from a model expressing and communicating ideas derived from external sources such as myself to one where the source of creativity, of inspiration comes from them. It might be a gesture, an anecdote, a dramatic or special moment in their life, a news event, or an emotional experience they are comfortable sharing. It can be something as accessible as a piece of music they bring into the studio because it encourages relaxation, movement, expression, gesture or contains audio symbols that become part of an image. Inspiration can be something as simple as a new hair do, a piece of jewellery, a new dress or a book they are reading that contains material they relate to and seek to share.
What frequently amazes me is the richness of life’s experiences these folk bring to the studio. It is all so different to when I was their age. With few exceptions the models within a few sessions are happy to discuss, negotiate and collaborate about themes, ideas that folk my generation might find confronting or challenging at the very least. I like their openness, their balanced worldview, and their willingness to think through a problem and to experiment with modes and ways of expression until ‘they’ get it right. It is inspiring. The key to this is trust. Mutual trust. It is about honesty and openness, about not being judgmental, to be prepared to listen, to volunteer an opinion, to exchange or share anecdotes derived from parallel experiences. My studio work with the figure is relational. I could not pursue this work with someone I did not relate to, have a genuine affection for and where there was not a high level of mutual respect. So, it can be hard work, building a rapport. It takes time and effort and consistent respectful communication. Being professional.
Most of my models have been represented in exhibitions here and internationally, some have gone on to do other forms of modelling – usually fashion. Most have been represented, with their prior agreement on my web site and or workshop material. None of the work is ever exhibited or published without their prior permission. This is very important to me.
A smaller number have taken up photography and at least one of them is a very successful photographer in her own right. She claims she learned all that she needs to know for her professional practice from watching me working with her in the studio and asking a lot of questions!
The muse has this status whether they seek it or not. One of the most rewarding starting points are those models that have seen an image they like and they bring it to the studio to discuss…. this discussion leads on to experimentation, various interpretations and finally a level of expression that bears no relationship to the initial inspiration. The image became the basis for an idea, for the challenge of working through what was intended and then its ultimate representation.My studio life working with the figure is coming to an end. It is time to move on. There are other things to say, to share, and to do. It is not a decision I relish but it is a reality that all good things, really wonderful things must come to an end. Travel beckons once again.
However, as I look back on a long career as a photographer, educator and consultant the most joyful moments are those special times in the studio when, often without warning, it all comes together and my muse glows with the inner light of her beauty and her intellect. Serendipity. Precious.