Good models, whether you are photographing them, sketching them or posing them for a sculpture are an invaluable resource.
Occasionally I am asked why I have such good luck with finding and working with models. Over the years I've been fortunate to have had many fantastic models grace my art. They were not always easy to find. I am very demanding of my models. They must be ready to listen, contort, focus, block out distractions and expose themselves.
A new model not only has to sit through an orientation, but they receive a printed list of instructions a mile long. They must be ready to have lights glaring in their eyes, costumes placed on their bodies and probably ripped off later and paint slathered upon their skin.
Above all they must be patient.
If I am lucky, I am able to work with the same model several times. Each time is a little better because we both know what to expect.
Over the years, there have a been a few models that stood out as something more. They became good friends and not only did they model for me over decades, but I also became their personal photographers, going to events they were part of and getting a chance to be a part of their art, as they were a part of mine.
One of the tools I use in assessing a model is psychology. I've found over the years that if I understand the psychology and the background of a prospective model, I am able to create art that has a much deeper emotional impact. Don't get me wrong. I am not psychoanalyzing a model. But during their initial orientation I am asking questions about the models life that helps me understand them on a more personal level. I am learning about their interests, their fears and their motivations in a subtle way that allows me to become more attuned on a personal level with that person.
One of my favorite examples is a gentleman who came to me from an ad I'd run who was not anywhere close to what most artists or photographers would ever consider for modeling. He was in his 50's. He was emaciated and care worn and wrinkled. But I liked him immediately. There was something about his personality that stood out. In the course of the orientation I found out some pretty amazing facts about him. First he was an AIDS survivor from a period of history where it usually resulted in a death sentence. He'd been part of an experimental group which kept him alive through the worst of it. Second he was a two time cancer survivor. The fact that he was still alive was, I admit, an amazement to me. He was also gay and a devout Jew with a reverence for his ancestors. He showed me a tattoo he had across his chest which showed the ID numbers for seven members of his family who had died in the Holocaust.
Now that is a lot of baggage.
Why did he want to model for me? It was personal. There was a need in him to be memorialized in some way before it was too late. All other facts about his life he gladly shared, but the simple fact was that he wasn't sure he had a lot of time left was crucial to understanding the psyche of this particular model. Time was the enemy even though he'd survived this long. He only modeled for me once, but the impact of those images is still with me each and every time I see them.
So for me the most important aspects of a good model are not looks, measurements and a hot ass. They are psychology and rapport and emotion. Without understanding the model, I couldn't attempt to capture who he was. Without rapport before and during his session, I couldn't hope to stay in the right mindset to find what I really needed from this model. Without emotion, both in him and in me, I couldn't even come close to bringing that emotion into the art.
A lot of emerging artists and photographers say they don't have time or training to look at a model in that way. Its easier to judge by what the eye see's, not what the mind comprehends. But I am telling you that if you choose a model just based on a pretty face, there will be an aspect of your art that is totally missing.
Never forget that art is about emotion whether as a photo or a painting. A pretty picture evokes very little emotion. It might look good in my living room, but that's about it. Once its hung the world goes on and few people ever pay attention to it again. But a piece of art that can evoke emotion in the viewer goes beyond that pretty picture.
Bringing out that emotion is what we do. If we choose models based on aesthetics alone, then the job of bringing out emotions in that model is infinitely more difficult. But if we choose our models based on more than just beauty, then we become the masters of the emotions we wish to bring forward. We are not making up emotions to fill the void.
Sure, the average viewer will never know the details that went into the psychology of choosing that particular model for your work. But they will see the results when they look at the image. They may not understand it consciously but on a subconscious level they will get it and they will match those emotions to their own. Not everyone can understand a pretty face because we are all different. But everyone can understand emotions. Its who we are. If you models lack any emotional depth, then they are just another pretty picture.
One last piece of advice. Remember that there is more to your model than just their face. Take time to look at their whole form, hands, feet, arms, back. Where are the strongest physical points of your model. What stands out. You may miss something if you just focus on the face.
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