Thursday, August 11, 2016

Memories Part IV - Modèle Vivant Extraordinaire

After I graduated from the university, I felt empowered. I began teaching Adobe Photoshop workshops at a chain computer store (not Apple) and then got a job in New York City working in a photography department for a dot com company that went belly-up after 6 months. After I was laid-off, I had a hard time again. I went on many job interviews for photo assistant jobs knowing I didn't want to assist most of the photographers I went to see. Needless to say, I wasn't hired.

In between the university, though, and the Photoshop gig, I photographed other artists' work for their gallery submissions, for pay. This was back in the days before JPEGs and CDs. I shot chromes of paintings, drawings and sculptures. One of those jobs was for a watercolor artist. After the shoot, we talked a bit and I told her the type of photography I was doing - self-portraiture.

A side remark: it was in the university that I was able to become brave enough to photograph myself and nude. My thesis project was called "She or Me?" - 20 x 24 inch color nudes that won me the aforementioned award of excellence. And here is a photo from that series:

Back to the watercolorist - we talked about my work and what I was trying to accomplish personally, which was to accept my body, myself. She asked me if I would ever consider modeling for an art class. I was hesitant at first but then I thought it made perfect sense to try as it was a part of the goal I was trying to achieve. In addition, I loved drawing the nude and the models I drew were great and to be able to do what they did would be pretty cool.

So, in 1998, I modeled for a group of artists at an evening atelier at the Nassau County Museum of Art. The woman in charge of the group was older and so were most of the artists...and they were serious as well so that put me at ease. In other words, I wasn't thrown into a group of young people that never drew a nude before (that came later!) So, I got up on the model stand, disrobed and began to pose. What surprised me is that I was a natural with the poses. I knew to turn in different directions so everyone got a front, back, side, etc. I also knew that I wanted to pose the way I wanted to be seen - as beautiful and graceful so I did just that. At the end of the session, I received an applause - something that apparently doesn't happen TOO often - and then was asked to come back. From that moment, I began getting phone calls from other ateliers and then I met a few art professors who used me for schools and so on. Soon after, and even when I wasn't working elsewhere, I was able to almost make a living from modeling as I was doing it for every art school and organization in Long Island, New York.

Over those years, I have some very fond memories. There was the time, early on in my modeling career that an older man came up to me with calipers to measure my head and it startled me as I was in a zone and didn't expect someone to do that. The instructor yelled at him that he couldn't do that and I wanted so badly to laugh. 

But one big memory that will stay with me forever took place around 2009. I was really not feeling so wonderful about my body. I lost a lot of weight at that point and the skin on my body was just hanging off me. I looked at myself with disgust because I felt like a science experiment. It was definitely an "ugly" day.  Honestly, there are days when I model, I need to be "on" but there are sometimes challenges like this.

I was posing for a beginning drawing class at Nassau Community College. It wasn't the first nor the last. The students that go to this college are generally made up of young adults from blue-collar backgrounds or from lower-income families so their exposure to the arts is usually limited. I say usually because there are students from other backgrounds, too but in a beginning class, the students are usually those of my previous statement. I walked in to a very full class and groaned as they were loud, noisy and being silly. I got ready and the instructor-  a dear woman I knew well - was teaching but wasn't their usual teacher. I groaned again knowing how students get when there is a substitute.

She lectured and gave them instructions on what to do for the gesture poses - the quick 1 or 2 minute poses that an artist/art student should do to warm up. After her lecture, she cued me. I sighed,  turned on my music, disrobed and began to pose for them. The class got very quiet which I was shocked at. Then the teacher told me she had to leave the room to go make some photocopies and if I was OK with that. I said I was because at this point in my modeling career, there was/is very little I was uncomfortable with. Still, as I mentioned, I wasn't feeling very good about myself but I tried to put those thoughts aside and listened to the music to get inspiration. I did my dynamic, graceful and beautiful poses that I do specifically for gestures. I was doing my last one when the teacher came back and when I ended, the students stood up and gave me a standing ovation AND cheered! I felt my face get warm and I became so full of emotion. I realized this was it. This was the reason I got into modeling. At the end of the class, I had male students say I was great (uh, in ghetto slang but it was respectful) and I had young ladies come up to me to tell me how inspired they were by me because if how accepting I was of my body....and if they had only known that day of what my thoughts were.

It's now 19 years that I am modeling. I started to get work here in France, mainly in Paris with a few suburbs thrown in. I have begun to get compliments from the artists here and at the end of last month, I modeled for an atelier in Paris who, at the end of the session, applauded me and told me how much they loved my poses.

I found my calling. I love my job. I am grateful for the inspirations and I am grateful to the woman that asked me all those years ago to model for that small atelier.
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