Leave it to me to coin a phrase that has zero meaning to anyone outside of the purview of those with an acute handle of high-brow vernacular; in other words, people who probably write too many words to say simple things that just don’t sound as good with little words. But in all seriousness I will take a moment to explain what this means as it pertains to different facets of art and the perception of art in general.
I can’t explain this concept without first going back to when I photographed fashion, beauty and art model Lauren Moon. For those lucky enough to have a copy of SIRCUS™ magazine Issue 10, I will not rehash just how wonderful she is. You will learn everything you need to know about visual conceptualization acuity just from seeing the pictures and reading our interview with her. For those not so fortunate, I translate the meaning as being able to disseminate complex ideas and concepts into executable and tangible reality.
We easily rank Lauren as the most intuitive models we’ve ever had the pleasure of photographing. She still has that title. With that said, let me further explain as briefly as possible how we work. This the abridged version. We have an idea. We create a storyboard. We write a few lines describing a scene and often make sketches as to how it may look. In Lauren’s instance I even had a dressed sketched and custom made by a designer and styled with a fashion stylist that went with the idea. I sketched out and listed the necessary props, worked with the stylist on accessories and shoes and then had several people included as to how the makeup and hair would be done to tie it all together. Over the course of weeks leading up to the editorial, everyone stayed in touch; briefly exchanging tweaks and corrections in the ideas as the day approached. When the day came, everyone was ready. Using visual cues and prints as I often do I take a few moments to bond with our model (Lauren), going over the story. I told her you’re an Empress. You’re privileged, beautiful and elite. You want to invoke a sense of entitlement and pompousness. I want you to be spoiled but prim. I want you confident but dismissive. I want you to be sultry and sexy but off-putting and yet desirable and insatiably alluring. I said it once, maybe twice and when she got into the perfect dress for Empress - once the makeup and hair was complete and done by MUAH Lindsey McAndrews, Lauren completely and totally immersed herself in the role. We wanted that... "I run this. I'm all that but I refuse to wear a crown because it makes me itchy (or it's too heavy)" kinda attitude.
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Model: Lauren Moon
"Empress" SIRCUS™ magazine Issue 10
You see, a perfect model is an actor; a chameleon. They are adaptive. They can intuit what the photographer needs. Lauren could see the story in the garment and makeup. Lauren could see the styling and understand what she was to become within the context of the whole idea. She understand likely sub-consciously how she should move in the clothing and how she should pose when she saw the color of it and the way it hugged her. Everything was done on-purpose. There were no accidents or guesses and Lauren transformed into an Empress right before our very eyes as we knew she could. That’s why we gave her the look. That’s why Lauren had so many looks in this issue. That is also why Lauren was the Cover Model. She has the most perceptive ability of awareness than anyone I had ever seen. It made her very easy to photograph. We glided through the shoot seamlessly and without worry. Everything worked beautifully.
A few short weeks later we concluded the remainder of the other looks with Lauren. We had a completely different MUAH (the incredible Dawn Dominick). Just like the first time Lauren excelled beyond anything we had ever witnessed. She brought the vision alive with a heightened perceptiveness and awareness of what the look required.
It’s not unlike when a sculptor says the statue was already inside the bronze before they carved it. They simply pull back the layers. It is not unlike the painter who perceives how the light falls across the subject before he even picks up the brush. It’s not unlike a fashion photographer or designer that can visually project a garment into a theme or scene even before they pick up a camera or sketch out a pattern.
Good models can take good pictures. Great photographers can take great photos. But to be truly spectacular one must transcend just wearing the clothes and just operating the camera. They must be able to project their will forward; to move their minds beyond what they see and embrace all that may not be immediately tangible. Lauren willed Empress into being. That’s pure skill. That’s natural ability and no one could have done it. She still has yet to understand how I cherished our shoot and everything that we created. It will remain one of our favorite sessions. In fact, every look with Lauren was equally captivating. It was very rewarding to see her manifest our concept in real time.
That is visual conceptualization in the most simplified way I can word it; with an actual example. Everyone can’t do it. Every model I’ve had simply can’t get into character and meld the clothes, the emotiveness and the posing into a synergistic whole. Lauren can and Lauren does. If I say be Barbie, Lauren embraces all that is Barbie the second she dons the clothing, the gets the big curly wavy hair and prissy pink perfectly fitted bodycon dress on. When we say be a Hampton socialite, Lauren laid casually back on a designer woven-back chaise, prim and poised like she owned the place. Then I said Lauren be Cotton Candy, she became teasing, playful, flirty and fun. She saw the storyboard, she saw the inspiration images and owned them as if she was in the moments and became those characters. That is how it’s done.
A lack of visual conceptualization acuity is why some of the most beautiful people you know aren’t great models. It is also why the most expensive gear owned by photographers do not produce great pictures. They’re clear, they’re crisp, they’re well lit but they have no soul, no character. They lack ambience, mood and feeling. These people struggle. They never make the connection that people like Lauren do intuitively and effortlessly.
When I consider taking on a new model I’m looking for those potentials. I want another Lauren. I want to know that at the very least this person has the fortitude to see it through. I need them to understand they’re not just wearing clothes or jewelry. They’re inhabiting a lifestyle. They’re emoting a feeling and a sense of being.
The next time you look at an image you can’t take your eyes from; the image you can’t get out of your mind. You see the model in the image, you see the light and composition of it and the garments. You see her expressiveness, her pose and you’re captivated by it. Then ask yourself why it works. Why does it captivate you so? It’s because you feel the image rather than see it. It stirs you because not only does the model wear it well, she is convincing you without a single word that she lives in that space - in that moment. You see fashion isn’t selling you a garment directly. They want to sell you a lifestyle. A perception of the person you will become by owning the garment. The most convincing artist makes you believe.
That my friends is visual conceptualization acuity.