Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Full-Figured Models?

Awhile back I was asked on a meet-up, what my policy was on full-figured models. I’m sure I did the dumb Ben Carson slow-blink a couple of times as if I forgot how to speak or what planet I was on. I felt better about it later because I soon realized that no one is as dumb as Ben Carson except for maybe his parents for spawning that vile imbecile. But it did take me a moment to understand the question as I’d never been asked that before. So what is our policy on full-figured models?

The policy is that we don’t have a policy on full-figured models. I replied to the model, “I wasn’t aware that we needed one.” She went on to explain that the Helios portfolio and specifically the published models tend to lean strongly toward very lean, very fit, very athletic physique-types. Well I can assure everyone that that is not by design. It is more than likely by chance. You see, we just find whoever is qualified for a look or style of photography we’re shooting at that time. I never pay any mind to who the scout is sending me but more on that model’s ability to do the look; her commitment, her enthusiasm, her personality and her talent. We’ve never cared what her dress size is unless we anticipate getting clothing for her or having something made. I seldom even ask height unless it’s necessary for how I’m composing the image later. We generally get everything we need to get from her model portfolio specifications (everyone calling themselves a model should have one) and/or our face to face interview/casting. 

On the other hand, if this is a full-fledged Helios magazine submission event and it’s a all-hands-on-deck affair, we’re gonna want to know everything; every detail. But that’s not in any attempt to type-cast or shut someone out. It’s more of an attempt to insure that what we do get and what we decide to shoot is well suited for the model’s body type. 

What we will not do is to make some special accommodations to overcome how a model feel’s about his or her own body. That’s personal. Those are his or her own insecurities that must be faced. Our changing what I want to do to make you feel better about yourself isn't our responsibility. That’s another personal responsibility. If you’re simply unqualified for what we have planned and those qualifications are never based on your body but more on your ability and your creative malleability then that’s just tough luck. Now if a client commissions us to shoot a model for a size 2 gown then we will go find a size 2 model. But that also applies to any other size model. We have no strong disposition toward anyone. Now if you’re a freckled-faced Ewok and you’re trying to get me to shoot beauty shots for free so you can submit images to Neutrogena to get a modeling gig then we’re gonna have a problem. Someone may find that beautiful but it’s not likely to get you far. Some things can’t be changed. You simply need to go to someone that caters to the Ewokian (is that a word?) sense of beauty. 

Even as I write this my stomach churns as it sounds more like an attempt by me to defend what we shoot and how we shoot. That is not the goal here. The goal is simply to say if you’re qualified, if you’re paying, if you’re available, if you’re talented and/or suitable to what is being sought then we’re game. There is no policy on body-type being for or against anyone (my stomach turns yet again). Yet, what we have noticed is that those so-called “lean, athletic and stereotypically runway body-types gravitate to us.” That’s not exactly our fault and I make no apologies for that. The truth is, never in the entire history of Helios did we ever get many full-figured model shoot requests paid nor unpaid. Could that simply be because they themselves feel inhibited, shy or maybe fearful of judgement? I don’t know. That’s not for me to say. I can’t know how someone feels about themselves. I’d always hoped for a more diverse port when I first started out but I have what I have and we’re very pleased with it. 

At first I was offended by the question from that model. I soon got over it because after looking back through all of my work I can see how someone might think that. Oh, “Helios only wants hot, lean girls.” Uhhh, who doesn’t? That is, if you think lean, athletic girls are hot I guess. Personally, I think anyone that is qualified to meet the criteria of the look is hot - whatever that may be. That’s just us. I do believe this particular model was projecting her experiences from other people onto Helios. I get that. She may have been turned away a few times for less than legit reasons and I can empathize with that.   

This isn’t the only question of it’s type to rear its head over the years. We’ve gotten the emails saying, “you don’t shoot enough African models.” A week later we’ll get, “you don’t shoot enough Caucasian models.” Or, “where are the Asian models?” “Why don’t you shoot more red-heads?” They never stop to think that maybe Asian models never came to a casting or a meet-up. Maybe African models aren’t interested or maybe Caucasian models aren't that plentiful. We don’t know. Maybe because we were shooting swimwear at the time and redheads don’t generally do a lot of swimwear due to skin sensitivity maybe? Ever think of that? Just guessing here. Or maybe there were no French models that wanted to shoot glamour at that time. We can’t chase every theory and we will never try to. This is a matter of you can’t please everyone all the time. 

The next time you think that Helios doesn’t shoot Ghanian models, male models, Iranian models, Spaniard models or French models, full-figured models, older models, short models, blondes, natural hair, Canadian models, etc; go back thru our pics. If you don’t find enough of the models you think should be there, then step up or shut up. It’s that simple. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Why Aren't You More Well-Known?

“Why are you not more well-known? Your work is extraordinary. You have impeccable taste and quality as well as a profoundly strong sense of style.” While I genuinely appreciate the compliments, it’s not how I really regard what we do or how we do it. In short, I’m just not that vain. My wife may humorously disagree with the latter :)

Now it doesn’t mean I do not know my value. I know what we bring to the creative table. I know what such a thing as a photoshoot of the quality and level that we bring cost. It’s not exactly cheap but it’s far from inexpensive. It’s an incredible value for the product that comes from it. We don’t cheap work, we do incredible, timeless work. 

But more to the point of being “well-known.” The truth is I have a lot going on. I’m a marketing professional, a graphic designer and a photographer. It’s no one thing. Consequently, I have many projects going on that doesn’t always allow me to focus solely on fashion or glamour photography. I wish I could do that and only that. But a guy like me in a place like this… well… I have to wear more than one hat. The bottom line is that I’m busy. So when I do decide I’m gonna do a photography project I take it very very serious. I don’t want to waste time and more importantly I want to do it well. 

Additionally, I have a profound belief that after a certain point in one’s career, your reputation has to carry you. I know I’ve been negligent in parading myself around and doing what I consider “prostituting” myself in front of socialites, nightclubs and events passing out my business card. I know that’s where the people are. But in many ways that approach seems so disingenuous. It’s very much not like me. When can the quality of the work speak for itself? I continue to feel that if you want Helios then you want HELIOS and there will be no substitutions. The calls or messages we tend to get are often someone that has been referred or they've followed quietly for a time and finally decided to make that first contact. That means they KNOW what they want and they studied us. They looked for quality, style, consistency, professionalism and taste. 

I’m not vain nor naive. I know I have to get out there more. People are constantly on us like, “why don’t you move into the city?” Why don’t you come to Seattle more? or your name should be more prominent around here. Let me introduce you to a few people.” I need to be more active promoting and marketing. I know this because I have a million formal degrees in marketing and decades of experience. I get it. But I’m so dang busy doing so many things for other people. But if someone (a model in this case) is willing to wait for us and meet-up to consider the prospect of something then maybe just maybe there is a chance something may come of it. 

Photography and even design in this region are both areas where there is gross over-supply. There are alternatives. I encourage people to look around and if Bill’s Glamour Shop or Debbie Glam-Cam Photo gives you what you want then go for it. Isn’t that the beautiful thing about this photography market? Don’t like this guy then go with that one. There is always someone else. I love this business. Over supply doesn't scare me. In fact, I embrace it because I know that when someone calls Helios, it means that they've bypassed a dozen alternatives. It means they've done some research. It means they KNOW exactly what they want and what they're getting. I’m not trying to make myself hard to find. But I do believe there is some merit in not overly saturating myself with a plethora of false starts and wannabes. 

Chances are I don’t want that crowd. They don’t want HELIOS; not really. They want a fast track, short cut and some quick pictures for Instagram and a way to get more friends of “likes” on Facebook. They can’t or wont appreciate the attention to detail, the style nor the subtle nuances that make you look and go “WOW!” We’re not a production shop where everyone looks the same and there is no genuine adaptation to your specific taste. We don’t do clone photos or design that you can and will get everywhere else. I like to know who I’m working with. I want to know if people see and understand my value. If they don't then that’s fine. But there is a chance I’m just not their guy. Therefore, when I’m interviewing someone at a meet-up, we both have an obligation to determine if we’re a good fit for one another. Sure, I’m interviewing you but you’re also interviewing me. We’re not obligated to do anything. It’s also okay to say “NO, this isn’t what I expected.”

Hmmpph? “Not well-known you say.” Well not as well known as some think I should be at least. You may not see me at all the events smiling and shaking hands with people I don’t know. But if I’m genuinely interested in a cause or an event I’m going to be there giving my full self to it. Otherwise, what is one more photographer begging for attention in this over-crowded field? What’s one more “Jim’s Pin-Up” snapping photos from the edge of the runway anyway? What is that worth to you? Would it make a difference to you to see me there or would you much rather see what I can do for you specifically? What of you coming to meet to have a frank and open discussion about your wants, needs, wishes, style, taste and preferences? Isn’t that worth more to you? Furthermore, if a few miles drive is too far then you don’t want Helios type of quality or attention. You want anyone with a camera. But I’ll drive a hundred miles or more for something that’s important to me. I’ll go from one end of Washington to the other if I know that single pair of Prada men’s shoes I’ve been wanting will be there in my size and the clerk is holding it for me. I’ll drive that far if a photographer that is willing to talk to me face to face and find out what interests me and take the time to listen to my concerns before we shoot will do so just to insure my expectations and theirs are met.

You may or may not see the company name on a huge Billboard. I haven't decided that yet. But to be frank, I like the idea of my name being mentioned in whispers and shared among only the best of the best models and agencies. “You can’t have his number unless you want the best of the best results from the best photographer.” “He or his stylist will want to meet you for an interview first if you want a collaborative project. If you can’t do that then don’t bother.” That appeals to my sense of “weeding the herd” thinking. Its a another way to cut out the riff-raff. Now if you’re one of those that feel that I’m not THAT good then guess what? You have so many other options and need not bother. Isn’t photography and modeling a beautiful thing? There are so many options. Yet, none of them are created equal. 

I didn’t plan it but in many ways this one to one even rarer collaboration thing has now evolved into a kind of private club I think; at least my collaborative projects have. They’re like invitation only or referral only membership. This isn't the proverbial “Fight Club” type of privacy. I’m not hiding. In fact, it’s just the opposite. We’ll work with anyone that prefers quality over quantity, and anyone that doesn’t mind my relaxed and yet obsessive thoughts and opinions about style. As some of you know there is that almost debilitating thing I have about being on time and the fact that forearm hair weirds me out. Just because I feel a french manicure is better than anything and nude pumps should actually be a nude color that matches your specific skin-tone and the fact you didn’t bother to know that is tantamount to killing puppies.

Maybe this clears up some questions about the "well-known" aspect and probably raises a few others. You can always ask us right here. Thank you all for continuing to follow and share your thoughts and showing a genuine interests in photography, design and art in general.