My friend Matt Stauss is currently driving across the country to take another photography job. He’s worked all sorts of photography jobs, most recently in the Coldwater Creek photo studio. For selfish reasons, I am unhappy that he is leaving. That guy is a true gentleman, which carries over into his on-the-set demeanor.
I modeled for Matt all of twice; once for about 20 minutes and once for a few hours. I was curious how it worked, so I volunteered for a project, and he asked me back to do something longer. I am inexperienced when it comes to modeling, although I’ve been doing it since before I could talk insofar as I was used to seeing myself become the subject of my mother’s drawings and paintings. In the photo studio, however, things are different than they are during life drawing. In both, you might be asked to turn so the light hits you better, but in life drawing, you then hold the pose for endless minutes, whereas in the fashion studio, you hold it only as long as it takes for the shutter to snap. And then you do something else. And since there’s less artistic license involved, there’s typically more demand for personality, texture. Range.
I was keen to see the results of our labors. I knew roughly the mood he wanted to create; the lighting and background were a big clue. You want something more polished and flattering, you go for different angles than if you want something stark. Just because you’re in a fashion studio, that doesn’t mean you’ll look hot. There were no wind machines, no beauty techs, no art director; there was just me, the stuff I pilfered from my closet, a background, some lights and diffusers, a good camera (attached to a large computer), and Matt. Any way you looked at it, it was going to be a little stark.
So when Matt showed me the photos, I cringed over some, grinned over others, and was conflicted about almost all of them. For one thing, I had all the warring influences in my head critiquing his work — and mine; mostly mine. It went something like this:
The female: I can’t say I look really beautiful in any of these. You can see wrinkles and imperfect muscle tone. I need to do more yoga and consume fatty acids.
The photographer: But the imperfection is kind of the point. The side lighting, that’s going to highlight human reality, creating something dramatic and emotional. I appreciate how, with minimal makeup and change in expression, these look so different.
The magazine editor: Do they look different? Or do they look the same? My head is usually turned towards to my right, which makes the right eyebrow look abbreviated. The stool there is too pale for the rest of the photo.
The writer: Dress and velvet jacket made in the 1940s by my grandmother; my uncle’s blazer from the 1960s; my own plaid shirt from the 1990s. All kept in the family for a long time. That tells a very detailed backstory for a simple collection of photographs.
The artist: I want to paint that composition of me in the white skirt. I am not beautiful, but the photo is beautiful.
The Idahoan: That’s right. I’m 30 in these shots. And I do what I want.
But, overarchingly, I was happy to have worked with him on creating them. It was comfortable, and interesting, and well worth the effort. Safe travels, Matt, and may you rise to the level of your considerable talent.