I ended my last post talking about finding a model and copying it, adapting it to your needs. I’ve been thinking a lot about that word “model” since then.
For my eleventh birthday my dad bought me a membership to the “Model of the Month” club. For one year I got a package once a month with a new model to build. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I learned a lot about the mechanical world by assembling engines made of plastic and tiny rubber hoses. Helicopters, cars, battleships, aircraft carriers, funny cars – I modeled them all. I’d dream about the real world and how these amazing machines were used.
For a school project on Vietnam I put together this paper mache landscape with a Huey Cobra flying over the top. The cloud to cover the coat hanger mount was the part my teacher went on and on about. I got a very good grade on that, and found that overall models were very good for me. They taught me a lot and got me an A in the sixth grade and that’s all right by me…
Then just the other day I heard that word again… on NPR I heard this line “So and So is the model of a compassionate doctor.” There it was, that word. but different. Now it’s not a smaller thing that represents a big thing – it’s a role model. It’s the very definition of something that I want to be… a goal to shoot for.
Which brings me to the most popular use of “model” – those images we see in our magazines. I think that meaning of “role model” seeps into us, and we look at those people, at their pretend lives, and we feel a restlessness with our own- we want a model life too! Those images breed discontent with our lives – make us want to buy something to fill the void that the model has actually opened up by being a model…
It’s crazy. Crazy I tell you.
I’ve worked with aspiring models for many years now – it’s more than making beautiful images of them, I get to know them… their fondest hopes and their terrifying fears. So many have this intense desire to simply be validated… and being in front of the camera gives that to them for a moment. Others use it unapologetically as an escape from the stress of life. In front of a camera it all goes away for a few hours.
I got to know Hali on Facebook. Her mom was my friend, her mom’s friend was my friend, and they both gushed about how beautiful this girl is. How I simply must shoot with her.
Then one day Hali’s mom posted a very sad status update. Hali’s fiance had passed away very suddenly and very unexpectedly. All of her plans for the future shattered in one phone call. Can you even imagine? My heart aches just writing about it. To love that deeply and have it torn away…
And then mom and mom’s friend talked her into a shoot with me. Just like that it was scheduled and I was… well I had no idea what to expect. I knew she was beautiful, but what would we talk about? What if I said something that made her cry? I was grateful for the chance to give her a couple of hours to shoot and think about other things, but I wondered what would happen in the gaps… the places where we weren’t shooting.
Hali is amazing. Those three words don’t even come close. The reality of who I met, of who I worked with that frigid day makes those words completely ineffectual.
There was no dancing around the touchy subject. Jonathan was spoken of by name, with pride and love and heartache. Tears would flow out of her beautiful eyes, and she would not try to hide them, she cried with strength… she seemed to embrace that reality, faced it. The tears would flow for a minute, and then would be gone and we’d move on with what we were doing.
We laughed a lot – talked and joked and froze and made beautiful images. I tell my models that “by definition” anything they do is perfect. I need that kind of confidence to make images of strength and beauty. And here is this girl who has had her entire reality ripped away from her… and she’s just remarkable in that brutal cold wind, the very embodiment of confidence and grace and strength.
Her images are amazing.
I didn’t tell her, but it moved me to tears watching her model – watching her be that strong, that confident, that beautiful, knowing what she was facing in her life.
Later when I was working with the images in Photoshop the tears came again. Not tears of sadness, or of pity. Tears came as I wondered if I could be that strong, If I could handle that kind of adversity with grace. If I would have the strength to cry without being ashamed…
And I realized…. this is a model. A model of the kind of person I hope I am deep inside. A model of the personal strength I hope I have.