Monday, October 12, 2009

Test Shoot: Fanie Nel

The third test I did was one of my favourites ever. I was introduced to Fanie Nel through the agency, he was test shooting a lot of their new girls. Fanie did everything himself: the make-up, the styling and the photography. Not bad for an Afrikaans boytjie from Bloemfontein?

When Fanie was done with my make-up, I stood by the mirror in awe. He knew just where to shade, where to highlight and accentuate. He'd painted me some cheekbones, perfected my eyebrows and made my lips seem fuller. Genius. Then he pulled out a suitcase filled with fabric, tops, dresses, scarves and jewellery from which he styled perfect outfits within minutes. We started off with a groomed and elegant, slightly more mature look.

As soon as Fanie had the camera in his hands, I discovered his next super talent, directing a model. He made me clench my jaw, put my tongue up against the roof of my mouth and stick my head out towards him. It felt quite strange while I was doing it, but the pictures blew my mind. At twenty my face was very soft and child-like, leaning towards round, but his instructions gave me shape and angles.

Fanie also taught me how to get expression in my eyes; he told me to think of something, anything at all. The tendency is to go blank when someone's pointing a camera at you and that shows in pictures. When you just let your thoughts go, emotions rise involuntarily and reflect in your eyes.

For the second look, we kept it sweet and simple. My hair was straightened with a straightening iron for the first time in my life!

When these pictures were in my book, clients were always saying I looked like Katie Holmes. Dawson's Creek was big at the time!

While driving from one location to the next, we stopped next to the road where some reeds were growing. A black shirt, a cowboy hat with a hole in it and we were done.

For our final shots, Fanie said we should do something a bit more directional/fashion/fun.
Great fashion editorials are pure creative fantasy, where editors and stylists work together to create an image that needs no real life relevance, it's the art of the fashion industry; beauty for beauty's sake. So Fanie pulled out of his magic trunk a little pink frock, added some messy woodland nymph hair and a sprinkling of glittery eyeshadow. To complete his fairy fantasy, we drove out to a small section of forest nearby and I went boldly into the undergrowth.

I was working very hard at remembering all the instructions Fanie had given me during the day, and it shows in these photographs. The poses are good (for 1997), my face is defined and there's plenty of expression.

This photograph was on the front of my Z-card in one country or another for at least six years!

My only critique would be that my face is so much lighter than my body, an issue that's easily fixed in post-production these days. Which reminds me, these pictures were all shot on film and no retouching was done. Disturbingly, that is almost unheard of these days.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Test Shoot: Guy Bubb & Louise Fuller

My second test shoot was a whole lot easier than the first. Debbie had set me up with a young photographer, Guy Bubb and a make-up artist represented by Storm, Louise Fuller. Guy and Louise were both chilled, easy-going personalities who knew just how to put me at ease and so they helped me get my first good shots!

We shot at Guy's flat, a sun-drenched apartment in a funky old seventies block on Green Point's Main Road. It was spacious, comfortable and the natural light was beautiful.
Once again, we were working without a stylist (what did Storm have against stylists at the time?), but since Debbie had asked for some pictures showing my body, my limited selection of bikini's was enough for us to work with. I've mentioned before how I was new to bikini-wearing, so even though Guy was very professional and respectful, it was still a huge challenge for me to pose around in front of a man, wearing nothing but my swimwear.

Louise had given me an amazing hairdo, using sections alternately styled with crimping and curling irons, turning my fine head of hair into a luscious bushy mess! This, together with some super natural but shimmery make-up, was glamorous enough to make me feel a little bit like someone else. Maybe even a real model?

I remember Guy showing me how to lean into the wall, making it look oddly natural for a person to be wilting into a wall, but when i tried to copy the pose, it didn't have quite the same effect.

We changed outfits and they posed me on Guy's colourful couch. He told me to just be chilling, reading magazines. So that's exactly what I did. Except, it looks all fake and uncomfortable? Guess I still had a lot to learn!

For the last shot Guy wanted me to do something spontaneous, get a bit of energy and laughter going. He told me to throw a magazine at him. I laughed and refused, what if I broke his camera? The agency loved this shot, I hated it. Debbie asked: "Why do you hate it? That's what you look like?" I was insulted. I thought my top lip looked too thin, my nose too long and my ear protruded too much. Sigh... the follies of youth. I realised about eight years ago that it was actually a great picture, and it stayed in my book for a very long time!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Firing the First Shot

Somewhere in between joining Storm Model Agency and walking the ramp with the Supermodels, I needed to get started on my model portfolio. A model's portfolio (commonly referred to as her book) is her resume, her ad campaign, the proof in the pudding - vouching that she is a professional and showing off her photographic potential.

Unless you're lucky enough to have Patrick Demarchelier banging on your door from the second you're discovered, you need to build your book by testing. Test photography is a collaboration between agency, photographer, styling artists and model. Sometimes new photographers offer to test shoot models for free, as a way of building their own portfolios. Otherwise the agency or the model might pay the rest of the team to shoot specific pictures that the model needs. If a rookie model finds a good agency that believes in her, the agency will pay for test shoots upfront, hoping to recoup their investment when she starts earning money. I was lucky enough that Storm offered to do this for me, otherwise that might have been the end of everything!

My very first test was a bit of a nightmare. For some unknown reason, a photographer and make-up artist was booked, but no stylist. A couple of days before the scheduled date, the photographer phoned me and told me to bring my own clothing. When I panicked and started explaining that I'm a poor drama student with a taste for the unusual, he unsympathetically said I could surely borrow some decent duds from friends or maybe I knew someone who owned a boutique? Dude, I wasn't some hoity-toity Camps Bay socialite, trying her hand at a spot of modeling when I wasn't swanning around in my boutique-owner friends' designer gear...
Poor. Drama Student. Out in the sticks!
But the intimidated young me just said okay, I'll make a plan, before putting down the phone and freaking out.

As fate would have it, one of my house mates heard the ruckus and came out to check on me. Frans is a bear of a man, an engineering student at the time, who loved playing his didgeridoo at all hours of the day and night. He went on to play underwater hockey for the Netherlands. Interesting man. Anyway, so Frans calmed me down and pointed out that his wealthy, fabulous artist mother did know some boutique owners and within an hour I had an appointment at a swish store in the Waterfront. The kind of store I'd never even looked at, never mind went into and shopped at!

Frans' mother must have had serious clout at the boutique, as I was treated with great kindness on my scouting trip. The sales lady helped me find three outfits according to the photographer's list: a suit, a cocktail dress and a smart-casual outfit. The grown-up elegance of the store was so far removed from my personal taste and lifestyle, I couldn't picture myself wearing any of it and had no opinion either way, so I happily left the store with my loot beautifully wrapped and hung in suit bags.

When I arrived at the shoot location (a gorgeous house in Camps Bay, ironically) I had no idea what to do or what to expect. The make-up artist was courteous but not friendly, unceremoniously shoving me into a chair and starting to powder and paint my face. She sighed at the state of my home-dyed hair and made as little as possible small talk. Once she was done with me, she called the photographer over and he too seemed a bit gruff and impatient. They stared in misery at my little collection of clothing and then seemed to agree to just shoot it and be done with me.

You see, the success of any photo shoot is dependent on so many different factors all coming together beautifully and if one area is underwhelming, it affects everything else. While the clothing I'd brought was nice enough, a professional stylist would've added just the right shoes, earrings, belts and other accessories to take it from a fairly boring periwinkle blue suit to something hot and happening. Sans stylist, this was going to be hard.

We spent about three hours taking photographs. I was so out of my depth. I would stand in the position indicated by the photographer and not know what on earth to do. My eager devouring of fashion magazines clearly didn't mean I suddenly knew how to pose and work the outfit. We shot the blue suit standing against a wall, then for the cocktail dress I was lying down on a sun lounger while the photographer shot straight down at me from the balcony above. It was slow going and highly frustrating, no matter which way I turned or how I tuned my smile up or down, the photographer seemed unhappy.
Eventually we moved on to the last outfit, a little printed T-shirt and black trousers. They posed me on a bed, trying to get me to look all relaxed and natural. An impossibility when I felt that they were unimpressed by me and that things just weren't working out. Somehow I ended up upside-down and finally the photographer was sounding a bit more enthusiastic. "Good, great, little smile... Okay maybe a little less..." And we were finished.

In retrospect, it wasn't terrible for a first shoot. Sure, having a stylist would've helped a great deal, especially if we'd chosen clothing a little closer to my own style. And a slightly friendlier team, used to working with first-time models, could have made me feel more confident and adventurous in my posing. But things don't always come together perfectly and there was also a lesson in that. We used about five pictures from the test for my first portfolio, as a mediocre set of pictures was better than no pictures at all. Eventually the suit and the cocktail dress shots were removed from my book and got lost, but I still have one picture left to remind me of the start of it all.