What modelling taught me - life lessons that go outside the studio
by Aurora Sprengel, @poetic.minx
full-time model based in Melbourne, Australia
I never thought I’d be here. Somehow fooling about and doing occasional shoots for fun turned into a full-time job and traveling around the world to work with photographers whose work I have admired for a long time.
I’ve learned so much in those last four years. Being a model made me grow up even faster than the speed I was already travelling with. Sometimes I wonder how different my lessons would be if I had chosen to be, let’s say, a dentist like my mother was and always wanted me to be. What if I just decided to do a standard university job throughout my degree, like waitressing? I actually was a waitress for while… It was mentally strenuous for me and I respect every person working in hospitality.
After I have quit, people would tell me I should get ’a real job’ that would actually make me some money. That is when I became really broke to the point I couldn’t even pay my rent - and this is how I became so motivated. I have started to message much more photographers - I took jobs that were both paid and unpaid as I knew needed a better portfolio. I would network and write emails all days. And that’s how it started rolling... With time, I became a little more recognizable by the people in the industry, especially in the art nude community. It is quite a small family here in Australia, so anyone new who is determined enough gets some dosage of attention sooner or later.
I wasn't making big money, but enough to keep me in the apartment I was renting and I liked, enough to eat, enough to travel, and sometimes even enough to go out and be wild.
It certainly is an interesting industry. An industry where in specific situations it pays off to be brutally honest, but where sometimes it is really better to keep your mouth shut.
Be prepared that at least one person - whether it’s a photographer, stylist, booker or whoever else - will make you feel bad about your body. Be prepared to embrace rejection and treat it as a motivational trigger. Some photographers will be amazingly helpful, get you more work and may even become lifelong friends. Others will not keep their promises and talk shit about you behind your back. You can control all that to a certain degree by staying nice, but sometimes you should definitely quit being nice - do you really want people walking over you? I think I was lucky enough to realise quite early to voice my disappointment when something didn't seem right.
The modelling network is full of bullshit and the ‘outsiders’ cannot even imagine what is going on behind the whole social media overlay. Such an ‘outsider’ only sees the ready product. The intricate mechanisms and dealings are obfuscated from his eyes. For example, you might do a workshop with another model for free because you have been given the opportunity of ‘exposure’ or you just really wanted to work with this particular photographer. The other model might be getting paid, but you will never know.
Of course it matters if you can pose and express yourself well, but knowing or getting to know the ‘right’ people can matter even more. I’m not saying this is bad – it is actually quite logical when you think about it. Sometimes this comes naturally when your talents shines so bright!
One could describe modelling in a simplistic way by comparing it to the cycle of sunrises and sunsets. When you start you are basically bathing in a pool of darkness as you know nothing (apart from the fact you look okay – but you learn quickly that’s hardly sufficient). So you gropingly scramble in the darkness for a while until, gradually, you submerge in sweet enlightenment. The time when you bask in the sun, feeling fabulous, yet still working hard, is like being in a trance of the “Heaven is a place on earth” song. These are the good days when you already know how to pose and absolutely kill it, when putting on makeup isn’t such a struggle anymore, and you finally manage to not squeeze lash adhesive into your eyes. However, jokes aside, above all and importantly, your confidence skyrockets through the roof. Challenges do not disappear, naturally (that would be unnervingly boring!), but one learns mechanisms that facilitate facing them.
Then there also comes the time of sunset – the time when you need to know how to step away from modelling gracefully…This time is different for everybody. Here I might encounter the opposing and miffed screams of some who will point out today we also see 80-year-old models on the runway. Yes, we do see that, yet how popular is it? How big is the demand for them? One must stay a little realistic.
Anyhow, excuse my small digression, one thing you absolutely need as a freelance model is some kind of structure. I cannot possibly stress the importance of organisation.
Modelling helped me become MUCH more organised because you have to. No one wants to work with a person who is unreliable or late. On the other hand, professionalism and punctuality are highly valued and will always be noticed, even if in a quiet non-commentary way.
I used to hate whenever my dad even said the word ‘organisation’ when I was a younger, more chaotic version of myself. I don’t think he expected a few years later I would be planning my tours, both domestically and internationally. That typically requires having your bum glued to the chair and replying to emails for hours.
I can remember setting up my first Euro tour: I had started around 5-6 months before heading there. Keep in mind I had to message many photographers myself first since no one knew me in Europe as previously I was primarily modelling in Australia. The administration of your own life and work is probably the part that takes up the biggest time if you are a freelance model: in comparison, modelling itself seems a very little fraction of the whole process. Being on top of dates and details is equally important to knowing your best angles!
Body image wise...Well, that is a double-edged sword. I have had a complicated relationship (to say the least) with food since about 15. In this respect, I think modelling can either help or destroy. It is not always black and white, as there are not merely black and white days in life. Sometimes it’s a mix. Different triggers, connectors, feelings. Nevertheless, since I have developed a love for fine art, I feel more aware about how important it is to be healthy and fit. I would not be able to assume certain athletic poses without taking greater care of my body. I am still not 100%, but my drive to perform on levels that are more elevated keeps me in check.
Modelling made me persistent – it made me fight for my rights and stand up for myself. It taught, or rather forced me, to be street smart. You begin to notice very quickly when someone is trying to fool you.
Do you want an example of persistence? Here you go: there was this one photographer in the Netherlands I dreamed of shooting with for ages. His work is admired and looked up to by many of my fellow artists in Europe and Australia. The first time I’ve sent him a message, he replied: “thank you dear, I’m not interested”. I kept messaging every time I would come to Europe and, finally, one day, I received a response: “Ok, let’s do a shoot... my wife will prepare lunch”. We had a fantastic shooting – one of those when you laugh, levels of creativity go through the roof and it’s unquestionable both parties had fun. In reply to my “I’m sorry I was pestering you so much before, but I felt like I needed to!” he said, “I’m so glad you did. So when are you coming back again for our second shoot?”.
Don’t be afraid to reach out. Don’t be afraid to ask. Take risks – isn’t knowing the answer better than being in a limbo?
Modelling made me conscious of my desires, passions and aspirations. Literally on the same day when my mum called me to inquire why I thought putting up pictures of me half-naked (“It’s called implied, mum!”) on the internet seemed like a good idea, the editor of the Polish newspaper from where I lived as a teenager sent me a message saying they wished to interview me. Based on that, I think no one cares and if they do care, seeing my derriere is clearly no obstacle. So, momma, now the lovely bottocks you’ve given me will have their own foldout pages in a magazine widely distributed in your area and probably bought by most (if not all) of your patients. My advice here is that if any tight-ass conservative Polish prick comes up to you with this newspaper and tries to make you feel bad about it, just simply tell him to first perhaps have a look at his teeth - isn’t this why he came to you anyway? Admit it, mum, you would much rather look at your daughter’s callipygian shape than an utter disaster in someone’s mouth!
I understand that, as a fine art model, some people will never respect me. They will never understand me. They will laugh at me if I say that for me it’s not only an artistic, but also a therapeutic process. They will always think it is about taking off your clothes for money. They will say it’s easy money and call you a cheap hoe. I’m very much used to it now. I do not have the time nor the energy to deal with those people. As Marsha Hinds said, “There are those who always think the worst of people. That's because they are the worst of people.”
The ripples on the water illuminate while I bathe myself to cleanse from the dirt of misunderstanding, shallow hatred and people trying to instil more doubt in me. I splash, too. The more I splash, the more ripples I see, inspiration rising. I could never just turn “perfectly right”, even for anyone I truly loved.
I’m not scared of getting knocked down anymore. By anything or anyone. I truly feel a new era coming in powerful waves. I’ve developed an unconditional love for persistence and it is way too late now to give up.
I have decided to forego people being proud of me and have instead chosen a path that makes me proud of myself. Because it’s my path and you don’t trip over the same rocks as I do, nor do you wear the same shoes.
If I were to give you any additional advice, I would say: be prepared to be taken advantage of - in one way or another. Be prepared to grow some balls. And, most importantly, be prepared to lose and be prepared to win. Lastly, I’ll be a little cheeky and recommend being prepared to not be too prepared. Now off you go and solve this conundrum yourself. Take this risk.
* Opening image by Bill Poon - click to see Bill Poon & Poetic Minx photo essay