Thursday, September 10, 2009
Its real easy to get images that the industry will accept when the model is already validated by the industry with representation, tearsheets, editorials and major campaigns. Clothes with designer labels attached to them also help make images get the thumbs up in the business. It is more of a challenge to work with new talent who hasn't received the seal of approval from the fashion powers that be. I do that with the models I have selected for my work. I have worked with unsigned (at the time) models like Brian Peters, Andre Douglas, Brandon Parker, Joseph/ Laurence McCrea, Gene Grady, Geremy Alexander, Christian Dubosse and so many other because I truly believe in their potential to be forerunners helping me redefining black man's image in this industry to be more than a one dimensional hip hop caricature.
I dressed them ( and undressed them) and put them in the same circumstances their leading white counter parts so that the fashion industry can see black men are strong enough and capable of representing a relevant fashion vision.
Given the opportunity to choose from models from an agency board, I chose guys like Pierre Woods, Darrell Walden Jr., Wendell Lissimore, Art Stroman, Marcus LLoyd, Lamar James, Lawrence Annunziata, and so many men of color because no one else was choosing them. Their images weren't as strong as the white boys and were dated. They were going to castings with the same pictures they had from when they first signed with their agencies. Some even found it difficult to get a photo test because most photographers felt they had enough black guys in their portfolio. i wanted my collaboration with the black guys to show they could do more than just commercial and urban shit. I wanted to show that they could do the same type of work that set these white guys up for prestigious and lasting careers.
AS a black fashion photographer, I don't think people realize how much pressure we are under to NOT work with black models. The industry is constantly telling us that black models are NOT fashion and that they are commercial and to focus on working with the mostly white ones if we want credibility and prestige. I have constantly been pressured to conform to this idea. If I had listened, there would be no Brian Peters, Andre Douglas, Christian ect because I would have never worked with them. I never believed in the idea that same = change. If you want to see opportunities swing in your favor you haveta take some responsibility and make steps toward making that happening.
I recall shooting Seandon Robertson @ Boss models whose portfolio contained mostly pictures of him wearing baggy jeans, hair braided to the back, and mean mugging the camera. I wanted to show a totally different side of him and focused on giving him images that showed him with a more fashiony edge. The agents weren't very happy with the images I shot of him because felt they could do nothing with them since they were only interested in marketing him as an urban model. According to them they felt that my work was too stylized and made Seandon look "soft" and "gay." I wanted to show that Seandon could do more than be a "nigga with braids." I know that my images changed Seandon's view of himself and the way clients saw him.
When Uptown Magazine was doing a feature on Pierre Woods and was looking for a photographer to shoot it. They were considering using a prominent white photographer that Pierre had worked with in the past. The pictures with this photographer were some of the worst work Pierre had done. Pierre saw this as an opportunity to suggest me since the work I had done with him portrayed him in the best light. Pierre then round up Polo stylist Kelli Browning and Randal Jacobs and makeup artist Crystal Clark to create some hot editorial images for this feature. I remember Kelli commented that this was her first time working with this many black people on a project. I totally applaud the effort Pierre made to pull up other talented black people who really could use the opportunity to show what they could do. I wish more black models would use their opportunities to help bring other deserving talents (black and white) through the door.
Although I have conscientiously made definite efforts toward change with some positive results, mine are baby steps. Its gonna take the models reaching out and helping each other instead of fighting each other for that "token" spot. The photographers, fashion stylist, muas, and hair dressers are gonna haveta start opening the door wider so more black talents can take advantage of opportunities. Its definitely gonna take modeling agents and bookers to broaden their view of their black models to extend beyond the commercial market for them to be considered for the editorial and high-end prestigious jobs. I must applaud agencies like Red models and Major Model mgmt. who, thru their presentation, present their ethnic models in the same light as the white ones. Most agencies only see their black models doing catalog and commercial work and never put their muscle behind them for editorial/ high fashion opportunities.
I'm not saying we should become anti-white or anything like that. I most certainly enjoy working with all types of people. I just want to see myself reflected and represented in this industry and have the opportunity to become the next Bruce Weber, Steven Miesel, Patrick Demarchelier, or Steven Klien. I don't see that happening if we continue to feed the machine the same ol things.