Since the launch of Model Focus, I’ve received requests to cover the topic of model safety. Due to past personal experiences, this subject is very dear to my heart. Most people do not know that I was assaulted on a shoot in the Fall of 2016. My desire for this discussion is to raise awareness, start conversations, help fellow models protect themselves, and give perspective to photographers everywhere. So without further ado, I will share some personal stories along with general practices a model can employ to ensure a safe, successful shoot.
In the Fall of 2016 I received messages from a new photographer wanting to shoot. This person had reached out to me before, but due to an unhealthy relationship I was unable to shoot with any male photographers at that time (this story will be saved for a future post). However, I was at this time currently single and shooting with male and female professionals.
I poured through this person’s portfolio… The work was beautiful. The editing was clean, the lighting strategic, and he obviously knew what he was doing. “Oh, look!” I thought to myself, “Here he has photos he took of my good friend’s wedding! Okay, he must be the real deal.” I was excited to work with somebody new of this caliber.
We scheduled a shoot in his area, which happened to be two hours from me (commuting is a common requirement for the model). We decided on style and location. I packed my options the day of the shoot, told some close friends where I was going, and away I went…
We met in a public place and took many shots in different locations within walking distance – always in visible view of the street. Things were going well. We were getting amazing captures in the camera. We decided to move locations… “Why not take one car for convenience and to save gas?” he suggested. Okay. Big mistake…
We drove to different places, stopping to take photos. I texted a few friends to let them know I was okay. Then things started to get a little weird… He told me I’m cute, I brushed it off as a comment meant to boost my ego for his camera.
A public waterfront was our venue for the final sunset images. Many cars were parked in the lot, families and couples also watching the beautiful sight as I posed and he clicked. I wasn’t wearing anything sexy or doing anything provocative. I was looking at the sunset…back to the camera…smiling…laughing…then switching to a moody stare. The sun was nearly gone, and we had gotten what we needed
As I opened the car door I felt him come up behind me. I turned around and soon found him kissing me, pushing me into the corner of the opened door. I pulled away and froze up…I had no words. He came forward again and I soon found myself in the passenger’s seat repeatedly pushing him off, and his hands away from my zippers and buttons. The words “no” and “stop” had come out multiple times.
Thank God this story doesn’t end in rape! I will never forget… He finally stopped, looked at me, and laughed.
“Why do you look so afraid right now?”
I couldn’t believe my ears. I lost it, demanded to go back to my car, and stayed on the phone the entire ride back. Yes, I called the police. Yes, I made a statement. Yes, I identified photos. And oh yes, I made many terrible mistakes that day. This story is a hard one to share, but I pray it helps other models realize the importance of protecting themselves. I was incredibly lucky in the ending of my story, and I don’t intend to rely on luck again.
General Safety 101
This is one of the most important things you can do as a model. The way you interact with your photographer insinuates how you expect to be treated in return. If you conduct yourself professionally, it sets a standard for the interactions you have. Here are a few things I personally do to remain professional in my working relationships.
Most often I precede my photographers’ names with “Mr.” or “Miss” until I have shot with them multiple times. I have been told many times this is unnecessary, but I feel it’s a blatant sign of respect and distinctly outlines the boundaries of the initial relationship. It greatly minimizes the risk if perceived flirting on the model’s part.
Minimize after-hours contact. I will confess, I am a full-time registered nurse, and often I must communicate before leaving for my shifts in the morning (I work from 6:30a.m.-7:30p.m.). But it is important to mindfully refrain from unnecessary messages and phone calls during the middle of the night. This is a wise practice and a common courtesy to your photographers.
Absolutely no flirting! This is a dangerous invitation for unwanted behavior before, during, or after the shoot. I realize this can be a gray area for some, as I myself am a very warm and friendly person. Being warm and friendly is perfectly okay – and even encouraged to ensure comfort on set – but be mindful of the signals you are sending and the way your interactions are being perceived. Just as flirtatious behavior should not be present on your part, DO NOT accept it from the photographer. I have cancelled many shoots because of “harmless” comments and remarks. This is not a way I do business.
Yes, it is ALWAYS a good idea to bring somebody with you when shooting with somebody new. While not entirely foolproof, this practice erases the misunderstanding of a shoot being a pretentious date. The trouble arises when a shoot is strictly time for print (unpaid), and the model is unable to financially compensate this person for their time and energy. This has been an immense personal struggle of mine, and I have often lost money by adding this compensation to my list of other expenses for TFP shoots. It’s hard not to feel guilty about asking for free help, and I’ve taken some definite unnecessary risks… I do not advise doing this.
Something to keep in mind… I have heard from countless photographers the aversion to this bodyguard being the model’s significant other. Photographers often feel uncomfortable positioning the model or asking for certain expressions with the watchful eyes of a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife on set. This is understandable, so ensure it is okay with your photographer if your safety escort is a significant other. I know this problem may put strain on a relationship, but that is a whole other discussion I will gladly cover in the future. For now I will simply say it is crucial to communicate with your photographer and loved one thoroughly on this aspect.
If a safety buddy is unobtainable, there are numerous things you can do… You can ask to reschedule to a date someone is able to accompany you. You can also make sure somebody knows where you will be and who you will be with. If this is the best you can do, ensure that you set a text or call schedule to this person checking in regularly to let them know you are okay. Make sure they know to call the authorities if they don’t hear from you within a certain time. You can also ask to set up the shoot in an open, public place. Just continue to use caution and be aware of your surroundings. If anything feels questionable at any time, never hesitate to leave.
Do Your Research
It never hurts to contact past models about their shooting experience with a particular photographer. Trust me, photographers discuss about models too behind closed doors. It is nothing personal and is simply a smart thing to do before meeting up with a new person.
Look at the person’s portfolio. How extensive is it? How is the overall quality, does it seem consistently professional? Does it all appear to be artistically congruent? Or does it appear as if it’s disjointed and possibly completed by different people? This is by no means a surefire way to gauge the safety of a situation, but if a person has been in the industry for a while, has a good following, and produces consistently exceptional work, they have more of a reputation to protect with their professional interactions. As previously stated this should not cause you to throw caution to the wind, but it’s helpful when gauging the situation.
Search wherever you can to ensure this person is who they say they are. Any inconsistencies – no matter how small – indicate a lack of honesty. It is never wise to collaborate or conduct business with a dishonest person.
Be Mentally and Practically Prepared
Take a self-defense class, carry mace, work through in your mind how you would respond in a life-threatening situation. Always note the locations of exits and their accessibility. Never be afraid of making a scene if you feel your safety is being compromised. Keep your phone handy at all times. Prepare yourself mentally and physically if the situation calls for a “fight or flight” response. Treat all new opportunities with immense caution.
In conclusion, modeling is a dangerous industry. Reports are scattered across the news of human trafficking scams, kidnappings, and worse. Models, we must be aware of what we’re risking with every booking. For the sake of space, this list only skims the surface of safety strategies. Be sure to comment with your own below to cover areas I have missed. I urge every model to highly value their own safety in every situation. If at any moment you don’t feel safe, never lack the courage to leave.
Until next week,
Professional Page: https://www.facebook.com/Ashley.BeLoat.images/
Photo credit to the amazingly wonderful Robert Vanelli – a true professional and one of the kindest souls I know. Follow him on Instagram @robertvanelli for more of his work.