Model Safety & Modelling Safely

With the increase of internet modelling sites such as One Model Place, Net Model, Model Mayhem and similar, it has never been easier to promote yourself either as a model or a photographer and there has been an explosion of want to be talent on both sides of the camera in recent years. Nowadays anyone with an internet connection and a couple of hundred £/$’s can set up an internet modelling account, go out and buy a professional looking camera and call themselves a photographer. Like any trade there are professionals, there are great amateurs and there are sharks.

For the sake of this article I’m going to use the industry standard term; GWC (Guy With Camera), for the sharks. While I don’t want to misalign anyone personally, it has been my experience that for every two professional photographers I’ve met, I’ve met a GWC only in it for the girls, the glamour and their own egos. Hopefully this article will help the new model to decide who is who.

Firstly, age is of prime importance. Any model under the age of 18 in most countries (including the UK and US) can only work to lingerie/swimsuit levels and then only if modelling for fashion or portfolio work unprovocatively. A model under the age of 18 can not work to topless/nude levels under any normal conditions. There are of course certain grey areas where artists such as Sally Mann and David Hamilton have blurred the lines and produced artistic nudes featuring minors but both of these artists fought long, hard and expensive court battles to prove that what they were producing was art rather than titillation. It would be best practise to just accept that a model under the age of 18 can’t work to nude levels, ever!

Regardless of assignment a model under the age of 18 must always be chaperoned by an adult with the legal right to sign a model release form for them. In an industry with so much glamour attached it is the photographers responsibility to insure that he conduct himself in a professional manner and refuse to shoot an underage model unchaperoned. He, after all is the adult and has a responsibility to all children. As a photographer, always treat children with the same respect that you’d want your own child treated. I would also add that a photographer should always check some form of photographic ID before he shoot with any model that could possibly be under 18. I personally have a space in my model release to record what the document was and that I saw it.

If you, as a model are over the age of 18 and are lucky enough to be ID’d when going to a bar or buying cigarettes be sure to take the same ID to a photo shoot.

As a model, adult or otherwise, having a sensible chaperone attend the shoot with you is always a good rule of thumb, especially when working with a new photographer for the first time. Make sure that the chaperone is someone that you can trust to behave themselves and remain quite and courteous. A good friend is often a far better bet than a partner in my opinion. I find that a model will always look to a partner for approval when direction is given but not so with a friend. Neither you nor the photographer should have to spend time chaperoning the chaperone.

Always check for references when approached by a photographer for the first time. Ask to see some of his work. Does his style reflect how you want to be seen as a model? (Do you want to be a fashion model or a porn star?) Does he have a website? (Is it a generic MySpace one or a personal and professional domain?) Is his email address a generic hotmail address or does it link to his site? Can he supply references from previous models and will he let you choose who to contact from his past work? (Giving you a list of ten models and their contact details is preferable to him giving you his best mates girlfriends mobile number). Will he let a chaperone attend? (If not, ask why!)

Always let people know where you’re going, preferably leave them with the shoot address. Always have your mobile with you charged and topped up if pay as you go. It is a wise precaution to arrange to let someone know when you get to the studio, that you’re safe and all seems above board.

Before the shoot: Discuss modelling levels, that both the photographer wants and that you are prepared to work to. If the photographer expects an art nude shoot and you are prepared to work only to lingerie, say so and do not be persuaded or intimidated otherwise. If the location of the shoot changes at the very last moment ask why. Is the photographer trying to get you to a secluded spot and prey on your vulnerability?

Discuss and sign ‘Model Release Forms’ before the shoot rather than after. This serves a few purposes - first, GWC’s tend to either have nothing, something unsuitable, or a template of some sort. Second, it will immediately provide some insight into how "professional" the photographer is (reluctance, resistance, excuses are all bad signs). Finally, it allows the model to check for surprises - I've reviewed a couple of "custom" releases that had all sorts of wacky terms in them.

If it is a portfolio shoot that you are paying the photographer for and he asks you to sign a release form, you are well within your rights not to. If it is a TFP/CD (Time For Print/Compact Disc) shoot then it is usual for a release form to be signed by the model. Do not give any more personal details on the form than seem necessary. Usually just your legal name if working under a modelling name, your address and your mobile number are sufficient. If you are under the age of 18 then your guardian/chaperone will also have to sign the form by law or else it is invalid.

During the shoot: If a photographer is making you feel uncomfortable, say so. Do not under any circumstance go along with what he wants because you feel you must. Any professional worth his salt will be as aware of your comfort as you are. Unless pre-agreed beforehand due to difficult costume changes; corsets etc (ideally the job of the chaperone) never let a photographer touch you. If a photographer can’t express his desires through lack of communication skills what are his camera skills like? A photographer should be able to explain what he wants. He should never have to touch you and if he is, he is probably getting off on it. If the communication worries you and the photographer is asking probing, unnecessary questions; “Is this turning you on?” as I have heard from one model. Stop the shoot, pack up and leave. You have a right as a model not to feel uncomfortable.

Remember that a relationship between a model and photographer is usually business based. It is rare that a friendship ‘needs’ to be formed, you can leave as friends but you do not need to be ‘friends’!

Overly friendly contact before or after the shoot is often a warning sign that things are not quite what they seem. How many web site designers or graphic artists need to be friends with their clients? If you are having regular IM chats with a photographer that you enjoy talking to, that’s absolutely fine. However, if the conversation becomes uncomfortable or intrusive, block them. There will always be another photographer around the corner as good as, if not better to work with. Friendships ‘are’ made of course, people are people after all but be careful in the first instance. If a photographer turns up unexpectedly at your doorstep, let someone know, give them his details and ask him politely not to in future. If he apologises and leaves all is well. Some won’t and expect friendships to become more. You as the model be the judge here.

Lastly; safety becomes before all things. Always, always, trust your instincts. The greatest photograph in the world isn’t worth it if your personal safety is at risk. Be happy, have fun, make some great art, meet some great people but most of all be safe.