Volume 56: Everyone Thinks They're A Model

“The camera can be lenient; it is also expert at being cruel. But its cruelty only produces another kind of beauty, according to the surrealist preferences which rule photographic taste.”  –Susan Sontag, On Photography by Susan Sontag

            I love my job. I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen that there’s no occupation greater than that of a professional photographer. Imagine having a job where you’re paid to be creative, meet new and interesting people every day, and have fun. Sometimes I still wonder how the hell I ended up doing the very thing I grew up disliking. When I’m not losing my mind during the routine workweek in the Philadelphia Public Schools, I’m in the Aperture Studio- chasing the dream of becoming a very successful fashion and glamour photographer. It’s almost as if I’m Clark Kent at one job, and Superman at another. In the Philadelphia Schools I’m Clark…mild mannered, friendly, yet far from the social butterfly. I’m very good at my job, but there’s an absence of passion. I’m just following the routine…waiting for 3:00pm. Once I leave these walls and head on over to my newly acquired studio space, I become someone else. As I enter the industrial building-turned photography studio, my mind is on everything, yet also on nothing but my passion. I’m thinking about what poses I wanna try, the concept of the shoot, what time the model is arriving…all while reciting a silent prayer for a successful shoot. Here in my comfort zone, I no longer share the burdens and concerns of my alter ego. There’s nothing corporate about what I do. I’m an Artist. My mission? Create some fly shit that people wanna see…and I love every minute of it. Well…almost every minute of it. Photography…like any other occupation…isn’t perfect. Many of my friends have an occupation where they make a difference in the lives of others. Some work in medicine and law enforcement and save lives. Others work in the legal system and save lives by sending the guilty to lengthy prison terms, or save the innocent from incarceration. Some feel a sense of accomplishment by providing certain services to the unfortunate who can’t afford it. As much as I love to shoot, I can’t see where my job enhances the lives of others. If anything, I feel as though I often cater to the over-inflated egos and narcissism of people-many who need a reality check and a clue…not a photo shoot.

            To be a photographer, one must have tough skin. This was very difficult for me, because I am extremely sensitive. Well-I used to be. Eryka Badu hit the nail on the head when she said, “Now keep in mind that I’m an artist…and I’m sensitive about my shit!” The arts require a certain type of perseverance, because you hear “no” a thousand times before you get your first “yes.” Some will be unimpressed by your work; some will sing your praises. As talented as some think I am, I get rejected. A lot. I’ve emailed my resume to countless popular magazines in New York-one of them an astonishing eight different times-without reply. Not even an email telling me to fuck off. I’ve even offered to contribute as an intern, opting to travel as far as New York for free with still no response-that shit hurt. But I’ve found some success with rare opportunities to shoot for smaller publications and now my own individual company’s newfound success. Imagine having 16 years of experience and being rejected over and over like you’re some random idiot with a Polaroid camera and a GED. Today things are finally going very well, which is the reason I haven’t been blogging in a while. Well I’m back, and I figured an appropriate topic would be the things that I encounter in my endeavors for a successful career…

                 “Along with people who pretty themselves for the camera, the unattractive and the disaffected have been assigned their beauty.” –Susan Sontag, On Photography by Susan Sontag

 The thing that attracted me most to fashion and glamour photography was the challenge of capturing the model. A model, also sometimes called a mannequin, is a male or female employed for displaying and promoting the line of clothing or for advertising or art purposes. Shooting models becomes immensely interesting because there are so many types: fashion, fitness, body-part, glamour, fine art, etc.
Although models can come in all shapes and sizes, the most successful models follow strict diets and exercise plans to maintain a specific scale. Female models should be around 34-24-34 and at least 5’8. Male models are preferred to be 5’10-6’2 with a waist of 26-33 inches. The most annoying thing about modeling is that large cities like my own are overpopulated with larger-than-life egos. After the digital revolution, it seemed as though everyone who owned a digital camera thought they were a photographer. It was no coincidence that every female with above average looks suddenly felt the insatiable need to consider herself a model. Just because you stand in front of some guys iphone camera and smile childishly, or some nude shots of you end up on the net…doesn’t make you a model! I’m no Shemar Moore or Tyson Beckford. I’ve never appeared in the pages of Essence Magazine for being one of the Most Eligible Bachelors. I’m not a heartthrob. But unlike many in this industry, I know my worth as well as my limitations. Part of being truly good at something is also realizing what you’re not good at. The deadly combination of vanity and borderline delusion has lined my pockets and the pockets of countless talented photographers all throughout the nation with clientele who desired our services. ModelMayhem.com has further ignited the flames of delusion for legions of people-male and female, old and young, attractive and…some not so much-to pursue careers as professional models. I receive profile information on some who-how can I put this-pretty much don’t stand a chance in hell of becoming professional models. Some do it just for fun, and some are experienced models, simply looking to network with others in the field. Other times I get requests from profiles like these:
“No matter how sophisticated the camera, the photographer is still the one that makes the picture.”  -Doug Bartio
            There is nothing that gets under my skin quite like the client with the over-inflated ego. I’ve dealt with it all in this industry: from Bridezillas, to the ghetto bridal party. I’ve shot baby showers where the ex-girlfriend of the child’s father was outside with her goons in an attempt to confront the mother-to-be. I’ve photographed weddings where fights have erupted at the wedding receptions. I’ve witnessed grooms who were so intoxicated that 9-1-1 had to be called because they had passed out. There was a wedding party that had 21 bridesmaids and 21 groomsmen, with 3 stretched limousines and an insane bride who felt the need to tell me, and the videographer how to do our job. I’ve had no-shows for photo shoots and I’ve had a deadbeat who wrote me a check for $230 that bounced for photography services.  I’ve waited impatiently for 3 hours for some shoots to start. I’ve been at outdoor shoots for rappers in the hood with police investigating an outdoor homicide scene across the street. In the end, I’ve always been able to maintain a stoic exterior and conduct myself with calm professionalism. But dammit…some of these aspiring models are really getting on my nerves…
            Recently I was contacted via facebook from an aspiring model who I had spoken with before on modelmayhem. Sometimes photographers will agree to something called a “TF” shoot, which means Time For. “Time For” is a means of one artist exchanging their time, in exchange for another service. For example, when a photographer is starting out and doesn’t have a large clientele. He/she may seek the services of models, who offer their services in exchange for the images from the shoot or a CD of the images. A Makeup artist may offer their makeup services for your shoot in exchange for a CD containing the images. Sounds like a good deal, right? Problem is that the delusional model will oftentimes request FREE photography services, while still attempting to give you THEIR rates for their services! Normally I’d immediately tell them to kiss my talented, unapologetic, Jamaican-American ass, but one must always maintain professionalism despite adversity. The bottom line is this: A real photographer does NOT pay for models. WE are paid to shoot. Oftentimes the model will pay us, or the agency that represents him/her will pay us. Sometimes if a shoot is for a magazine, someone from the magazine staff or someone who represents an artist will pay. I used to be opposed to TFCD (time in exchange for CD) shoots, but I realized the potential for future business through smart marketing. There are many times when it plays to your advantage. I’ve done TFCD shoots, and turned them into 3-4 paid assignments through the right people seeing the end results. An artist’s work speaks for itself. But…every now and then someone contacts you for your help and the ensuing conversation makes you wanna choke the shit outta them and swear off helping your people altogether.
            Here’s a perfect example of the kinds of things that a photographer can go through when attempting to help out a BROKE-ASS aspiring model with an over-inflated ego. If y’all know how I can get down (as most of you know), you’d know that 2 years ago, her ass woulda been TOAST! But…I do my best to constantly be the bigger person now and handle business. Here was our conversation after she contacted me in reference to a TFCD shoot. Tell me if I’M crazy:
            Ronald Gray September 2 at 11:41pm
You need a photographer? Ok. Sounds good. I’m ready when you are. I'm making appts in the studio fri-sun between the hours of 12-7. what's your vision? http://www.ronaldgray.com/ -Ron

(delusional model, who’s name and identity has been withheld) September 2 at 11:43pm
I'm in LA at the moment but will be back in PHL within the next week or 2. I'm open to concepts. Please check out www.nymmg.com. That is the agency that I am signed to. If you are confident that you can produce photos of that quality then I'd be glad to work with you.


Every model on MMG has been hand picked and thoroughly evaluated by MMG professionals that have a track record of finding industry superstars. MMG provides agencies with this service at no cost and has been designed to fulfill every need of an agency's booker.

Ronald Gray September 2 at 11:48pm
outstanding. here is my contact info. feel free to let me know what day works best as soon as possible. schedule fills quickly.
ronaldgraythephotographer@gmail.com (blackberry)
Here is my Studio: Aperture Studio-3417 Melvale Street Phila PA (in the port richmond section of the city)
appts Fri-Sun between the hours of 12-7
talk 2 ya soon!

(Model) September 2 at 11:49pm
Are you confident that you can produce such images?


Ronald Gray September 2 at 11:54pm
sure. i can do anything.

(Model) September 2 at 11:56pm
Did you take a good look at the images on the website? You responded rather quickly. The photographers who took those pictures are very talented. Not to say that you aren't, I just want you to fully understand the kinds of images that I hope to receive. I no longer work for free unless it's going to benefit me and that is why I'm looking for an amazing photographer for photos similar to the ones on the website. I just don't want to waste my time. So please review the photos once more and be sure.


Ronald Gray September 2 at 11:59pm
OK *****(model’s name). I took a very good look at several of the models on the site. I myself do not work for free EITHER unless it is something that benefits ME. Photography is a business for me and not a trendy way to meet females or a hobby. If I accept an assignment or utilize my talents, studio, and time for a project, then I stand by my talent and company's brand. I choose to respond quickly because quite frankly, that's how I operate when it comes to business. My website and work speaks for itself.

(Model) September 3 at 12:02am
Okay. Just making sure. I appreciate a quick response, I just want to make sure that you took adequate time to see what I expect. I will contact you when I know for sure when I will be back in town.


Ronald Gray September 3 at 12:03am

(Model) September 8 at 12:15am
I am back in town but booked until the 14th. Did you plan on providing makeup/hair/wardrobe for the shoot?


Ronald Gray September 8 at 12:18am
wow *****!(model’s name)...I'm just a photographer. LOL I take the pictures. (smiles) I have a great makeup artist who can likely volunteer her services as a favor for ME. As far as hair...i NEVER provide that service for clients. I can't spend my own $ to not make any. Wardrobe is the same thing. I know plenty of designers from shooting fashion shows. I can ask them and see if they are available and willing to donate for a shoot, but I can never promise that they will do so.

(Model) September 8 at 12:20am
I know that you are a photographer lol. But when working with TF* projects, often times photographers will have a team. I also can not afford to spend my own money when I am not making any off of the shoot. Talk to your people and see what you can come up with. Also, if they agree to doing so, please send me a link to their work. After that is situated we can begin discussing a date.


            So…someone’s been watching too many episodes of America’s Next Top Model. Who the fuck does she think she is?!? Now…I’ve worked with all kinds of people, both well known and virtually unknown, but I’d say that she was probably the most arrogant. It’s ironic that the ones that no one’s ever heard of…who can’t even afford a $350 shoot with me…have the nerve to make outlandish demands. (shaking my head) Another Delusional Diva. Another misguided soul who’s heard, “yo…you should model” by one too many men who don’t know the industry. Did I mention that she’s not even 21 yet?!? Two years ago, I would have reminded her that “Ron the Photographer” is also Ron from Philadelphia and showed no tolerance for her prima donna bullshit. But this is a new day and I’m 31 years young as of today (9-12). Life is good, business is good and I’m doing what I love. I’m a changed man….chasing the dream and hopefully opening doors for others to do the same. I hate some of these idiots, but I love this photography thing and hopefully I’ll continue to make you all proud. I’ve been gone for a while, but I’m back now. I’ll keep you guys posted on my progress! http://www.ronaldgray.com/
“When the novice photographer starts taking pictures, he carries his camera about and shoots everything that interests him. There comes a time when he must crystallize his ideas and set off in a particular direction. He must learn that shooting for the sake of shooting is dull and unprofitable.” –Alexey Brodovitch-Photography, February 1964

…These Are The Random Thoughts Of Ronald Gray…