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Fashion Photoshoot: Project Israa

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by Jana Thevar and Shiva

Why We Did It

Shiva is a civil engineer by profession. Like me, he’s an artist, passion-wise. We often speak about collaborating on art projects but are always too busy with our day jobs. However, it finally happened. This is the first art project we did together. And what can I say? It was an amazing experience. We had lots of fun and learned a lot in the process.

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As a fine art photographer, Shiva loves to explore unconventional ideas. I am no less eccentric, which is probably why we make a good team (when we’re not fighting, at least).

This shoot was pretty much a regular fashion shoot, but since it was the first time we were working together on a personal art project, we didn’t get too crazy with things. He gave me some basic guidelines on the mood and emotions he wanted to capture in the model, but he left the fashion styling and wardrobe choices entirely to me. I didn’t really know what to expect either, so I formed some mental concepts and decided to go with the flow.

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As an ex-fashion editor of CLEO and wardrobe stylist on film sets, I’d worked with a lot of models before. From directing photo shoots and costuming to doubling up as a makeup artist, I’ve done a bunch of these things and thoroughly enjoyed myself along the way, before I ditched it all for the drab stability of financial-services cubicle life. These projects are my escape routes from my self-inflicted, modern-day slavery.

I’ve also been a die-hard fan of Vogue and haute couture since I could read, so you can say fashion is in my blood. My mum is a seamstress; a very good one too. I had all my dresses tailor-made for me right up to my teens. Sometimes, I helped my mum sew, especially during Diwali when there was too much to do. I literally grew up steeped in fashion.DSC_2399-1

My Fashion Styling for the Model

Our model expressed her wishes to be shot in street-style denim and muted colors, with some implied nudity thrown in. In fact, she’d contacted Shiva after seeing his fine art photography with a nude model, so we knew she was comfortable with that kind of art.

I asked if she was okay to try a saree, and she was game. I was excited; I loved draping sarees on non-Indian women. With an Indian woman you kind of know what it’s going to look like, but with a woman of a different ethnicity, it’s always a wonderful surprise.

I requested for a few pictures of her, full-length and without makeup, to get some ideas and inspiration on how to dress her. Then, I began the process of picking the outfits.

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She is from Sudan, and had the exotic, ethnic features of people from that region. I decided to use outfits that contrasted with the idea of fashion that’s generally associated with people of African roots (bright colors, turbans, bold prints, etc.). I asked her to keep the makeup neutral and natural so it would blend with a variety of looks.

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Her major plus points were her lovely figure and long legs, so I decided to play those features up with the clothes I chose for her. I picked a raincloud-grey jersey dress, an acid-wash denim miniskirt and jacket combo, a white and blue Bohemian-inspired ensemble, a sheer beige chiffon top and finally, a black saree with champagne and frosted copper detailing. With the modern clothes, I was aiming for a breezy, natural look – the kind you’d see on a city girl who’d gotten dressed to stroll the streets on a beautiful summer’s day.

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I loved the way the pictures turned out, they were perfect to me. The ones of her in the saree stunned me though. I don’t know how or why, but she suddenly transformed into a goddess the minute I finished draping the material over her. She just immediately became more elegant and graceful. She glowed. A demure, dark radiance. A saree does that to women, I’ve noticed. It brings out that sacred feminine beauty in ways that other outfits simply can’t.

I chose the saree based on her name, which means ‘Night Journey’ in Arabic. Here she is, the dark moon draped in a galaxy of stars. And Shiva captured her resplendence perfectly, in that precise moment when our energies of creation aligned. I created the look, she created the magic and he created the art with a click.

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Shiva Speaks

As a photographer, it would be a crime to say the role of a photographer is only limited to identifying special moments. I can be vilified for such a claim by the photographers’ community. I don’t really care. With the advent of technology, endless auto-modes and presets, anyone can capture a good quality photograph, even with a mobile phone.

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So what separates a photographer from a camera owner? It’s the eye for tasteful details that touch the artist in everyone. It’s just like good music. Everyone likes it but no one knows why and the composer would have most certainly not composed it academically.

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I’ve always been on the receiving end of questions like what is it that I intend to convey through a particular photograph. My answer is always the same; none. Art is just a reflection of our inner being manifesting in completely purposeless action; purposeless as far as satiating our rudimentary survival needs is concerned.

Art is self-expression, something as simple as a wink or showing your middle finger in anger. It should not be academic. Do you calculate how high you have to raise your hand and the moment force to be applied to express the right amount of anger when you show your middle finger? That’s my type of photography. I don’t overthink the outcome. I don’t plan my shots. I don’t think about the rule of thirds, shadows behind the nasal bridge and the grains in the highlights. The details are always there for us to see, everywhere and anywhere, in the darkness and in bright sunshine. You don’t see the stars during the full moon and when you get to see the stars during new moon, you don’t get to see the moon. The moments are just beautifully unfolding perpetually. We fail to see them more often than not.

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I am an impulsive photographer. I click each time I see a good moment from my perspective. I don’t give out too many instructions, let alone clear ones. I told Jana a few things. “I am a fine art photographer. Whoever I shoot and whatever the theme, I want my pictures to be a double edged sword. Seductive without being obscene, raw yet aesthetic, gracefully minimalistic. Strictly no manipulation of body parts. Capture human beauty in its natural state”.

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She suggested a little bit of makeup, some clothes, and maybe heels. I would rather take a lot of stick than to receive a diplomatic compliment. Diplomacy and normalcy are like flaccid dick. Not much use. A hard on is debatable. Men think a hard on makes them superhuman. Women feel it’s equally boring because men don’t last. But there it is; a double edged sword and hoopla. Anyway, I was just kidding.

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All three of us showed up on the day of the photo shoot. I set up some basic lighting. The stylist decided on the outfit, the model posed with the input from the stylist and I clicked. Both of them created the moments and the details for me. They were brilliant. I just needed to click at the right time. I think the outcome of their work was quite impressive.

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What Does it Take to be a Model?

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What Does It Take to be a Model?

by Princess Draupadi

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The modelling industry is an extremely competitive one, especially runway (catwalk) modelling. The more elite the agency, the more rigid the requirements for models. Malaysia’s modelling industry is more modest in terms of selection criteria and competitiveness, but still certain rules are non-negotiable.

What Do Top Models Earn?

According to Forbes, 36-year-old Brazillian supermodel Gisele Bunchen made $30.5 million in 2016 alone. She’s currently the highest paid model in the world. In the same year, Adriana Lima and Kendall Jenner earned over $10 million each, while Gigi Hadid and Cara Delevigne raked in approximately $9 million and $7 million respectively.

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Victoria’s Secret Angels Adriana Lima and Alessandra Ambrosio

My Experience with Modelling

I was never a professional model. At 5 feet 5 inches barefoot, I’d fall short of most local and international catwalk height requirements. However, I’ve done some runway work in my late teens and early 20s, though I don’t consider that phase of my life anything more than interesting snippets of experience. I am also a woman of color, and if I am to be brutally honest, that fact wouldn’t have done me any major favors in showbiz, even if I fulfilled all other criteria to make it in modelling.

This is how I ended up modelling: Back in college, I often accompanied my bombshell-gorgeous friends to casting sessions and auditions. That’s how I got offers for local runway modelling shows. The pay was rubbish, but it was a lot of fun.

It also gave me quite a bit of insight into the world of modelling. I LOVE fashion. I grew up on Vogue, adored haute couture and worshipped Karl Lagerfeld, so it was nothing short of an amazing experience for me.

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Photographer: Sattvic Desnudo

The early years of my ‘real’ career started in fashion and lifestyle magazines, and I helped out close friends on film sets. I also had my own column in CLEO, where I worked as a fashion editor. This gave me the opportunity to work with local and international models. It was hectic but I loved it more than modelling; directing photoshoots, doubling-up as a makeup artist, working with props, helping out in editing and post-production. Working with models and actors afforded me more opportunities to use my creative talents as an artist (which I preferred to being plastered in makeup and standing around in uncomfortable clothes for long hours). I’m just too restless, not to mention easily bored.

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What are the Requirements for a Runway Model?

Quite a bit, especially if you’re looking at the big names in high fashion like Dior, Chanel, Gucci, Armani and Alexander McQueen. Local Malaysian standards are a little more lax, unless it’s an elite, famous agency.

International catwalk modelling standards are generally:

  • Minimum height (barefoot): 5 feet 9 inches (6 feet for supermodels)
  • Defined facial bone structure (high cheekbones, angular jawline)
  • A very slim build (US dress size 4 – 8)
  • Aged between 16-24
  • Striking facial features
  • A confident strut
  • A clear complexion and healthy hair
  • A significant number of followers on social media

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Besides that, a model also needs to:

  • Have a high level of self-discipline (schedule and timing)
  • Stand and walk for long hours in high heels (females)
  • Tolerate extended wear of thick makeup
  • Be disciplined enough to exercise and eat wisely
  • Work long and / or odd hours
  • Have a lot of patience (lots of waiting, especially in full makeup and clothes)
  • Accept criticism about their physical flaws
  • Ignore backstabbing and catty comments from other models
  • Travel at short notice
  • Have a flexible personal schedule
  • Have an understanding family / partner

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In a Nutshell

Modelling can be great fun and often comes with a lot of perks. The all-expenses-paid flights, meals, makeup, clothes and other freebies, the beautiful runway setups, the famous people you get to meet and of course, all that glamor. However, it’s a short-lived career for most, as the industry is always ready to drop older models for the next young thing that comes along.

If you’re at that stage in life where you can consider modelling, I say go for it. If you’re fresh out of school, it would be wise to think of a long-term career plan while you try these experiences out. After all, you’re only young once. Just remember to have fun doing it and don’t take things way too seriously.

What Happens Backstage During a Modelling Show?

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It goes something like this. Models generally have to be there about 2 to 3 hours earlier to have their hair and makeup done. If it’s a big show with many models, that could mean up to 4 or 5 hours earlier. You’ll be told to come in bare-faced and with freshly-washed hair.

The makeup artist will generally start with a makeup primer (something like a moisturizer), then a coat of foundation (pretty much skin-colored paint) to even out skin tone. Corrective makeup like concealer is used under eyes to hide dark circles, cover up redness from acne and so on. Then the rest of it goes on: eyeshadow, blush, contouring and highlight powders, eyeliner, eyebrow definer, mascara, lipstick, lip gloss, false eyelashes, setting powder and more, all applied with various types of makeup brushes and sponges. If special-effect makeup or face-painting is required, this whole process takes even longer.

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The hairstylists will usually prime the hair with a serum or mousse, then blow-dry the hair section by section to the desired style. This can also be very time-consuming, especially for models with long hair. Hair spray is often used liberally on the finished look, and this is just for basic hairdos – more elaborate styles can require ribbons, feathers, pearls, rhinestones, lace and flowers.

Then, it’s time for the outfits. Models usually come in a few days before the show to have the clothing fitted for them (alterations done to ensure a perfect fit on the runway). Putting on the clothes is the easiest part unless the costumes are elaborate, such as in bridal shows. Once the models are dressed, it’s usually a long waiting process before they get to go on stage and model the outfit.

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The waiting-in-costume part really sucks, because you can’t really eat or drink anything for fear of ruining the lip makeup. If the outfit is delicate, long or elaborate, it means you may not be able to go to the bathroom for a few hours (after the LONG process of waiting through the hair and makeup sessions, can you imagine holding your pee even longer?) You end up cursing the organisers, cursing the guys setting up the stage, cursing your fellow models with ‘easier’ outfits.

There’s usually a rehearsal or two before the actual show, so that models know their cue to go up on stage. The rehearsals also help models get the ‘feel’ of catwalk strut timing to the music chosen for the show. This part is really important so models are walking on and off the stage in sync and you don’t get some girls walking faster, some slower, or too many models on the stage at once. There are invisible ‘lines’ and ‘markers’ on the runway: places to stand and strike poses, the lines to walk along without colliding into the other models, etc.

Also, models need to be able to handle unexpected wardrobe malfunctions on stage (yes, it happens more often than you think). I remember modelling a saree at one show, and when I stopped at the end of the runway to do that momentary pose, I realized that the threads at the hem of my saree were caught tightly in my stiletto buckle. I panicked, standing there longer than I should, unsure of what to do next. I was afraid to rip the saree or pull it undone in front of the audience. So I did the best thing I could think of at that moment – I pretended to strike a few more poses, all the while twisting my ankle in various directions hoping to free the threads. Thank goodness it worked, and nobody noticed anything unusual. It was a good lesson I learned that day too: keep your cool even if you’ve messed up, and chances are most people won’t notice a thing.

Want to Get Started in Modelling?

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First, you’ll need to decide what type of modelling work you’re interested in. If you don’t have the height for runway modelling, don’t despair. You can try petite modelling (height requirements are between 5’2 to 5’6) or just do print and media work like advertisements. There’s also plus-size modelling, body parts modelling and more.

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Plus-size Model

Once you’ve decided on the type of modelling work you want to do, you can either sign up with an agency or do the rest yourself. This essentially means putting together a portfolio of professional photographs of yourself in various modelling poses. An agency may also teach you some basics to begin with, such as catwalk strutting techniques, how to style yourself and how to do your own professional makeup. If you ask me, however, you don’t really need an agency for these things. See if you can collaborate on a TFP (time for print) basis with photographers, fashion stylists and makeup artists – this means you don’t have to pay them, but they get to use your photographs for their own portfolios in exchange for their services. TFP is a good way for all parties involved to get more exposure and credibility in their own industries, especially if everyone’s just starting out.

Last but not least, develop thick skin. Be prepared for rejection and lots of it. Some clients can be downright mean and brutal. The thing to bear in mind is that rejection doesn’t mean you’re flawed or not good enough; the client probably just had a different idea in mind to begin with. Be resilient and keep trying. You may need to work without pay for the first few jobs until you have something to show for yourself (references, photos).

I will leave newbies and young aspirants with one word of caution, especially girls: be wary of who you work with in modelling. The industry is not short of its share of perverts, creeps and shady characters who are willing to exploit naive newcomers. Be very cautious and think carefully before you agree to work with someone, especially if they require you to pay money upfront, insist on nude or obscene shots and so on. Be VERY clear on what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not willing to do, and stand by your decisions. Respect your body. Tell a trustworthy person where you’re going when you start attending auditions or casting sessions – your safety is priority at all costs.

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