Reflections on Retirement: The Driving Force Behind “Enough”

Back in July I made the decision to retire from modeling.  Many people accepted this and simply said, “sorry to see you go”.  Others, however, begged for explanations or (worse) pleaded with me not to retire because we hadn’t gotten a chance to work together.  I will not address the second point other than to say if someone didn’t work with me in the 6 years I modeled… well, tough shit.  There was plenty of time to schedule something. Onto the explanation.

This stuff all factored into it, over time.

There were quite a few times where I was screwed.  Numerous times I didn’t receive images from trade shoots–often images I was counting on to update my portfolio.  A few times agreed-upon terms were changed  during an event, or just before a shoot.  Sometimes, I didn’t get what I was promised for participating in an event, or delivery came so late it was unusable.  Par for the course, and really, I should be thankful that all I dealt with were some people who didn’t make good on their promises.  I have certainly heard my fair share of horror stories from others regarding all sorts of other scary crap.

I dealt rather often with photographers balking at my rates.  Some of them I was able to negotiate with, and for some, it didn’t work and we went our own ways in a professional manner.  And there were others who told me I wasn’t worth paying, that I was a stupid bitchface for charging so much, and that I was dumb for even charging because I was a worthless, know-nothing, short, fat wannabe who would never make it in the “real” modeling world.  This from people who previously were dying to work with me.  Ok then.  Again, all pretty normal.

I spent a lot of money on wardrobe, shoes, and accessories for shoots.  Because I was a hobbyist, I usually had to provide wardrobe.  Initially, I just shot in what I had, but as my tastes changed, my ideas become more complex, and I learned what looked good on camera and what didn’t, it meant spending money on things I couldn’t always wear in “real life”.  It meant I had a closet (and by “closet” I mean a bedroom converted to one) full of thousands of dollars of stuff, much of it cheap stuff that wasn’t meant to last, because I bought it just for shoots, and it didn’t need to last.  After years of denial, I realized I was being stupid with my money and, even when I was paid to shoot, I was modeling at a significant loss.  I stopped buying shit just in case I needed it for a shoot, and stopped buying everything new specifically for shoots.  If I had to buy for a shoot, I thrifted instead of buying new, saving a little money that way.  Those were realizations and choices I should have made early on in my career, but you know what they say about hindsight.

And then there was the drama.  Things like, walking into a photographer’s studio and being told, “oh, your friend Swoozie Goodmodel (not a real name) was here and spent an hour talking shit about you” or being unfriended on Facebook because I said I had an “*amazing* shoot” with someone and a model took it as a dig at a photographer she was friends with (actually happened)… crap like that.  People in the industry seemed to thrive on drama.  Was I guilty of feeding it sometimes?  Sure.  Drama came with the territory, though I eventually realized I could stop caring and move on.

All of that was stuff I dealt with for years.  Years.  And previously, a break here and there had been enough to give me some breathing room and make me realize that I loved modeling and wanted to be in front of the camera again.  Because I did.

So then what really caused me to say, “I’m done”?

In short, it was the realization that not enough people valued my work enough to hire me.  There were quite a few local photographers who constantly hit me up to work with them, but couldn’t add to my book.  But despite the fact that they couldn’t improve my portfolio, I wasn’t “awesome” or “the best” or “super-talented” enough to hire.  All of the pre-shoot planning I did (including coming up with ideas, showing up staggeringly more prepared than many models, and nailing pose after pose, shoot after shoot) wasn’t enough for many photographers, and, it seemed, didn’t justify my rates.

It just became enough.  I was starting to think I needed another hiatus.  Perhaps a longer one.

And then, this happened…

I had a few rather… maddening exchanges with one particular photographer.  This was someone I worked with over 10 times, and someone I initially considered an important professional aquaintence, and who’s work was long an asset to my portfolio.  This was a photographer I recommended over and over, and often went to first when I needed portfolio updates or wanted to shoot for special projects.  Eventually, though, as my portfolio improved, his work became less of an asset to my book.  Then I got tired of doing all the work for our shoots.  I made the decision to ask for rates the next time he approached me for a shoot I didn’t need, and I did.

In an effort to help others not make the same mistakes, here’s what went down.

I often received text messages from this photographer telling me how awesome I was, and how we had to work together soon.  In response to each text, I asked for an email or Facebook message to schedule a shoot–texting has never ever been my preferred method of contact, and is never been the way I schedule shoots.  This photographer, of all of them, should have known that.  And yet, nearly every single time, I didn’t get any emails or messages.  Instead, a few weeks later, I’d get a text telling me, “we’ve GOT to shoot sometime, you’re SOOOO awesome!”

What’s more?  I often got text messages about other crap too, friendly little anecdotes about his day, or things he saw that made him think of me.  At first, I didn’t mind it, but it quickly grew old.  I should have put a stop to it, right when it started, but instead I responded, encouraging it.  At some point, I realized I’d made a mistake.  This was a professional aquaintence with no chance of a friendship developing, and I was done enabling it.  I stopped responding to nonsense editorial crap about gross energy drink flavors and the food at a restaurant we’d both been to.  Gradually, the random texts stopped.  But I should have never let them start in the first place.  Lesson learned, though too late.

There were a few times where I gave this photographer a heads up (via Facebook message) about my availability.  I often asked about budget, and spare one time, I was just asked for my rates, which I sent.  Every time I was told they were too high, I offered to negotiate.  Once I was asked to fully concept out the shoot–that is, not just come up with poses, but concept out hair, makeup, come up with and provide wardrobe, and figure out optimal lighting and background setups, all because the photographer “didn’t have any ideas” right then.  I was asked to do all that for $20/hour (to be clear, that’s $30/hour less than what my standard “show up and pose” rate was).  Marginally insulting, that number, but I just him know that while I was “more than happy to negotiate a little and discount for 4 or 8 hour blocks,” that I couldn’t “go as low as $20/hour, especially if I’m concepting out things as well”.  He understood, but never gave me another number to work with.  One other time he said his budget was “$75-85 or so”, but he gave no details on how long the shoot would be.

After low-balling me and telling me he couldn’t afford my rates, this same photographer later told me that he was traveling to another city to shoot various models (including one that was already in his book a few times over), and that those expenses were going to set him back.  Could we maybe plan to shoot the following month instead?  While it kind of stung a little to be set aside for others, after being told just how “amazing and awesome” I was, and how I was his “favorite to work with”, I fully understood wanting to get out, shoot new locations, and work with models he didn’t get a chance to work with.  It did, however, bug me a little that he felt it was ok to totally low-ball my rates because he “couldn’t afford it” and then go and take a road trip.  But it wasn’t my place to say anything or comment on how he was managing his money.

In between all of this, I offered advice on situations involving model/photographer drama, personal crap, and other BS I didn’t need to be involved with or offer my thoughts on.  But, I thought, we were professional aquaintences, and I often mentored newer models and photographers, so in terms of industry-related crap, it was part of the “job”.  Plus, this was someone who’s work I respected (even if it didn’t improve my book any longer) and someone I recommended to others–someone I wanted to see succeed–so if that meant helping them out in other ways, aside from working trade with them, that was a compromise I was willing to make.  But at times, the drama he invested himself in made me shake my head in wonder.

Anyway, this was someone who apparently really enjoyed working with me.  He constantly called me a part “team awesomeness” (including an MUA/friend I worked with almost exclusively in “our” team), and often told me I was “freaking amazing” and “the best, most awesome model [he’s] ever worked with”.  Every time I brought a concept to the table, he marveled over the creativity and was wowed by the amazing images we got.  And yet, once I made the decision to start charging him, he never seemed to be able to afford my rates.  He was always really hard up for money, and struggling to pay bills–he flat out told me at least once that he was struggling check to check.  He was, seemingly, always too broke to hire me–even on our trade shoots he was too broke, and we had to split the flat (and ridiculously, stupidly cheap, especially for her high-caliber work) fee of $50 my MUA friend gave me for unlimited, varying, in-depth hair and makeup looks.

And I knew for a fact that he often gave this same MUA friend post-dated checks for other gigs he hired her for, and asked her to wait until the next pay period to cash them.  He did this because he didn’t have cash and didn’t have the money in his account just then to cover her fees.  He did this numerous times, and continued to do it even after she asked to be notified of it in advance.  He never notified her ahead of time when he needed it done, and when she was relying on that money to pay her bills, to say this practice was “an inconvenience” would be generous.

I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t good enough to hire.  Why wasn’t I good enough, when all he did was rave about me every time he asked me to shoot?  I sat and I wondered about it.  At some point, I saw he was posting more work.  That’s when I started paying a little closer attention to his Facebook account.  I watched him shoot with other models who I knew charged.  I understood, or I told myself I did.  After all, I was willing to work trade with some photographers, but wanted him to pay me.  I was in his book a lot, and if he wanted to hire someone else, it was his money and he was free to do so.  Besides, maybe he was able to negotiate with those other models for rates that were lower than mine.  I didn’t know, and didn’t want to know, the terms of their agreements.  It was, I decided, entirely possible that he had a photography budget that just didn’t allow for my rates.  But that still didn’t explain the frequent post-dated checks that were a total inconvenience to my MUA friend.

As I continued to follow him on FB I watched him spend money on tattoos.  Big, intricate pieces that required numerous trips back to the shop, and that were so well done it left no doubt that they were not cheap.  Meanwhile, he often posted about not having enough money to buy proper food, and still turned down my rates.  I know, I know… his money, his budgeting, and his poor decisions (if that’s what they were).  But it stung quite a bit to see him spending money on other things when I was constantly told “sorry, I don’t have the money to pay you”.

Then I sent him a “last chance, one-time-only” offer.  It was my only free weekend in July, and I’d made the rather sudden decision to stop modeling at the end of the month.  A workshop I was supposed to host was cancelled and I had an opening that coincided with my MUA’s schedule.  He’d been begging me since January to get the 3 of us together again and shoot something with “team awesomeness”, and this was his chance.  He’d mentioned being available all week that week, so I figured we’d have a good chance of booking.  The MUA and I sat down, looked at our rates, and decided we’d offer him a full package.  She and I would concept out 3 hair/makeup looks, and 5 wardrobe looks, all to be shot in 4 hours, for a total of $550.  If he booked her and I separate, at half-day rates, without all the concepting stuff, it would have run him $500, so this was a good deal.  Based on previous shoots, we knew he could handle getting great shots for his book with so many looks in just 4 hours, so weren’t worried about time in the least.

“Sorry. I’m not available that day now. Thanks for letting me know though,” he replied.  We asked him to let us know if it changed, and after confirming he would, we never heard from him.  It was a deal offered only a few days out, so we both understood not being free.  However his “not available that day” turned out to be posting menial crap on Facebook most of the day.  My MUA friend and I hung out during the time we had set aside to shoot and noticed it (yes, we Facebook while we hang, what of it?).  I commented on something he posted during that time with something like, “wow, yea, you were busy today, huh?”  A little passive-aggressive?  Yea, but I was tired of his crap, and so was she.  It was clear he lied about something.

He texted me and told me he wasn’t sure what his schedule for the day was going to be like, but that he couldn’t really have afforded it anyway.  But previously he’d been “not available”, so which was it?  I told him he should have just been honest, instead of making it seem like he lied, and that we’d have been willing to negotiate on price and on some of the time we had free.  He apologized, followed by a quasi apology a couple days later that highlighted more how mad he was at himself than any remorse he felt towards making me feel undervalued.

Because that’s what it was; I felt undervalued.  As I watched him spend money he may or may-not have had on other models and tattoos, while he gave my friend post-dated checks and told me he couldn’t afford my rates, I realized that he liked working with me because of what I brought to the table, but didn’t think that any of my creativity or abilities were worth paying for.  It didn’t matter to him that I worked my ass off before each shoot to come up with a plan, and then showed up with fucking awesome ideas, and brought a kickass stylist who nailed everything I asked her to do and helped art-direct the shoot on set.  It didn’t matter that I brought my own killer wardrobe along with great lighting ideas.  He didn’t give a shit that, during every shoot, I pushed him creatively while I knocked out pose after pose.  He didn’t care that all he ended up having to do was push the shutter release button and tell me I rock.  (And don’t tell me he did hours of post work, because he often had a least 2 or 3 images posted by the time I got home after our shoots.  It was a 30 minute drive, tops.)

It was clear: This photographer didn’t value me or my work enough to pay me, and, frankly, it was pretty fucking insulting.

In August, I decided it was time to do a preliminary cleanout of my Facebook account.  I was going to be using the account for my style blog, and decided it was time to cull the herd of people I didn’t need to continue relationships with on a modeling/photography standpoint.  After much though, I decided to unfriend him, along with a quite a few other photographers and models (yes, some local).  It was clear, in his last “apology” to me, that he was more concerned about his own feelings than making good on our professional relationship.  In fact, he talked more to my MUA friend about me than anything (which she of course told me), and couldn’t be bothered to talk to me at all, even after being urged to numerous times.

When he noticed we eren’t friends any more, he went to my MUA friend and complained, again, instead of sending me a note asking what was up.  She told him he was being silly and that there was no reason for us to be friends on Facebook.  We’d been acquaintances through modeling, and because I wasn’t modeling any more, there was no need for us to be friends.  He was all, “yea, you’re right, thanks” and that was that.

Until a couple weeks later when he sent me a friend request.  No “hey, sorry for the misunderstanding before.  I’d like having you on my friends list as a reference, is that ok?” or any other explanation.  Just a friend request, which I denied.  I got another a couple days later, which was denied again, followed by another the next day.  Finally, I sent him a note telling him to stop, and explaining pretty much everything I’ve just said here (in fact, I copy-pasta’d some of the above direct from my note to him).

But instead of engaging in conversation, apologizing, or otherwise discussing it with me, he blocked me, removed all my images from his Model Mayhem account (and probably other accounts as well, though I didn’t bother looking) and seemingly completely eradicated me from his professional life.  He then ran crying to my MUA friend about it, and tried to get her to talk to me about it.  She, of course, told him to grow a set and talk to me.  He hasn’t, and I sent that message on August 24th.  He has since unblocked me on Facebook though.

Meanwhile, he wrote my friend another post-dated check, because he didn’t have enough money to pay her rates.  Again.  Oh, and she cut him a deal on a single hair/makeup look because of the working relationship they have.  But he, once again, couldn’t be bothered to let her know ahead of time he had to post-date the check!  Thankfully, she works full-time and isn’t relying on that money to pay bills any more.  Oh, and guess what?  He went and got another tattoo, despite having to write post-dated check to pay someone.  Needless to say, I know she’s had enough of his bullshit too, and she’s starting to totally understand exactly how I felt the last time he and I actually spoke.

So that, folks, is ultimately why I stopped modeling.

And the frustration relating to the entire situation is why I couldn’t even think about coming to this blog to explain it.  What prompted me to do it, finally, was three-fold.  First was hearing about that last post-dated check my friend got, without notice, after a gig with this photographer.  The second was hearing that he posted on Facebook about getting a brand new, fully-loaded Camaro, after having to write a post-dated check.  And the third was seeing that an extremely talented, genuinely nice-guy, photographer decided to hang it up because models treated him in such a way that mirrored the way I was treated.

All of the above BS guarantees one thing for the photographer: I’m no longer recommending him to other models.  I can’t.  Not after everything–the lack of respect for me as a model, the unannounced post-dated checks to friends (which I probably would have had deal with at some point too), the lies about things–I just can’t bring myself to recommend him for fear of another model having to deal with any of it.  It just wouldn’t be fair!  That doesn’t mean I’m going to go around shouting his name from rooftops across the state of Illinois, but if someone asks for a reference check, it’s not going to be a good review.

Meanwhile, all of this could have been avoided had this guy talked to me like a professional.  If he had stopped worrying about posting his latest ink to Facebook, and taken a moment to think about what message he was sending someone that was “the best [he] had ever worked with” when he told half-truths, or couldn’t even be bothered to send a message to when he was worried about burning a bridge, then chances are, I wouldn’t be writing this post.  If he’d owned up to the lies and making me feel undervalued, I’d have accepted the apology and moved on.

Sure, I would have still stopped modeling, but may have put it off until around now instead of cold-calling it at the end of July.  I knew 2012 was going to be the year for me to move on.  The above bullshit just hurried it along.  Enough was enough.  I’m now working on my style blog more, should you care to keep up with me there.  I may still write some modeling-related pieces over here now and again, but we’ll see.

The lessons here?  There are many.

  • Don’t take your good working relationships for granted.  When you do, you’re likely to start screwing things up and could burn the bridge, and ultimately, all that does for you is tarnish your reputation.
  • Respect the people you have good working relationships with, and show them you value all they do for you.  It doesn’t mean you have to take them to Charlie Trotter’s for dinner, just respect them enough to have integrity when dealing with them.  And no, telling them they fucking rock all the time doesn’t count.
  • Be honest with those you work with.  Don’t lie or omit details in an effort to save face.  If you can’t be honest with the people you’re working with, you need to re-evaluate the relationship you have with them, as well as your own personal issues.
  • If you are going to apologize, be sincere.  Don’t focus on how your mistakes make you feel bad for yourself.  Show remorse for your actions and apologize for making the other person feel the way you have.
  • Don’t overstep your bounds in professional relationships.  If you want to become friends with someone, that’s fine, but make sure the feeling is mutual before you just start texting them about pointless shit at all hours.
  • Speak up sooner rather than later, and don’t be afraid to say something.  If something someone does or says makes you feel like crap, or you don’t like where something has gone, out with it!  Don’t let it go on until it’s ridiculous, because then it’s just going to be awkward to get out of (if you can at all).
  • Talk directly to people, especially once you’re old enough to vote.  If you can vote, or for goodness’ sake join the military, you should be long past the “have Billy tell Jenny to tell Carmen that Sandra said that Kyle likes Johnny” bull.  Seriously.  If you have an issue with someone, or need to tell someone something, talk to them.  Even if it’s via Facebook message or email.
  • Don’t drown in the drama, and don’t drag others with you.  While it may be hard to avoid, if something happens that involves you, take a deep breath and count to 100 before responding or reacting.  Easier said than done, and something I wish I did myself numerous times.  And keep your drama to yourself and don’t involve others, especially when they aren’t related to it.

So that’s all of it.

That’s what happened, and what I took away from it.  Largely, what I walked away from this with is that the lessons I learned from it all don’t necessarily apply to just the modeling/photography worlds.  Whether or not you walk away with the same… that’s up to you.

All of this guarantees one thing for the photographer: I’m no longer recommending him to other models.  can’t.  Not after everything–the lack of respect for me as a model, the unannounced post-dated checks, the lies–I just can’t bring myself to do it for fear of another model falling into it and having to deal with any of it.  It just wouldn’t be fair.  That doesn’t mean I’m going to go around shouting his name from rooftops across the state of Illinois, but if someone asks for a reference check, it’s not going to be a good review.

2 Comments to “Reflections on Retirement: The Driving Force Behind “Enough””

  1. Rachel,
    I just read this entry. I fully understand your reasons for not continuing to model. I have been a photographer since 1971, with the majority of my professional work consisting of weddings, portraits, products, family groups, business meetings, and high rise buildings undergoing a rehab or renovation. I always wanted to work with models, shooting fashion, glamour, boudoir, etc. but never really had the time to learn how to do these genres or actually shoot them. I have tried in recent years to do some of them but have not really been that active in them. Over the last several years, I became aware of you on Facebook and am very grateful that you added me as a friend. In addition, I have asked you several questions about modeling and you graciously gave me answers that I valued. I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate the time you gave to me supplying me with answers about music during a shoot, snacks available, and more. I can only wish you the best in your future endeavors, and feel that the world of modeling has lost an eloquent spokesperson that has created a body of work that is so very lovely.
    Blue Skies and Tail Winds,

  2. Awww thanks 🙂 I really appreciate it, and while I’m still happy to make myself available as a mentor, posing coach, or question-answerer, being in front of the camera just isn’t for me any more. Might I play around with some fun stuff with friends? Possibly–in fact, I was just talking about an underwater shoot with a good friend. But otherwise, it’s time to move on.