It wasn't long after I got into fashion photography when I realized that I was more interested in the people wearing the clothes than the clothes themselves. So I soon began taking pictures of people who weren't wearing any clothes.
In 2008, I shot a centerfold for the French edition of Playboy. That was my first encounter with a girl named Raquel Nave. Raquel was so unusual—so free and uninhibited. She was unlike any model I had worked with up until that point. As soon as Raquel began to undress, I felt incredibly liberated from fashion. We became good friends and eventually she invited me to her flat. Everything at her place—every postcard on the wall, every piece of art—was a reflection of her. That's how I got the idea to start shooting models in their flats.
To date, I've photographed over 70 models in their homes. Every shoot has been an adventure in its own way. I love the feeling of showing up at someone's place and having no idea what to expect. Almost everyone has opened up and told me their story. Maybe it's that closeness and intimacy that you get from being inside someone's bedroom or maybe there's just been some chemistry between me and a bunch or ridiculously good-looking people. Whatever it is, I feel extremely privileged to have been able to hear about their dreams, struggles, fears, and aspirations. Here are some of their stories.
A photographer approached me at a Starbucks when I was 17 years old. Moving into a model flat was so weird—there were so many girls living one on top of the other. There were eight of us shoved into a two-bedroom apartment.
I experienced it all: weird eating habits and eating disorders, creepy promoters calling the apartment, endless Skype conversations with boyfriends from back home and bitchy Brazilians who didn't let you use their toilet paper. Some would also put bleach into other people's shampoo bottles to fuck with them and keep them from getting jobs.
The best thing about being a model is the amount of money you get for doing jack shit—that and meeting tons of hot girls. But I don't see myself as some kiddie version of Derek Zoolander, who lives in a bunk-bed bedroom with a bunch of vain pretty boys.
Most models feed off attention, which means it can get competitive sometimes. I was sabotaged once. The night before I met with a potential new agency, my roommate put hot pepper in my pillowcase. My face was swollen as a motherfucker and I didn't get signed.
I watch my weight but that's because of my passion for boxing, not modeling. Models are pretty funny about staying thin. It's no joke. If you're fat, you simply don't get booked. Some models use drugs like cocaine to keep their weight in check. I do drugs from time to time, but only because I like to party.
I got picked up by a small agency in my hometown of Raseiniai in Lithuania. I moved away from home when I was really young and that forced me to learn how to take care of myself really quickly. I shared an apartment with some models and it was a blast. I never made so many friends, and such pretty ones too.
The fashion industry is very competitive, but then again what industry isn't? The clients decide what girl or what look is right for their brand that season. If you don't get picked, it's not personal—it's business. A big part of modeling is simply waiting: Waiting for flights and taxis, waiting to be seen at castings, waiting at fashion shows to get your hair and make-up done or for the show to start. You have to learn how to entertain yourself and be patient.
I lost a bet during a football game that resulted in me going to an audition. I was mistakenly booked as a man and the rest is history. No one else looks like me so there is little competition.
If I'm modeling as a female, I'm asked to maintain a size 2 or 4 to be able to fit into the clothing. If I'm hired as a male, I'm asked to be a size 4 to 6. Fluctuating body weight for shoots can be challenging, but I do it carefully and healthily under the guidance of a private nutritionist. I love my body and I just tell people to fuck off if they ask me to eat unhealthily to obtain an image. They have Photoshop. You either want me or you don't.
I moved to New York from Fargo in North Dakota so that I could study. Growing up I didn't know what plus-size modelling was. I floated between a US size 10 and 12, always trying to get skinnier.
The first time a scout approached me, I was in a Sephora. I wasn't ready for it. I was 19 and unable to even consider the idea of modeling until I had grown to love myself. The plus-size industry is something most people don't understand and that can be hard. However, knowing I could be inspiring a young girl in Ohio to love her body is worth everything.
I'm shocked at how easy it has been to make a career out of being myself. If my job required me to change my body drastically I wouldn't do it. I have other qualities and I'm smart.
This picture was taken years ago. I really wanted to do Hadley's "model at home" shoot but back then I didn't have a flat. I'd only been a model for a few months so I was living with my parents at the time. I wasn't getting a lot of work either because back then, the market for black girls was very limited in Paris. So I asked a friend of mine to lend me his for the afternoon.
This picture doesn't show my real personality—it's more of a persona influenced by the magazines I was reading and the things I was seeing at the time. I used to dress to please men. Now I only dress for myself.
My look in this photo is strange. Now my hair and eyebrows are dyed white and with this kind of style I can't work for agencies anymore. But it fits me well—I finally found myself and I don't look like anyone else. Ironically, I've had more job offers since I stopped being represented by an agency.
I was doing breakdance shows on the street in Alexanderplatz in Berlin when a scout approached me. The worst thing about modeling is the fashion week castings. I've known models that wait in line for four hours to make 100 euros ($110).
There's a lot more to my life than modeling though. I founded the record label Dezi-Belle. I study business and politics and I'm still active in the breakdance scene.
When I first got into modeling at the age of 13, I would do random jobs that usually involved a skateboard or a surfboard. I grew up in New York City so I already had friends there, when I entered the fashion world. I'd show up to jobs and leave right after to go back to my normal day. That's what saved me from a lot of the negativity that models coming to New York are subjected to.
For me, each day is all about music until a job comes along. My band is called Caverns. I think having a passion outside of modeling is essential for models who want to preserve a healthy ego. If you have something you truly love to keep you going, you're less vulnerable to harsh judgments. I've also developed a sort of weird character for myself so I definitely have a niche in the industry.
I started modelling when I was 16 years old. I grew up in a very small town on an island off the coast of Maine and I knew nothing about the crazy world of fashion. My mom's boyfriend at the time took a few pictures of me and within a week I was signed by NEXT Miami. Soon after, I packed my bags for NYC and signed with Re:Quest.
You can't make it as a model without a bit of luck, good timing, and serious commitment. Overall, it's a pretty incredible experience for a young adult to have.
I had the time of my life, when I lived in the Ford model apartment—there was never a dull moment. All these guys from different countries and all walks of life had come to live together, with one common goal. Even though we barely knew each other we got along great and there were never any big fights.
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