Escape from the Creepy Russian Photographer

The penetrating gaze of a lecherous photog has our heroine on the run. When you're a model, people want you to get your tits out and won't take no for an answer.

One of the more stressful things I have to deal with is deciding whether or not to keep my bangs. Really, Melissa? There are children dying of starvation with flies laying eggs in their ears, and here I am getting stressed out over my haircut. My entire modelling portfolio is full of photos of myself with bangs. I’m sick of the fucking bangs. I’m not Zooey Deschanel or the singer in a trendy folk rock band so I don’t need bangs any more. I decide to grow them out. Which means I need updated photos for my agency to send to clients. Test shoots are a great way for models to get free photos and the photographer gets to shoot a model for free. Sounds like a great exchange, right?

Sometimes you spend three hours at a shoot and never hear from the photographer again because he was either too lazy to send you the photos or they looked so awful he was embarrassed to show anyone. There are photos from a shoot overa year ago that I have not seen, despite harassing the photographer with emails that said things like “fuck you,” or “go fuck yourself,” and “thanks for wasting my fucking time, you fucking asshole.” I’m a very busy girl and my time is valuable (no it’s not, I slept ten hours today, haven’t even put on a bra yet, and its 7 PM).

So my agency scheduled a test shoot with a Russian photographer named Yakov. Actually, I can’t remember his name but that’s the most Russian sounding name I can think of. The first thing I picture is a half-bald, short, middle-aged man wearing a red faux-leather jacket and jeans with embroidered dragons on the back pockets. I just described every man over 40 who goes to trendy clubs to hit on models.

I arrive to the midtown studio and buzz the fifth floor. He lets me up, and I enter his space. The first thing I see is a giant photo of a naked girl hanging on the wall across from the elevator. Awesome. Feeling really good about this (nope). A woman comes out to greet me. “Hi, can I help you?” she says, in some sort of accent.

“I have a shoot at 1 PM.”

“Oh... That was scheduled for three, no?” she says.

“Nope, I have the email right here. 1 PM.”

“Oh, well he is shooting someone right now, can you come back in an hour?”

“What? No. The shoot is at 1 PM.” I am annoyed.

“OK, let me ask.”

She opens a door to a smaller room. It’s dark, there is a man (the half-bald, dragon-embroidered jeans man I introduced you to earlier) sitting on a stool holding a camera.

I see a very young girl, wearing a camisole with the straps tucked into the sides. She is siting on a box and has her arms crossed in front of her chest.

The woman says something to Yakov, or Boris, or whatever his name is, and he walks out to talk to me. “I’m so sorry, I thought it was at 3 PM, can you come back?”

I stare at him like he’s my doctor who just told me I have chlamydia. “Ugh, no I can’t, sorry.” I have nothing else to do that day but I just want to get this over with. “Okay, let me finish up here and reschedule the next girl, Michelle will do your makeup and hair now, OK?” he asks, rather annoyingly. “Sure.” I walk over to the giant mirror, sit in the chair, and start scrolling through Twitter while Michelle does my hair. Makeup artists are very good at small talk. We discuss interesting topics such as the weather, more weather, and the differences between New York and Los Angeles. “It’s like, here it’s cold and like, LA is just so nice all the time.”

Really? Tell me more! I really hate being sucked into a conversation about nothing. I’d rather stalk my ex-boyfriends on the internet and look at photos of the new girls they’re dating. None of them are prettier than me so far. I can relax.

After an hour I walk into the studio and say hello to Boris. He tells me to have a seat behind the 50 million watt lights and asks if I brought a strapless bra. “Yeah, I can hide the straps to my tank top if we’re shooting my shoulders too,” I say. “Well, it’s better if you just take everything off, no lines,” he says. Now, my understanding is these photos are beauty shots of my face. I’m only getting these photos to show off my new hair. I don’t need some crazy, artsy, implied nude bullshit.

“No, I’m leaving my shirt on, no reason to take it off.” He shrugs and starts shooting. I can only imagine him telling a 17-year-old model to do that, and she agrees because she doesn’t know any better. Yuck.

After about 15 minutes of shooting, Boris starts to tell me how gorgeous I am and how much I resemble Paulina Porizkova. “Baby your eyes are so beautiful, will you be my Paulina?” I almost throw up, did he really just call me baby? I smile and laugh uncomfortably, hoping he’s joking. He’s not. “I really think we would get a great side shot if you took off your shirt, I won’t show your breast, I promise,” he says in his Russian accent.

“Nope, sorry, don’t feel comfortable doing that, just need simple face shots.” He tells me it’s my loss. My loss? It’s my loss to not have the privilege of being naked in a room with a middle-aged man who looks like Gorbachev went shopping in the men’s section of Forever 21? Go fuck yourself.

He continues shooting, then walks over to position my body towards the light. He touches my shoulder and I flinch like I’ve been smoking meth for a fortnight straight. “Baby, relax, just trying to help.” He spews more bullshit. I let him know that I’m in a hurry. He takes more photos, pausing after each one to stare deep into my eyes and tell me how he’s never met someone as gorgeous as me. I start daydreaming about my safe apartment and the leftover ice cream in my refrigerator. Anything to help me not completely freak out on this asshole.

After an hour he’s finished and asks if I want to do another look, something more dramatic. I tell him no thanks and start to get dressed.

“But I think we could make some really beautiful images together,” he says.

I pack up my shit and walk towards the door. He asks for a hug. You’ve got to be kidding me. “Not even a hug? I am sad.” “Ehh, I’ve got that germ phobia thing, sorry pal,” I say, as I make my way to the elevator. “I’ll walk you to the subway!” He starts to follow me.

“Oh, that’s OK, I live close, I’m just gonna walk.” I run into the elevator and push the first floor button, but he runs in with me. Fucking shit. “I insist. I will walk you.” Awesome.

Sergei or Boris or whatever stares at me as the elevator slowly reaches the ground floor. I walk fast, hoping he gives up. “You want to grab coffee?” he says, while trying to catch up to me. “I’ve got a boyfriend, sorry.” I walk faster. “I have a very nice house, would you like to come visit?” This guy just isn’t getting the hint. Actually, he IS getting the hint, he just thinks he can take advantage of young naïve models. Guess what, Boris? I’m not one of them. I have no problem punching you in your Russian balls if you touch me. We reach a crosswalk. He stands next to me. “Okay Paulina, you win, but I will be dreaming of us.” I hope in his dream I’m running him over with a car.

The worst part about this? The photos were amazing. Of course.

Follow Melissa on Twitter: @MelissaStetten

Illustrations by Sam Taylor. Follow him on Twitter @sptsam or visit his website at samtaylorillustrator.com.

Previously: Backstage Bulimia at the Runway Show