Model Diary: Exploring the Poetics of Performance with Steven Sebring

In my last post I wrote about the model’s paradox of feeling like an object while trying to maintain a strong sense of self. While “disposable commodity” is the overarching definition of “model,” I neglected to add that when modeling is good, it’s really fucking good. Yesterday, I spent the majority of the day wallowing in existential ennui (a sort of what-the-fuck-should-I-do-with-my-life-why-haven’t-I-finished-writing-my-first-collection-of-poems-yet thing) and coming to terms with the fact that my days aren’t as imbued with meaning as they were when I was writing term papers on the modern metropolis or Leonard Cohen’s poetry. I may have remained in that state all day because I only had one casting, at 5:30, so I had a lot of time to scrutinize my recent pursuits. But then I went to the casting.

It was with Steven Sebring, fashion photographer and director of the Patti Smith documentary Dream of Life. He’s a-w-e-s-o-m-e. And we got to talking. And then, instead of taking boring digitals, we had a small, pseudo photo shoot, where I really got to let go and perform. And suddenly the weight of my day evaporated as I moved, kicked, jumped, and threw myself around. There’s something really cathartic in shedding your self, your anxieties and worries, and acting (which is what modeling is, only without dialogue and with breaks), and thus becoming another person.

It’s a rare thing to have at a casting because each girl typically only gets a few minutes, is treated as just a face, and is welcomed and disposed of almost immediately. Maybe I just got lucky, and showed up at the right moment (when we finished taking photos there were several more models waiting). But that one casting completely changed my mood, because when modeling affords the opportunity to be really creative, to discover innovative ways to display body and character in front of the camera, it can be as satisfying as discovering some universal truth about human nature in a great piece of literature.

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