Wednesday, May 12, 2010

MARCUS RANDALL - CALIFORNIA'S BEST KEPT SECRET

Model: Marcus Randall

Sometimes you go through life blissfully (and ignorantly) thinking that everything you’ve been taught about the “industry” is “correct.” Models are to be a certain height, a certain weight, a certain look, or a certain [fill in the blanks]. And as you go along, you are so busy pounding in your head all the industry “standards” that you find yourself turning away models merely because they don’t fit the industry standard. I know I’ve turned away some gems, and I know some of my colleagues have done the same. It’s a shameful way to be, because we become guilty of the very thing in which we complain about (no diversity in the industry).

Every once in a while, God comes along and shakes things up a bit and goes “Dallas (or whatever your name is). It’s time to sit back and look with ‘new’ eyes. Sometimes it is your job as an image maker to step away from the rigid rules of “industry standard” and make an exception. Eventually that exception will become the rule.” In this case God is played by California’s own Michael Maddox, my dear friend and industry mentor. Please check out his website (www.dearmichaelmaddox.com, and www.michaelmaddoxrunway.com).

I’ve developed a keen relationship with Michael and there isn’t much he says to me that hasn’t come to pass and he is like a wise old Jedi Master. I realize now that when he says things to me, I no longer question, I go blindly along because before long he is calling me and saying in the mixture of Southern drawl and California twang; “Didn’t I tell you, my dear friend?” Hence, the reason for this blog.

In my relationship with Michael, he has introduced me to a plethora of West Coast models that have been making trips to New York primarily to shoot with me. Thus far it has been B.J. Williams, Brandon Espy and lastly Marcus Randall. My adventures with each model has been unique and beautiful in its own right, but the most unique adventure of them all has been Mr. Marcus Randall.

If any of you have followed any of my blogs you will know one thing. I could honestly care what a model looks like (because they are all beautiful in there own unique way). However, like other photographers I still had an industry standard “chip” lodged deep into my cerebral cortex and very rarely do I stray from it. And if I followed this rule of thumb, I wouldn’t be writing this blog today.

What happens with Michael is, he will tell me that he is planning to send a model to New York to shoot with me. He will send me their images, and if I agree, he will tell me a little bit of what he wants. Most often Michael has been sending me stunning models of correct height, correct stature, correct body proportions and correct looks, this particular day, our conversation ran a little differently.

The email read: “Marcus Randall  –  What do you think?” As I opened the email, I was greeted with a bunch of photographs from a very good looking young man (although nothing stellar). I immediately told Michael no. Please tell this model not to waste his time.

What I love about Michael is this, he hears you out. He doesn’t override and dismiss anything you may think, and like a true friend, conversations with him are always a give and take.

“Why?” He asked.

I went into the usual diatribe of not liking his features, I pointed out all his physical shortcomings, I pointed out things that I found wrong with his images. Though he was photographed okay, he came across like an actor (or a calendar model), he would never be seriously taken as a real model in New York.

The phone was silent for a moment and Michael took a deep breath and said (these words I will never forget). “Just say hi. If after speaking with him, if you don’t want to photograph him, I totally understand.” It was as simple as that. Two days later I said hello, one month later I was picking him up from JFK airport in New York.

See, once you get to know Michael, you will realize that no matter what you think, you will do as he says, but the magic of it all is this: Michael will not say in so many words “you will do this.” The scenario will play out before you like an amazing Shakesperean play and before you know it, you would’ve done Mr. Maddox’s bidding.

Michael knows that I go COMPLETELY on feelings when it comes to my photography and it’s as simple as falling in love with the model and if that happens, I will indeed shoot him/her and upon speaking with Marcus, what was there not to love?

Once he and I agreed on a shooting date, it was no my tasks to study him. Understand all his flaws and all the reasons WHY I didn’t want to shoot him. He wasn’t industry standard height for models. Though handsome, he still came across like a B rated actor in his photographs, though his body was a stunning specimen of anatomy, there always seem to be something missing. And it was my job to find out just what that was. I asked for candid photographs and it was then I found the missing puzzle. Dazzling smile, warm personality and a frankness that exploded off the photographs that I just wasn’t seeing with previous photoshoots.

As I met him in New York I realized a couple of things, he was taller than I expected (still shorter than industry) and a hell of a lot better looking than his photos. I was immediately excited to shoot him and when we met it wasn’t the usual conventional handshake, but it was the warm hug of an old friend.

We hung out for a couple of days and in the interim I got a chance to really really know him. (Even though I “knew” him, our previous communications were through emails, telephone conversations, Twitter comments and texts). And all the nuances that you can’t capture in a photo were displayed before me. And I knew then and there that though Marcus has been photographed on countless occassions, he has never truly been captured and I took it as my person quest to make that happen.

Marcus went through my Model Bootcamp Sessions and he soaked everything up like a sponge. He learned hand placement, arm placement, connecting with the camera. He learned his good side versus bad and things he thought looked good in the camera, didn’t. He would sit on my dining room floor with a multitude of editorial magazines and studying poses, and expressions and feelings. He was hungry and he wanted to prove to me, to Michael and to all the other nay-sayers that yes, he has what it takes to succeed with the likes of Anthony Gallo, Marcus Hill, B.J. Williams and all the rest. For those photographers who turned him away, he wanted you to know what you were missing.

With a single photoshoot he was able to walk into New York agencies and prove to them that yes, even though he may be an inch or two below standard, what he lacked in height, he made up in confidence and bravado. Marcus will let you know he’s here and he is a force to be reckoned with. From this point onward, he will always be known to me as California’s Best Kept Secret.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you and the rest of the world: Marcus Randall. Like I said, I will never doubt Michael again.

Model:  Marcus Randall
PhotobucketModel:  Marcus Randall
Model:  Marcus Randall
Model:  Marcus Randall
Model:  Marcus Randall
Model:  Marcus Randall
Model:  Marcus Randall
Model:  Marcus Randall

Monday, May 3, 2010

MODEL BOOTCAMP - RELEASING THE MODEL WITHIN YOU

This blog was a long time in the making and I am living it through almost every photoshoot. You know when you do something everyday all the time, it’s no biggie to you, however, others are seeing amazing things and you just shrug your shoulders and go; “really? It’s what I do everyday.”

Every photographer has their strengths and weaknesses and each photographer should know to evolve and grow as an artist.  It is our job to constantly crush those weaknesses and turn them into strengths, and make our strengths even stronger. I was recently asked this question: What is your strengths and weaknesses? Without delving into the realms of my twisted psyche my most horrible weakness is conceptualization. I see the work of someone like Ruven Afanador (http://www.art-dept.com/artists/afanador/). I would view his work and go “my God, how does he think of these things?” But of course, as you delve deeper into the actual concepts, there are budgets involved, art directors, creative directors and such, but I, too can try to attempt small scale concepts and create magic like the likes of Maya Guez (http://www.mayaguezart.com/) and someone like Luqman (http://luqmanfotography.com/). My strengths? I can only call on two. My lighting and my ability to connect with a model, hence the reason for this blog.

As a photographer, I am always getting bombarded with the statements of how amazing my work is, how awesome the subject is, etc. And one night it dawned on me. My photography, though nice, really isn’t amazing. It is no better or worse than my equivalent peers. What the viewer is really seeing is the connection I make with the model and the energy in which we create the image.

Most times when I am shooting a new face, they don’t have much experience in front of the lens. Agencies like to send me these new faces because I take the time that is needed to teach them some of the fundamentals of modeling. It can be a long and laborious process, but in the end, the model, the agency and I are quite pleased with the finished product. Over time it has developed into something known as Model Bootcamp. Ask any of the models that I have put through this (both neophytes and veterans alike), and they will tell you, it can be tough.

What is Model Bootcamp? Well usually before I shoot a model, if time permits, I actually study their previous photoshoots. If I am actually lucky, I get to study candid images of them (be it Myspace photos, party images, Facebook images, etc.), because I personally find when a model is in front of the lens, they tend to have a guard up and I cannot get a chance to see the “real” person.  I am seeing a photographer’s rendition of them, so in essence, I am see what the photographer sees. This has its good points and bad points for me. We (meaning photographers) are magicians of illusion. We allow you to see what we want you to see. A model may be a little thick around the middle, a slight twist of the hip away from the camera may alleviate that. If a model is shorter than industry standard, it is our job to get lower than the model and shoot upward to make them appear taller, etc. However, I study these images to look for their physical weaknesses and strengths. Most often they are quite apparent, however, when they are not, it is my job to spot them out and to minimize them when I decide to shoot them.

If anyone knows me professionally, they know that I liken a photoshoot to a session of lovemaking. It is my job to make the model feel sexy, desirable, angry, whatever. It is the model’s job to convey that particular emotion back to me and it is my job to record it. The better the lovemaking, the better the babies (photographs) are going to be. That has always been my job and it hasn’t changed, however, it has evolved as I evolved as a photographer.

So now that I’ve had a chance to study a model, I figure out their angles and how best it will suit my needs in order to shoot them with regards to lighting, feel, etc., but then I also start looking at how they pose. Does it look forced, are their hands placed correctly, are their arm placements natural looking, is the feet well placed in the shot? If I start noticing common things in the photographs (even if shot by different photographers) it is now MY job to find out why. Has the photographer not pushed them enough, is there something going on that the model/photographer are trying to hide, etc. And lastly, I look at emotion and connection with the viewer. This herein lies the crux of the issues with most models.

When I first started shooting (like most of us), we were always looking for beautiful people. It made our job a lot easier, but as I evolved and my photographic eye evolved, I began to notice a trend of what I liked and what I didn’t like. And I noticed that the better models were producing something far more “magical” than the standard models. It was a connection with the photographer and with the connection with the photographer, you make a connection with the viewing audience. By doing that you create “life” in the eyes of the model. Emotion across the face and a connection that is indisputable and that is what I’ve began to develop in what is known as Model Boot Camp. I want to connect with the model. If I want the model to be sexy, it’s a lot more than just “looking” sexy for the camera. It’s about “feeling” sexy, so when the viewer views the image, I want to hear “God, that model is soooooooo sexy!” And sexy is a broad adjective and it means different things to different people and in each session it is my job to find out what that particular model’s sexy is, and teach them out to bring it out.

But it starts even before that. I would sit a model down and ask them what to they think their physical weaknesses are. It may be a weak chin, it may be a large nose, it may be eyes too close together. You would be surprised what kind of answers I may get from a model, because sometimes they just don’t know. They would tell me things that they may not like about themselves, but that is a whole different ballgame than saying what is your weakness as it pertains to the photographer. So we discuss these things and I take a series of photographs so they can personally see what I may see (yes, I allow the model to view the shoot as we go along, how else are they to learn?). A simple ½ inch turn of the head can make a weak chin look strong. Eyes that are too close together can come across slightly cross eyed, so changing the angle of the head ever so slightly will correct that. It is the little nuances in angles that can make a mediocre picture into a great picture. We find out what their best angles are, their good side versus their bad side, etc.. Once they get a clear understanding, you can see their modeling start taking on a particular shape and understanding that now they are not just standing in front the camera, they are actually modeling. Then from there we go into connecting with me as the photographer and viewer of the image. At this point is a psychological dance of the minds. I literally have to get into their business (and WOW some of the things I’ve learned). I need to know what it is that makes them feel particular ways about themselves and whatever that feeling is, they must learn to evoke it at the drop of a hat to produce the image. Most times I get it, and if not, we work at it until they’ve achieved it. The magical thing about it is this. Once they start viewing the images, it gets to a point that they tell me if the “it” factor is there or not. And it is how a model learns to grow.

Once I have achieved that special connection, we can then move on to the body. Most models I shoot are already in peak physical condition, but it is still my job to teach them how the equates to a photograph. A well built body can look blocky and square at the wrong angle, a woman’s waist can look thicker and thighs can look wider if they are presented to the camera wrong. So it is my job in Model Bootcamp to explain these things and how they relate to the camera. This is an ever evolving process. We discuss hand placement, arm placement, foot placement. And it is to get it to the point that it is natural. I strip away at the “model” fa├žade and I force the model to become real and vulnerable with me, because when they do, I can guarantee you an amazing photograph. Most models have no idea what they are about to present to me, however, when we are done, it is not I that are picking out the final proofs it is them.

Is it a lot of work? Hell yeah, but it is also very rewarding. I love to hear an agent say to me “what in the world did you do to get this? These images are amazing! There is life in their eyes!”

It’s all about the connection. It’s all about the emotion. It’s all about the love.

It’s all about the Bootcamp.


Before Bootcamp
Model: Yusuf Myers
Model:  Yusuf Myers

After BootcampModel: Yusuf Myers

Before Bootcamp
Model: Anthony Lorenzo
Model:  Anthony Lorenzo

After Bootcamp
Model: Anthony Lorenzo

Before Bootcamp
Model: BJ Williams
Model:  B.J. Williams

After Bootcamp
Model: BJ Williams

Before Bootcamp
Model: Goldin
Model:  Goldin Martinez

After Bootcamp
Goldin: Oro Masculino Series