There are times when you experience a moment in life which leaves you with very little room for mental manoeuvrability. I had a photo shoot on Friday and it's left me feeling a little bit strange and confused about my moral compass. I will call the model Stacey for the purpose of this post because that name fits her age.
The shoot had been arranged weeks ago, fashion and lingerie, and I was looking forward to it simply because the model seemed so enthusiastic. I had Friday off and the first part of the day was concerned with taking Nathalie to college so she could pick up a video camera and tripod for the pop video she was directing on Saturday - kids eh?. That over I returned home and started preparing for the shoot.
About two hours before we were due to meet I received a text asking if it was still on, this seemed a little strange because we'd only exchanged texts on Thursday night, however despite not being the world's greatest texter I replied in the affirmative. I drove to Southampton and Sod's Law made sure that I had a clear road and arrived half an hour before the time we were due to meet, itself a quarter of an hour before the shoot.
I received a text at about twenty minutes to go in which she said the taxi hadn't arrived yet even though it was booked. This didn't really mean a whole lot in terms of her timekeeping because I had no idea where in Southampton she lived. Ten minutes later another progress report. I hadn't replied to either of these as I thought they were just for information. Five minutes later a third rather more anxious text, "Paul are you receiving my texts?" I replied in the affirmative.
With ten minutes to go before the start of the shoot I get a phone call, "I'm outside but not sure where to go?" I go out to meet her. Now I'm useless at reading models descriptions on their profiles, I go for a look to fit what I want to shoot, but I should have paid more attention because fashion models are generally taller than five foot five! Not being heightist but that was a shock. The second shock was how stressed out she looked and behaved.
I showed her into the changing room and asked her what clothes she had brought with her. She opened up this huge suitcase to reveal: three sets of underwear (all black), a pair of red knickers, two pairs of shoes and a leather jacket. Now I like a challenge as much as the next man but two hours with three sets of underwear? We picked out a set and I said we would start with some boudoir type shots to get her relaxed, I went outside whilst she got changed.
Rus, who owns the studio and who has a history of not being that great with women, said, "Blimey, is she all right? That's a definite rabbit in the headlights look. I'll make her a cup of tea."
I gave her ten minutes and then knocked on the door, she was ready and positioned herself on the bed whilst I checked the lights, trigger and transmitter. We were then ready to rumble. Now I try to put the models at ease, not by telling them jokes but just engaging them in conversation between shots. The first and most obvious question is "What do you do for a living?" In the past this has been answered as, "Dancer," "Bar Worker," "Designer," "Shop worker," "Restaurant Manager," and three or four times they have been professional models. This time the answer was, "I work in the adult film industry."
I didn't shout ,"Yeah baby," "Or wop bop a loo bop a wop bam boom" and punch the air, I simply replied, "Do you enjoy it?"
She then told me how she'd been in the 'industry' for three years and was now looking to get out and go back into 'normal' employment but also get some experience from what she called modelling in the real world. The problem she said was trying to explain to prospective employers what she had been doing in the three years since leaving what seemed a pretty good job in retail.
Now I have to say that for somebody who makes their living in the sex industry she just couldn't do anything remotely sexy. She couldn't smile, couldn't pose and was obviously wound tighter than my watch. "You're struggling with this aren't you," I said perceptively! "It's just so different, I don't know how to pose. When you do the 'other stuff' you don't pose or smile the cameraman tells you what to do and you do it and sometimes if you laugh they get mad at you.
It took about an hour before she began to relax and actually smile the thinnest of smiles. It was difficult to engage her in any conversation without sounding like a perv, even taking an interest in her work made me feel dirty. We had a break whilst I changed the position of the lights and she told me how she was desperate to get out of the adult film world and how she had moved back with her parents after she had split with her boyfriend. As we wound down at the end of the shoot I asked her if she had a taxi arranged to collect her, she said she didn't but that she would phone for one. I asked her if she wanted a lift into Southampton and after some deliberation she said yes. Now she had let slip earlier in the shoot that her parents live at Sholing, the studio I use is in Northam (close to St.Mary's) and so I knew that she would be catching a bus back along the road we were close to so I said, "I don't mind taking you home if you like."
Once we got in the car she started talking, constantly for the fifteen minute journey, telling me about the abuse she gets on her Facebook site and also telling me that the name she uses for this type of modelling is different to the one she uses in her adult film career. Now at no point did I ask her what this was but she volunteered it, saying she uses two names but she'd googled herself and hadn't found anything she'd appeared in, probably she said, "because the films appear under stupid titles like 'Blonde Minx' or other daft names, well given that she's not blonde that would have taken a lot of web trawling!
I dropped her off and drove home. The photographs are easily the poorest I have ever taken. There was no chemistry between us, her personality is buried beneath a layer of self doubt and she looks so unhappy. Looking at the head shots (no jokes please) she has the vacant look of a drug user, although I saw no evidence of that. She did tell me however that she had done a lot of things she wasn't proud of and had to make a change. She said it so many times during the shoot and journey that I sensed she had wanted to tell somebody about this before but hadn't had a compliant listener.
Anyway as I tend to do with these things I uploaded the photographs to my computer to leave until Saturday morning before looking through them. Saturday morning and I started to look through them and realised straightaway that there was very little worth saving. It was then that I did something that I wished I hadn't done, I googled her. Yes, you could see that coming couldn't you, once out of the bottle it can't be put back in and although I couldn't remember her 'stage' name on the Friday on the Saturday photographs helped me remember.
I wish I hadn't.
When she said she had done a lot of things she wasn't wrong, not just adult films and photographs but working as an escort, in fact her escort work seems to be her main source of income. The films were what could only be described as of a sexually abusive nature, and that's all you need to know. Not sexy just raw animalistic sex. Not even soft focus let's make this look all lovey dovey sex, it was horrible. I didn't have to watch more than ten seconds of the first one to realise these were instructional films on how to perfect your foreplay technique, there was no foreplay. The titles told you all you needed to know about there artistic merit and I don't intend posting some of them here
The dates of her 'photographic' tour coinciding rather neatly with the dates of her 'escort' tour.
I felt confused and still do. I photograph women, sometimes they don't have any clothes on, but it's always about the photograph first and foremost - getting the lighting right, letting their personality come through. Having spent two hours with Stacey I can honestly say that pornography has completely taken her personality away, she has simply become a commodity. Yes I know she is complicit in this and trying to get out of the adult film industry will be like going through cold turkey for a drug user. She has the lifestyle, an apartment in Ocean Village, that a rate of £90 an hour can get you and yet she is so unhappy and it made me feel unhappy too and a hypocrite.