Surfaces and Strategies – Shoot Mod3#9 – Performance – “Alley”
Due to a model no-show, I had the amazing opportunity to photograph a dear friend. Like me, Alley hates having her photograph taken and it has become a phobia for her. I was honoured and very touched that when I jokingly suggested she be my model, she agreed.
Alley doesn’t realise what a beautiful person she is, both inside and out and that comes across in these images. I am thrilled with these photographs and so very touched by the piece Alley wrote to go with the images.
Below the images, Alley explains why she modelled for me.
Figure 1: Sutherst. 2017
“My name is Alison Stallard, and I have just modelled for my wonderful photographer friend, Jo Sutherst, solely for assisting her with her Masters and to help her have an understanding of why individuals struggle to step in front of the camera. So here is my story….
This “phobia” of having my image captured came later in life, not something I grew up with, as a child, I didn’t ever have an issue being in family portraits and gatherings, weddings and special occasions, so this was more of a nurture than nature psychological issue for me. I suppose it came with becoming the ugly ducking in my early teens, being badly bullied at school and mocked for being plus size, I no longer identified with the person in the image, or in the mirror, that wasn’t who I wanted to be.
After a traumatic teenage upbringing, of being bullied at school, then abused mentally and physically by my mum, I never looked at myself and gave myself any kind of self worth, I was mocked at school, then came home to more of it, so I locked myself away in my my own world and only looked in a mirror to clean my teeth and brush my hair etc. Like the famous story of the ugly duckling, something happened and all of a sudden, the bullies stopped bullying and “boys” started to pay me attention. Fortunately for me, I met my soul mate, husband and life time partner at the age of fourteen and he loved me for the way I looked, but mostly for the person I was inside. For me it no longer mattered what anyone else thought, he was my world and I needed that security and love I never got at home.
The cliché saying of “Love the skin you’re in” and “once you settle down you become complacent and the weight goes back on because you’re content” was very true. At 16 I was a size 10, 17 a size 18 and at 20 a size 22.
I married the love of my life at 20 and even though I was a plus size, and not really happy about it, but not really sad by it either, I still loved all of my wedding images, but that was more for the love in my eyes when I looked at my husband, who wouldn’t be in love with an image that stirs up all that emotion? So right up until this point I didn’t mind my photo being taken, even though I was starting to think …. “I don’t look like that do I?” … But of course, I did, the reflection physically was of me, but mentally of someone I didn’t know or like that much.
At 21 I had my first child, my second child at 22 and this is when the problems started, we had zillions of images of the boys together, but I would only go into the image if I was begged by a family member, my husband, friends etc. I was now in the state of mind that my children should be photographed and I should be the other side of the image, become the audience not the actor, so to speak.
This became worse over the years, I avoided images like the plague, I was always the one volunteering to take the shot, never the one posing the cheesy grin and other silly antics. At 29 I had a serious car accident, my husband and I had life changing injuries and I ended up in a wheelchair. I can honestly say, that in one entire decade, I might have been in 5 photographs if that, and if I was in the image, I would be right at the back, hiding my body and most of my face, trying to blend in with the group so no one could really see what I actually looked like. I spent 8 years in a wheelchair, refused any images whilst I was in that monstrosity and would never dream of posing for an image, because that person in the chair wasn’t me, I didn’t need to be reminded of my disability, so why capture a memory that would always be too painful to deal with. The weight piled on and on due to extensive changes in medication, I comfort ate because I was miserable, the more miserable I became the more I ate, I hated what was in front of the mirror because I didn’t see me… I saw a stranger and I hated everything about myself, except for my eyes and my hair, everything else was nothing I needed to ever be reminded of.
As time went by, medication changed, physiotherapy was working, I started to become mobile, baby steps, but it was the light at the end of the tunnel I needed. I started to retrain because I spent all my life up until the accident, working as a chef all over the country in 5 star restaurants, I knew with my problems I couldn’t return to that life in a kitchen. So, what should I do? I needed a sitting down job, but I would never suit an office, so I trained as a nail technician. As a few years passed I got slightly more mobile and went and trained as a beauty therapist, and things became better and I went and completed my degree in Specialist and Media makeup. This is when life changed….
As a makeup artist, you have to practice on each other in class, with cameras being the best tools for continuity and collecting images of your work, all of a sudden I had to have my image taken whether I like it or not, and this was really hard for me, I literally felt sick and dreaded looking at the images, but I had no choice. Then when I passed my degree I would create makeup looks that many photographers wanted to capture in camera, the entire evolution of the character from start to finish and this would quite often mean, that somewhere along the line, I would be in an image with out even realising it. I ensured that if there was a camera about, they would capture my hand applying the makeup, or the back of my head, as I would turn my face away, if I was aware of what was going on around me. I was now trapped, I couldn’t refuse “behind the scene images” because it’s all part of the makeup industry and when you getting paid, you have to put up and shut up, however I did tell every single photographer, “I hate having my image taken, it’s horrific” but the photographers and models would still carry on, snapping away, tagging me on social media etc.
One day I drove down to Bognor Regis for a location shoot, it was a gorgeous sunny day, I wear very bright clothing when I work freelance, (you don’t get remembered if you look boring in this industry, plus I have pink hair 99% of the time). When I arrived, this photographer kept asking to take my picture, and it really upset me a lot, because at the time (this was the first time we met) I actually thought he was taking the mick out of me and I wanted to tell him to get lost, but on a professional basis, I would never behave like that. I thought he was just like the bullies back at school and avoided him all day. I drove home that night, went to bed, woke up to 42 images of myself on my Facebook page… 42 images of me doing makeup, full on front face shots, full body shots etc etc. I didn’t even have that many on my wedding day, I was mortified. I wanted to delete them and was dwelling on it when the comments started to roll in. Basically, if you hadn’t worked with me, you didn’t have a clue what I looked like, as I had no images on there of me, all of a sudden there were lovely comments here, there and everywhere and many of them said “Oh, my God Alley, you look exactly like I imagined you….”
Now it must have been 50 or more people who said that and even though I still had issues with my weight etc. People who had never met me, but had spoken to me for years on Facebook, these people were telling me that I looked exactly how they imagined me. At this point in my life I realised that an image contains so much magic, but so does your imagination. I am very eccentric in my dress sense, hair colour and makeup, because as I mentioned earlier, if you stand out you get remembered, but also, psychologically, if you look like a confident person, that’s half the battle. Do shy people have bright pink hair, wear bright clothing and accessories etc. Nope…. Well so you would think… How I present myself visually now is the person I want my audience to think I am, confident, carefree and fun and it works. So, after all these years now as a makeup artist, I don’t like having my picture taken, but I will tolerate it on a professional basis and turn it into a joke, which I turn around on myself by saying “I am that ugly, I will break your lens, so on your head be it?” …. But to step in front of a camera willingly, isn’t going to happen, until today, with Jo.
Why did I step in front of the camera for Jo?
Her current portfolio for her Masters has been growing in my studio every month for the last year. I have watched Jo capture images of men and women who have never modelled before and she’s given them the confidence to do it, even if they try it once, it’s an achievement. I have been spending the last 18 months of my life running a photographic studio, doing the makeup on hundreds of models, who have the confidence to do what they do, because of the makeup I have created, the mood I have created with the photographers, especially Jo. I have pushed so many people in front of the camera, made them feel amazing with all my compliments and comments, but I haven’t been practicing what I preach, as soon as the camera is pointed in my direction, I move rapidly out of the way.
Jo’s current portfolio is based on the title of “Performance”. How do people perform in front of the camera? Why do they do, what they do in front of a camera, but at no other points in their lives? Why do they pose for a picture, yet have the worlds biggest insecurities of how they look? We discovered together that the majority of models are not “themselves” in front of the camera, once they step onto the studio back drop, they become another person, a persona, a character, their alter ego etc. They are not the person they are in real life, being a model for many is a fantasy, another life, a hobby, a job, and at no point are hardly any of them portraying who they really are, it’s a cover up and this is exactly what I do too.
So today when I stepped in front of the camera, I wasn’t me, I was a model and I was taking the mickey out of all the rubbish models I have had in the studio, by pulling the awkward glamour poses, looking an idiot whilst doing so, having a laugh with my friend, in the security of the studio and no one else there. Why did I put myself through this? Because as a photographer, I expect others to be my subject and I am a massive believer of “don’t ask someone to do something, that you would not do yourself….” So, I did, I toppled the fear I have had for many decades, and I stepped in front of the camera. I knew there was a really good reason why the images were being taken, I knew that they would help Jo with her Masters and with her ability to work with others who also felt awkward. I knew that when she had to do her “Self Portraits”, which she did in my studio, she was so much like me, absolutely dreading it, being a bag of nerves, acting a fool rather than being serious, solely as a cover up for the fact a normal image just wouldn’t work for either of us. I have watched Jo build a relationship with her subjects and without that connection your models will be dead behind their eyes, however if you have a laugh, say you have done it once, it works as an ice breaker and now I can tell my clients that I have also done a shoot, therefore not asking others to do something I wouldn’t do myself. I have to say, I enjoyed every minute of it, but it was fun because it was with my friend and professional photographer. I trust Jo with my life, so why not trust her with my images. She is an amazing woman and a phenomenal photographer and I will do anything I can to help her journey through her Masters and beyond. Thank you, Jo, for taking me out of my comfort zone, thank you for encouraging me to make a complete idiot of myself, thank you for being so kind, so thoughtful and for creating the only set of images my family will ever see where I am a willing victim, between now and the next millennium… The next time I will be willing to have my image captured, will undoubtedly be when I become a grandmother, in a few years time, and that’s only because I want my grandchildren to look at the image we have together, and say that’s my Nana. Never ever say never… You don’t know what it might lead to if you set out on one shoot… Get a taste… Become a power-hungry Diva…
Thank you, Jo, I will treasure the images for ever mate and so will my family.”
Thank you Alley for making my day and for being such an amazing model. I am very touched by your words and your unceasing support of my practice.