If necessity is the mother of invention, does it follow that desperation is the father of stupidity?
Semi-creepy decrepit warehouse… just the place a reputable agency does interviews!
In my last post, I mentioned I’m currently on thin ice at work, and that it looks like my interview with the Thatchtower Gallery isn’t panning out either. Another blogger I respect suggested I take the time to search for other employment leads, so Piper and I spent the afternoon doing job-hunter 101. You know, the basics. I tried to polish up my resume a little. Sadly, no matter how hard I buff my words, I cannot add shine to only two-thirds of a college degree, almost two years without touching a textbook, dead-end current employment, and no manager recommendation. I worked my laughably thin network of contacts to see if anyone knew of any openings. I scanned a bunch of online ad sites, both job sites like Monster and RegionalHelpWanted and generic classified sites like Craigslist and the local paper’s website. I even looked for ads on WordOut, which is kind of like Craigslist’s lesser-known creepy inbred cousin.
Piper isn’t so much my executive assistant as my executive distraction…
I learned two things. Firstly, that one handed typing is not very efficient. I used to have a typing speed of just over forty words per minute, which is average. That was back when I was allowed to use both hands for typing, rather than attempting to type one handed while I hold Piper in my other arm. Secondly, WordOut really is creepy and inbred. ‘Employment’ ads included ads for escorts, strippers, and- I kid you not- an adult body builder who wanted to buy breast milk. Enough strangeness and sketchiness that I should never have looked twice at the ad seeking a ‘tasteful pin-up model.’ On the other hand, desperation impairs judgement even more than exhaustion, and I’m living with both…
The ad asked for the model to be fresh-faced, and adventurous. Prior experience, although a plus, would count for less than attitude and enthusiasm. I didn’t just call straight away; I did my due diligence and googled the photographer, one Elyssa Innis. I learned she had two websites, one as part of a collective of local portrait photographers, one a personal site. The samples she showed for her work were very compelling, very vibrant. I can’t put my finger on quite the right word, but her portraits had a quality like that really attractive stranger you first glimpse out of the corner of your eye in a crowded mall or theatre. The one where for the rest of the afternoon, you find yourself watching him or her. You don’t really decide to, but your gaze just keeps settling on that person like they’re somehow magnetic. And every time your gaze lights anew, you feel like they’ve been watching you and just looked away. Innis’s works had that same enthralling quality. The sites made it clear she was a real and established portraitist, not some horny serial rapist using a camera to entice women’s clothes off. In hindsight, there were a few red flags. Not so much on her site for the collective, but the portfolio on her individual site was very sensual and passionate, even while avoiding any gratuitous nudity or titillation. Likewise, Innis’s lengthy list of corporate clients, including retailers, ad agencies, and a couple magazine publishing houses, assured me she was business-like and professional. If I thought more about why she listed less-identifiable company names rather than explicitly stating the magazine titles, or what sort of shoots an internet lingerie retailer or a skin lotion manufacturer might commission a photographer for… Instead I focused on the fact while models who get enough shoots to make a living at it are rare, a single shoot could earn as much as two or three dinner shifts, maybe even a week’s worth of the mostly lunch shifts I’ve been getting at Giovanni’s.
I think this is what I imagined: elegant background, tasteful pose, maybe show a hint of sexy…
The risk-opportunity calculus seemed kind of obvious. Having ensured Innis was a real photographer, I wasn’t setting myself up to be victim of a crime. The worst probable result was that I wasted the time involved in the audition. That’s not quite as no-cost as it sounds. I would have to use up some chits to get someone to watch Piper, and given my very real time shortage, there would be an opportunity cost of something else I couldn’t do, something that I might regret more. Still, it was a very minimal risk. Conversely the best probable result was I would use up two evenings, one to try-out/interview, one for the actual shoot, and make about what I would make in two evenings serving, so I would cover the shift I lost for the Step II discipline. I also ascribe to a school of thought which says hard work and skill allow us to create our own luck. Getting that first photo shoot creates the possibility of getting subsequent invitations to model, of turning that first shoot into a ‘lucky’ break. Little to lose, strong possibility of minor gain, real possibility of a big win… the logic was clear that I should at least give it a try.
I wrote a polite e-mail to Ms. Innis, in which I admitted how little I knew about modeling, but also directed her here to Time Well Wasted so she could see how I look. Apparently it was the right approach to take, as it only took her a couple of hours to call me and tell me she definitely wanted to shoot me, and set up a two or three hour session at her studio. The next evening, I dropped Piper off with her grandfather and a promise to pick her up by 10:30 and to bring dad some take-out to eat before his shift started.
I suppose this was another chance for caution and common sense to overrule desperation and exhaustion. Ms. Innis’s studio is in a small warehouse district slightly north of town. Most of the warehouses lie fallow and empty now, victims of manufacturers’ flight from the Dayton area. Go a little further north and you find a sad little strip of pawn shops, strip clubs, and no-tell motels. Go a little south and you find a residential neighborhood in a state of decay, nearly as many houses standing empty and foreclosed as occupied. The warehouses district feels ominous, particularly to a young lady by herself after dark. I’d already made arrangements for Piper, however, and made the trip over. I’d done enough that it seemed foolish not to follow through, particularly with no new information to change the risk-opportunity analysis that seemed so obvious when I wasn’t wandering along in a creepy warehouse district…
Or maybe something like this…
Ms. Innis’s studio looked a lot nicer on the inside than the outside. The warehouse has been converted into a stage set at some point, suitable for shooting video or photography. Over a dozen ‘diorama box’ sets, partial rooms that were missing at least one wall, probably a second wall and part of the ceiling, were arranged in the warehouse floor. One of the sets was a very modern contemporary office, and the number of legal pads and file folders scattered on the glass table made it clear that it was used as a real office more frequently than as a set. A closed door blocked access to offices along the south wall of the warehouse. Innis indicated that was where she kept her darkroom and editing equipment. The other sets included a dungeon, a doctor’s examination room, a locker room, a class room, a couple living rooms, a kitchen, and several bedrooms. In the aisles between the sets were various tripods and wheeled camera stands, racks of clothing- mostly women’s and leaning heavily towards costumes and lingerie, large leather steamer trunks, and folding canvas chairs. One of the trunks was open, and I saw a number of ropes and straps and chains inside.
I almost stammered my apologies and bolted then and there. Miss Innis (“Never a Ms. or a Mrs., my dear. Men have their uses, but I refuse to be yoked to an unequal partner.”) must have seen the look in my eyes, for she directed me to sit down and listen before I made any decisions. For all her studio looked like a mad pornographer’s laboratory, any director would cast Elyssa Innis as a successful corporate executive or possibly a certain model of discrete governess. She was wearing a simple yet elegant black skirt suit with a cream blouse, low black heels, and minimal makeup. There was a hint of Boston in her accent, and genuine warmth as she made her spiel. She was looking for a model capable of looking urban, attractive, and vulnerable. She said there was a touch of ‘faeness’ in my blog pictures that she wanted to capture in her work. She stressed two points. Firstly, although the goal was to show my vulnerability, I would have complete control of how that vulnerability would be demonstrated. Secondly, the nature of this particular shoot catered to prurient interests, and I would earn more per shoot and have more modeling opportunities if I was willing to accept and accommodate those prurient interests. However, Elyssa insisted that if we were going to be able to work together, I would have to accept that her focus and passion was artistic and esthetic, and be willing to focus on the artistic rather then commercial aspect of what we were doing.
Ready, set? Then go!
After the fact, as I recount the evening here, it sounds absurd. I was being asked to model adult pictures in what was obviously a building operated for that purpose, to accept that they would be adult pictures, and yet to be focused not on titillation or on mercenary motives but on the art and beauty that would go into the adult pictures. I cannot explain it the way Elyssa did, even if I could remember and recite her exact words, but at that moment, I felt like it would be my honor and my privilege to pose for her pictures. Secondly, I’ve often joked that as a waitress, I am cheerfully mercenary. It is a little embarrassing to admit how quickly I homed in upon the phrase ‘earn more per shoot’, and asked for that ‘more’ to be quantified. There is an old joke about a billionaire meeting a girl in a bar and asking if she would sleep with him if he paid her millions of dollars. She thinks about it and says that she would. Immediately, the billionaire asks her if she would sleep with him for five dollars. Offended, the girl demands, “What type of girl do you think I am?” The billionaire replies, “We’ve already established that, now we’re just haggling over price.” When I zeroed in on the money, I somehow managed to skip straight over the question of should I take ‘art’ pictures at all to the question of what price would overcome my qualms.
It is thus with mixed emotions that I confess that Elyssa offered a price that overcame my qualms. I sold some of my virtue today. I got a good price, and I got that price in cash, which means the specific details are for me, God, and the IRS to quibble over. It was enough that I will be able to bridge the shortfall my landlord was hounding me over, enough that I can trade up from ramen noodles and tv dinners to some fresh meat and produce and still keep Piper in formula and diapers. I don’t feel guilty about the piece of virtue I sold, well, not that guilty. I will not- at least, I don’t think I will- feel guilty if I have to discuss it with Piper once she is old enough to understand. I do hope I won’t have to discuss or defend my decision before Piper is old enough to understand. I am praying, however, that I never have discuss these photos with my father.
The actual photos were an interesting experience. First Elyssa and I did my make up. Between soccer and skateboarding, I collected enough oopsies as a teen that I got experience using make up to cover a bruise or injury, but using make up to create a shiner and a few lash marks was a new experience. While she did the make up, Elyssa discussed safe words with me. Folks that do bondage for real use safe words to distinguish a true call to stop the scene from one that is a pretend call, ‘in character’ within the scene. The same is true for one of Elyssa’s shoots. She wanted to get pictures that showed vulnerability, needed me to act properly anxious and scared. I had to get into a role, just like I was on-stage or playing in one of my ex’s D&D sessions. Unfortunately, that means if I say, “This is freaking me out, I need you to untie me,” or whimper “Let me go,” or just yell, “Stop,” Elyssa doesn’t know if I really mean it, or I’m acting the part. The solution is to inherently assume that I’m acting the part unless I use the safe word, a distinct sounding word that has absolutely no reason to naturally occur within the scene. The safe word Elyssa gave me was ‘motley’.
Elyssa gave me choice on wardrobe. She had planned to just let me pick something from one of her many clothing racks, but she really liked the dress I wore down to her studio, a clearance cheapie I had picked up at LC’s Fashion World ages ago. Since she planned to rip the dress, we did a quick little side negotiation. She added a fifty dollar bonus onto my modeling fee, not enough to replace the dress retail, but more than I paid for it and enough to get another clearance outfit or two. I also got to select an outfit off her rack to wear home, which I would return the next time I modeled for her- or keep if this ended up being the only time.
Then we went up to one of the bedroom sets in the studio. I was shoved into a large standing wardrobe, my wrists tied with heavy twine to each other and to the hanger bar. Even having discussed everything before hand, I was still nervous when Elyssa pulled out the knife to cut the top of my dress off. “Motley, motley, motley,” I babbled in alarm. I had expected scissors, maybe a kitchen knife. Elyssa’s knife was an ornate silver knife with black braided leather on the handle, an elaborate crosspiece, and a onyx sphere at the end of the handle. It looked like a movie prop for an evil cultist, and I realized I had just allowed someone I didn’t know very well at all to tie me up so I could neither run away or defend myself.
Fortunately, Elyssa stopped what she was doing and smiled calmly at me. “Don’t worry, my dear, it’s fairly typical for new models to test the safe word a few times before we really get started. Do you want me to untie you?” She laughed when I said the knife scared me. The reason it looked like a movie prop was because it was a prop. Although it was a real knife, and quite sharp, it was just another of the weird odds and ends in the studio. She offered to find a knife that didn’t look so ceremonial, but warned she would either have to leave me hanging while she rummaged for one or untie me to help her look and then retie me after we found one, and that either way it would take longer than simply using the fancy knife. Nervously, I told her to go ahead and use the scary knife. With a few deft strokes, she savaged off the top of my dress and my cotton sports bra. “Motley, damn it!”
Elyssa arched an eyebrow and dropped a shoulder. “What is it this time, my poppet?”
“We didn’t discuss my bra. One, I would have liked to wear it again. Two, this shoot is still technically our first date. Call me a tease, but I generally like to get to the second date before getting to second base.”
The photographer gave me a very evil grin as she pointed out, “You should have said that before you were tied in a wardrobe. If you must use tired baseball cliches, then I can go ahead and steal second.” She laughed warmly. “Oh, Emily, that look you just gave me, that mix of outrage, anxiety, and disbelief, is exactly what I want to capture on film.” She studied me briefly, her lips pursed. “I know what we need to protect both your modesty and my vision.” Another evil grin. “Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be right back.”
She was indeed right back, although it felt longer while I dangled in a wardrobe. When she returned, she leaned in close and gently stuck a black duct tape ex over each of my nipples, blowing gently in my ear as she did so. It was a really confusing moment, as reactions of ‘how dare she?!’ and ‘don’t stop!’ clashed in my mind, my skin breaking out in goosebumps, my breath catching. Before I could even finish processing how I felt, Elyssa stepped back, grabbed her camera, and began taking pictures. For a minute or two, while I swayed and dangled, and Elyssa glided left and right and to and fro, her camera whirred and clicked. It was an expensive digital model, so they were digital whirs and clicks purely for ambiance. She then paused, cocking her head slightly as she reviewed the pictures on the camera’s view screen.
This is unlikely to be my 2015 Christmas card photo…
“Well, little poppet,” she said, “we’re done early.” She grabbed the scary knife and cut the twine binding me into the wardrobe. “I don’t want you to think a shoot like this is normally this quick. There is normally a lot more work, several different poses to be done, several different angles and lightings to be tried. For each photo, there are multiple attempts, all to generate three dozen or so pictures I like, so that the editor of Distressed or whatever rag commissioned the shoot can then pare the set down to twelve to sixteen pictures in a five or six page spread. I still need a photo shoot for Distressed, and I hope I can schedule that shoot with you. But I just got- and on the first go, no less- a picture I don’t just like but absolutely love.” She showed me the picture on her camera view screen. It wasn’t how I normally picture myself, but I expressed a polite appreciation. “So I’ve created a small conflict of interest for myself. I have a high-end exhibition coming up soon, a chance to sell larger pieces to collectors, and this picture will be perfect for that exhibition. Technically, my contracts specify I’m only selling the serial rights, so I can and do still exhibit photos even if they are from one of my magazine shoots. However the exhibition is soon enough that I would be exhibiting before the magazine has a chance to publish. Legally, I can, but it isn’t necessarily polite. So I’m keeping this picture for me, and we will use a different costume and different set to do the shoot for Distressed.”
We discussed my tentative schedule, and I agreed to call her in a couple of days to finalize plans once my Giovanni’s schedule was posted. Miss Innis even offered to have a younger cousin come to the shoot to watch Piper for me, although she warned I would need to pay her cousin thirty or forty bucks, depending on how long the shoot lasted. I grabbed a raunchy T-shirt and a fake letter jacket to cover myself up, and headed to my dad’s with a bucket of fried chicken and enough time to sit down and eat with him.
Which made it a shame I only remembered the artificial black eye I hadn’t cleaned off when my dad opened his door, looked me up and down, and said, “Emily, I think you should tell me more about this interview…”