For the past 30 years Bob Carlos Clarke has held a reputation as one of the world's leading erotic photographers. Here in an extract from his latest book Shooting Sex, he explains how he works with his models.
Words & Pictures Bob Carlos Clarke
When shooting, I prefer my team to stay out of the sight-line of my model. I want her full attention. Superfluous spectators are banished, along with mobile phones. I try to separate models from their mobiles as soon as they arrive.
I don't like to persuade people to take their clothes off. The model needs to convince herself that it's a good idea. Some are born exhibitionists and others are not. Sometimes I shoot new models fully-clothed just to build their confidence and see how they work. A few test shots can be invaluable in terms of ideas and developing rapport. Ultimately, the shot may not require nudity but it's good to know that the option is available if the necessity arises.
If I shoot Polaroid for reference, I never show unsatisfactory results to my model. An unflattering Polaroid can destroy confidence. If in doubt, I show my model a flattering, slightly over-exposed, Polaroid. Ivana Trump recently warned me, 'If I let you shoot me, you'd better make me gorgeous. I don't want anything real or arty!'
I don't usually pay my models if the shoot is experimental or purely personal. Usually they want to work with me for the shared experience and are aware that I am already carrying substantial costs in the form of materials, equipment, studio time, processing, assistants etc. We treat the session as a co-operation in pursuit of the same goal. Offering a token fee may even be perceived as insulting, like offering a beautiful woman five bucks to sleep with you.
If the model is broke, it's reasonable to advance her something against possible future sales and agree to negotiate proper fees for subsequent additional uses. At the very least, ensure that all her expenses and travelling costs are covered and that she is well fed and watered. Don't encourage destitute models to stay at your studio: you may never get rid of them.
With commercial work, and advertising in particular, I try to ensure that my models get the best deals without pricing themselves out of the job. Greedy model agents often lose girls desperately needed work by overpricing.
Treat nudes with respect. Don't wander round the tail end, it makes them jumpy. Unnecessary touching, insensitive remarks or crude comments can ruin a shoot. Adjusting a model's clothing is no excuse for subjecting her to a medical examination. Keep your attention on the model being photographed and not on others who may be hanging about in the studio. If you are working with a team, try to ensure that at least one of your number is female. Being alone and naked with a gang of men could be intimidating.
When it comes to model's hair and make-up, no attention is better than the wrong attention. I've had models arrive at my studio looking fresh-faced and radiant, only to emerge hours later from make-up looking like jaded barmaids. I don't want the hairdo or the lip-gloss to be the focus of my shot. When I want a noticeable quantity of make-up or hairdressing, I get the best quality artists. The more it shows, the better it has to be. Whoever I work with, I take time to brief them, showing them sketches or tear sheets from magazines, explaining the look I want. Always keep an eye on what new and untried hairdressers or makeup artists are up to with your model, otherwise you might be in for a nasty surprise. Generally I don't find complicated hairdos and heavy make-up attractive, and prefer a natural look.
One particular model I work with is obsessed with designer labels, and will not wear anything she considers dclass. There was a cheap black vinyl skirt from a high-street fetish shop that I particularly wanted her to wear. So I cut out the label and packed it into a Versace bag. During the shoot, I had it delivered by courier and, within seconds, her highly-trained eye spotted the newly arrived package. Moments later, she was wriggling her precious little butt into a deliciously tacky vinyl tube.
Whatever it takes, the photographer's job is to get a great shot. The result is all that counts. Nobody gives a damn if the end product was taken in freezing conditions with fading light and a furious model. Of course it helps to like one's model, and I try not to notice if she's a pain in the ass. My job is to keep her sweet and steady. Tolerance is not my thing, but I've suffered monsters for the sake of a good result.
I want talent and good humour in a team, people who can handle constructive comment and criticism with equanimity, and never transmit negative feelings to the model. One insensitive comment can wreck a shoot - as when a rather slothful swimsuit model overheard a hairdresser describe her as 'a slug in a surgical stocking'.
The delicate matter of personal hygiene is a serious affair. Some of my favourite models have exhibited extreme hydrophobia, and the toxic gasses emitted by some models' trainers are certainly lethal. Models, make-up artists and hairdressers have to work close-up for long spells, and a stinky environment can make people very edgy. Make-up artists who smoke can piss off models that don't, and vice-versa. I have also had models throw tantrums because the make-up artist's kit was dirty, or the hairdresser was back-combing like a combine-harvester. Understandably, professional models who suffer daily assaults on their skin and hair-sometimes with disastrous long-term effects - can get very sensitive.
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This article is an extract from the book Shooting Sex by Bob Carlos Clarke. The photos we've used are also from the book but do not relate specifically to the text. There's a review of the book on ePHOTOzine here.
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