Stephan Bollinger Speaks on Why Models Are Made

Think the models in those fashion spreads are gorgeous? Of course you do, but it’s no secret that the standard of beauty has done much to change the way we talk about self-image. As photographers, we walk the line between capturing life’s moments and creating something beyond reality. Successful photos grab the eye, usually because we see something that we think is physically impossible. But with actual people as the subject, that line becomes harder to see and we get fooled into thinking we all need to look that good right out of the box. 

Australian photographer Stephan Bollinger’s “Models Are Made” video pulled at our heartstrings, and we loved that he took such an important matter into his own hands. As a master portrait photographer and a father of two little girls, we knew that he had great perspective and the power to shed some light on both sides of the matter. How exactly are models made? We asked, and here’s what he said. Scroll down to watch the video that inspired us all.

Black and white model fine art photo by Stephan Bollinger

Photos by Stephan Bollinger Photography

At several points in my life, I was confronted with people suffering from depression, eating disorders, and suicide. In late teenage years, I became close friends with a young woman, who was bulimic. She was an expert in hiding her problems, and for over 6 month, I was under the impression she was one of the happiest people alive. Another friend of mine was under the exact same impression, until his girlfriend committed suicide, and his “perfect world” fell apart overnight. She was a young, beautiful and energetic young woman, with a dark secret: depression.

We love to forget about such issues, because they are hard to understand, and we feel helpless. Not talking about it doesn’t make them go away, unfortunately. Of course – most of them are not related to photography or advertising, but some are.

Dark profile photo with negative space by Stephan Bollinger

While shooting a fashion series in Singapore, one of the models looked so thin and unhealthy, I was afraid she would faint any minute. As a result, I refused to work with her. About a week later back at my studio in Australia, I talked about the incident with a group of young models, and one of them told us about her friend, who nearly died from eating disorders and required intensive hospital care.

Without a doubt, advertising and fashion stories have had their influence for a long time in creating a false and negative body image for some women, resulting in eating disorders and depression. As a photographer producing such images, I am guilty as charged.

At the same time, I love creating such images, I love the fashion industry, I love highly styled editorials and advertising campaigns.

Nude model  dance fashion photo by Stephan Bollinger

I often feel as if I wear three pairs of shoes at once, those of a producer (who works with clients, to produce flawless images for their advertising campaign or magazine editorials), those of a photographer (who works closely with models of all ages), and those of a father (who wants to protect, teach and inform his own two young daughters).

The question I ask myself: Is the problem the polished images many young women compare themselves with, or is the problem that many don’t understand how these images were produced. If they would see the models in real life, would they still feel the same way? The term “photoshopped” has turned into a bad term for “creating fakes”, but there is so much more to high-end glossy pictures.

Ballet garden by Stephan Bollinger

There are initiatives for “positive body image” out there, mostly done by activist groups. The problem with such initiatives is that they blame Photoshop and retouching for everything, and demand change in newspapers and magazines. I don’t believe that such “negative” approach and the demand for change reaches those who need to be informed and educated: the young women. If effective and believable, this should be done by those “guilty,” those actively working in the industry, those with a positive outlook, those who want to educate, not complain.” That means us, photographers.

“Models are made” as a concept is the summary of all the above.

In a perfect world, I would have loved to take a few months off of work and hold presentations at high-schools around the country. But as much as I tried, I could not find any organisation or company who was a) interested in the subject or b) helping with funding such an endeavour.

I produced the short 4 minutes instead, illustrating what really goes into the production of a high-gloss beauty or fashion image. It’s not just retouching, it’s a combination of many factors, from naturally beautiful people to a group of creatives who produce the final product.

My goal is to educate, not change, and to deliver a positive message.

You can see more of Stephan Bollinger’s work on his website,, and follow him on Google+ to see previews, news and his beautiful photo updates.

Stay creative, stay inspired and stay strong!

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I'm a freelance documentary photographer who loves travel, rangefinders, medium format film photography, and everything in-between.

7 thoughts on “Stephan Bollinger Speaks on Why Models Are Made”

  1. where were the so called “regular girls” they are models. turn the 2 doing the make up into “models”

  2. Stephen, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!! What you said in the Video makes sooooo much sense to all involved!! If you are ever in Chicago I would be Honored just to help out Free of Charge just to continue to gain some of the knowledge that you exude!!

  3. Most people are surprised how much photoshop is used nowadays…photographers generally don’t put up before/after shots on their sites🙂

  4. You forgot the effects of the clothes themselves. A well designed and draped garment can drastically alter the appearance of the body underneath.

  5. There wasn’t anything new to me here but I like how it was presented. The only thing that I think wasn’t gotten across quite clearly enough is that how someone feels about themself and their general attitude towards being photographed can make a huge difference in how they look in photos. These women were attractive to begin with and they would have looked good even without the help. Not fashion model good perhaps but good. The real challenge is for those who don’t think they look good, whether true or not, when a camera is pointed at them. They can choose to go to the dark side and many do and it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Conversely, if they can just be content with who they are, even those who aren’t attractive will show up with some light that improves their image. I took a few shots of just such a woman recently. She was pretty overweight with a round face but when I pointed the camera at her, she just lit up and I loved the results. I, at least, and I think most people don’t see the flaws as much when they’re looking at someone who exudes light and self confidence.

  6. Thank you so much for putting into words far better than I have ever been able to why the fashion industry is not meant to harm the journey of positive self-body image that everyone goes through. I was unhappy with myself once too. I was convinced I was the least attractive, most un-photogenic person out there. Now, I make my living as a freelance model! It is an art, just like any other. I didn’t hate myself because the fashion industry set the bar to high, I was unhappy with myself because there was no one supporting me and educating me. I wish this video had existed then, but I am so happy to share it now. THank you, again!!!

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