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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stay creative, stay inspired and stay strong!