A widely-discussed topic lately has been sexual harassment in the workplace, specifically in the movie business. As I keep hearing more and more stories on the subject, another industry that I know first-hand this is an issue in is the fashion industry. In 2016, I was working as a model in New York and was put in a very uncomfortable situation with a male photographer. I never told my agency about what happened that day out of fear they liked him, and being a new model at the agency, I might offend them. I do believe now though that this is an important story for models to know so that they don’t find themselves in these situations.
Models get sent on test shoots quite often in order to build their portfolios. New models have to do a bunch of these at first so when they walk into a casting, they can show what they look like in front of the camera in some more versatile shots besides just polaroids. I had just graduated high school and had spent my next few weeks going on a bunch of these test shoots set up by my agents. Most were pretty fun, with a team of different people and big personalities. I received another email one day discussing when my next shoot was and all I saw was a photographer’s name and an apartment address. I checked out his Instagram and saw that he had shot other girls at my agency and had accredited work for various companies, so I thought it would be fine.
The day of the shoot came and I got off the train with the bikinis I was told to bring in tow. I rang the photographer when I reached his apartment and traveled upstairs and saw a sign that said casting with an arrow. I assumed that was probably him, so I followed and was greeted by a man that I’d say was older than my father (at least). He told me the sign was from a casting he held yesterday where got to have “girls lined up to come into his apartment”. He then asked me to put everything I’m planning on taking with me in his bag. Confused, I asked him where, since I was told we were shooting at the spot we were at. Nope, we were to be shooting at the beach and soon enough I came to realize that we would be taking an about two-hour subway trip to Rockaway Beach in Queens.
I’d say the highlights of that train ride were him showing me the hundreds of photos of naked models he had on his phone and then informing me that he was currently in the middle of a lawsuit with one of the models he had taken one of (over such photo). Once we finally got to the beach, we walked the boardwalk and he gave me the bottoms to my bikini along with a top he brought so I could change in the bathroom while he got us food. I changed and when I looked in the mirror I didn’t want to leave. The shirt he provided me with was so low-cut and wasn’t even a bikini top, so it had no coverage. I felt naked walking outside amongst the groups of families and others staring at me as I went over to meet the photographer at the table he got us.
Once we ate, we went over to an area near the beach with nobody around. He took some shots of me and then suggested I change outfits again. He said there’s no use of going to the bathroom again, so he stood in front of me while I changed into the next look. We got a good number of shots and then we were set to shoot on the beach. The photographer told me about this awesome spot “near the dunes”. He quickly told me to hold all of our stuff while he went to get us drinks and was gone before I replied if I even wanted one. I drank whatever it was he brought back for me and then we both got into an Uber and that was when this shoot went from uncomfortable to me really wanting to leave.
The photographer had the Uber driver stop at a liquor store so he could buy a bottle of rosé and we continued to the section of the beach he had described. When we got to the section I could tell the beach was ahead, but we had to walk through a path surrounded by forest to get there. We started walking along this path and he wanted to take photos of me as I was walking. As he took the shots, he started making comments like “your ass looks so sexy”. If that is the kinds of shots he wanted, ones that were sexy, that is fine, but there is certainly no need to be be commenting on parts of my body.
We had almost reached the beach and we stopped to take some more shots with the trees still in the background. He gave me a sheer shirt to put on, so I did and left my bikini on underneath. When he turned around to look, he asked if I would take the bikini top of. I declined and said that I would feel better if it was on. He told me how much better it would look off and convinced me to do it. Next, I started posing in my bikini and he started asking me to pull it down and “show your nipples”. Despite his multiple attempts at convincing me, I declined and we headed off to the beach. First though, he wanted me to have oil all over myself for the next look and proceeded to rub it on me himself.
We got to the beach and more photos was not what was on his mind. He laid a towel down and got out the rosé he bought and poured me a glass. At this point, I really was not in the mood to sit and converse with this man over a glass of wine, while he kept asking me to “drink your rosé” in his creepy voice. I held it in my hand as he kept commenting on my body and how I looked to him over and over. I just stared at the water and said nothing. I didn’t want to say “fuck this, I’m leaving” at this point, since I had no idea how to get back and he was holding my wallet and my phone I had asked for in which he replied I didn’t need it now. I eventually got him to leave when I suggested we take the last pictures and I think he knew nothing else on the beach was happening between him and I besides that.
We got back to the train and I knew I would have to go back to his apartment to retrieve the stuff I had left there. It was already way into the evening and when I looked at my phone I had a bunch of calls from my parents wondering if I was okay. I went up to retrieve my things and the photographer asked me to come into his bedroom to look at his television, like I had never seen one before. That was the last creepy proposition he made at me in person until he texted me a few days later asking me to dinner like I was going to be like “oh my god hey, why didn’t you text me sooner”.
As much as I criticize the modeling industry today, it is a real profession. Therefore, when a model shows up to do a photoshoot paid or not, they need to be treated with respect. Even though modeling is about appearance, models nor anyone should be seen as a sexual object. When someone shows up for a photoshoot they should feel comfortable at all times and never pressured. As much as we’d like to trust that people have good intentions, I don’t think there should be situations where a male photographer and a model are the only two present during the shoot. There needs to be an agent, parent, makeup artist, somebody there to ensure that situations like this or even worse I’m sure, do not happen. To keep this conversation going, I encourage you to post a picture in your workplace, whether that’s in retail, an office, etc, and use: #thisismyworkplace to show that women need respect in the work environment, no matter where that may be.