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“Modeling is an addiction.” Johanie, 24, aspiring model
Black Girl is a portrait series on young black women in the New York City area who aspire to be models.
Even as little girls, many women dream of becoming a model. The glamour of strutting along the runway with cameras flashing, being a spokesmodel for the latest line of make-up, or being plastered on billboards in Times Square can be too enticing to ignore. Shows like America’s Next Top Model, which can shoot a model to stardom almost instantly, and easy accessibility to professional photographers through numerous modeling websites make this dream seem more realistic and attainable than ever before. Indeed, everyday countless girls around the United States and the world are actively pursuing this dream.
There is, however, a huge segment of aspiring models who will find attaining their dream disproportionately difficult. They are black women. We all realize, at least in some way, that the mainstream modeling world is white-washed, especially at the high-fashion end. At the February 2010 New York Fashion Week, a whopping 85% of all models used on the runway were white, just 8% black (see jezebel.com/5476920). This is in no way representative of New York City’s, the United States’, or the world’s population. On the ground level, where women are just starting to put a portfolio together, the reality is quite different than Fashion Week’s. In doing this project, I used a modeling website to contact models. I found that, despite so few black professionals, nearly three-thousand young black women (just within 50 miles of my NYC zip code) are striving to attain their dream, or at least their interpretation of it.
Despite the odds and a stark downturn in the fashion, advertising, and magazine industries, these aspiring models have high hopes and remain steadfast. They work hard, often juggling school, work, relationships, and family (some are even mothers) to find a few hours a week to squeeze in a shoot, or perhaps two if they’re lucky. Using an approach that is part anthropology and part fantasy, the women photographed are a cross-section of real people who want to do every kind of modeling, from runway, high-end fashion, print or commercial work to eye-candy and artistic nudes. Their interests are varied, as are their looks and beauty, but this one dream ties them all together. Behind that dream are fundamental human issues that touch upon identity, body, beauty, sexuality, race, and the drive to be recognized in a culture obsessed with fame and celebrity. I hope that these portraits can in some way contribute to their pursuit.
The portraits here I feel represent how the models wanted to look. For each shoot, we would talk about possible ideas and outfits before or during the shoot. Many of the models were open to shooting everything from high-fashion to lingerie, and some even nude. She would bring different things to wear, try them on, see how it looked, and we (or I, or she) would say yea or nay. None of the models are wearing something they didn’t want to wear (or any outfit they felt to be demeaning) or suggest wearing themselves. The pictures give us a glimpse into how the models understand fashion, modeling and themselves as a model-in-the-making.
Brian Shumway is a New York City based photographer. He has worked for publications like Time, Newsweek, Smart Money, Reader’s Digest, and XXL. His work has been awarded and exhibited throughout the United States. Please visit his website to learn more.