Confessions of an Instagram Model
It was a typical Sunday afternoon in late January and I was ready for my photoshoot. This photoshoot wasn’t what you’re thinking. There was no hair and makeup team, lighting crew, or even any professionals. A few days prior I had agreed to meet a local photographer who I had met on Instagram. Neither of us are signed with a big agency like Elite Models or IMG we’re just two twenty somethings who want to create art. See, I’m an Instagram model.
The clouds hung low in the gray sky as small mists of rain fell from the air. Spring so badly wanted to make an early entrance, but winter still held on with it’s tight grip.
I stood on a white and gray platform reserved to showcase movies over the summer, it wasn’t exactly a stunning backdrop but the tops of the abandoned Bethlehem Steel factories helped give a rustic tone. I wobbled from my left to right foot, as the photographer, David, and his girlfriend, Lena, setup the shot. I nuzzled my face into the faux fur jacket supplied by David. I never had a photographer actually bring anything for me to wear. This was new.
“If you want to stand right….” David began as he waved his finger in the air trying to find the best spot for me to stand. “Here.”
I walked over to where his finger pointed.
“Cool! Now, if you want to like kind of open the jacket a little.”
I opened the jacket slightly exposing my cream colored crop top. I tend to never dress for the weather. It was roughly 40 degrees outside yet there I stood in a crop top, skirt, and no stockings. Goosebumps began to form on my exposed midriff.
This is typical of Instagram modeling. I don’t have a stylist on my shoots to tell me what to wear. Instead I have to wing it. Sure, I could have looked at the weather app, but where’s the fun in that? Instead I stood on a blank platform and froze as David snapped away on his camera.
David snapped some pictures and looked at them. After every click he would bring the camera up to his nose and look at the photo he just captured. Lena would stand behind him and comment, “Oh my god that’s so pretty!”
As I waited for David to snap more pictures, I played with my hair seeing the curls I had styled my hair into were now gone. I could have really used a stylist at a time like this.
“Totally do that hair flip again!” David said. The thing about Instagram modeling is we don’t talk like professionals. We’re excited kids on Christmas.
I did the hair flip again as Lena and David marveled over my unplanned hair flip.
“Girl, that looks so pretty.” Lena said.
I had never had a girlfriend (or boyfriend) of a photographer join me on a shoot before. I, on the other hand would often bring my boyfriend, Justin, along. Justin, after all was the reason I got into Instagram modeling in the first place.
Before the summer of 2017 I hadn’t even known Instagram modeling was a thing. Sure, I had seen the pictures of beautiful sun kissed girls on the app, but I didn’t know modeling was a thing people did here in the Lehigh Valley. My world was completely turned upside when I began to shoot with people.
As I did the hair flip once more I thought back to my first photoshoot with an Instagram stranger. Brandon was a young kid, probably in his early twenties. He spoke nervously like a high schooler who never learned his lines for the school play. Portrait photography wasn’t his speciality, but one summer evening I found myself awkwardly posing behind the Bethlehem Library with Brandon and his friend Ryan (along with Justin who was there for emotional support.)
The two photographers, seemed a little clueless, but then again I was too. I stood there motionless, like a deer in headlights. I had no idea how to pose or even act like a normal human being.
Justin and I had shot photos with each other before. We shared a love of photography and film ever since we started dating five years ago. However, posing with Justin was different. I could act like a complete fool, and he would have to tolerate it. But with Brandon and Ryan I was too scared to even open my month the wrong way. I didn’t want to make myself look bad. Or even worse, look ugly.
“Oh man these are looking great.” David said putting his camera down. “How long have you been doing this again?”
“Around six months.” I said.
Six months. I thought to myself, I couldn’t believe in only six months time I had worked with nearly seven different photographers.
“Let’s head inside.” Lena said referring to the Arts Quest Center.
As we walked inside, Lena stood close to me with an umbrella. I felt like a real model with an assistant. Normally a photoshoot consists of me and photographer walking in silence as we walk to the next location. Typically we meet at a local park or in one case Justin and I drove two hours to New Jersey. But having Lena here now made this shoot different, I didn’t feel like I was meeting with some strangers, I felt like I was creating art with new friends.
Inside the Art Quest building, I sat on a chair shaped like a hand. The walls were all glass showcasing more of the abandoned factory buildings.
“Oh man, stay sitting there.” David said excitingly. Quickly David walked outside and kneeled down across from the hand chair I was sitting on. He took some pictures of me peering out of the window.
Again David brought his camera up to his nose and examined the pictures. He gave Lena and I a thumbs up and walked back inside. I admired the way David worked. He could find the beauty in a mundane place like an activity center in a small town like Bethlehem.
“These are great, but stay here. I want to see if there’s a spot upstairs we can shoot at.”
Before either Lena or I could respond to David, he began walking up a small flight of stairs.
I got up from my hand chair and sat across from Lena who had made herself comfortable at small table with two chairs.
“Do you go on a lot of shoots with David?” I asked. I’m not the greatest at small talk but once you make meeting strangers and taking photos with them a hobby, you learn a thing or two about chit chat.
“Not all the time, but because of my job I don’t see him very often. So I like to take every opportunity to hang out with him.” Lena said.
“Well, I like that you’re here.” I said. It was true, I enjoyed shoots that were one on one with a photographer, but having Lena had made the experience more fun.
I couldn’t help but think back to my second photoshoot with two photographers in New Jersey. Justin accompanied me on the shoot, which helped put me at ease. However, when we arrived, the atmosphere felt off. The comfortability that I felt around Lena and David was nonexistent with them. It didn’t help that the photoshoot took place in abandoned ruins that neither Justin nor I had ever gone to before.
The fears of ‘stranger danger’ were in the back of my mind the whole shoot along with thoughts the of serial killer Rodney Alcala. Rodney was a photographer who would lead his victims to abandoned locations by luring them with promises of a photoshoot. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that was exactly the situation I found myself in.
Thankfully, I was not killed. The shoot went well after ice was broken and the four us could all laugh together. I came back with some amazing pictures but that shoot taught me the power of small talk. A joke can go a long way especially when you find yourself with strangers in the woods.
“What got you into this?” Lena asked bringing me back to the present.
The question I had answered at every photoshoot. It’s pretty much the icebreaker question. I always answered the question the same way, ‘My boyfriend is a photographer and I would model for him so I figured why not shoot with other people.’ There was truth in that answer of course, but it was so much more than that. Ever since I was a little girl I dreamed of becoming a model. I would watch hours upon hours of America’s Next Top Model reruns on VH1, dreaming that one day Tyra Banks would say to me, “Brittany, you are still in the running in becoming America’s Next Top Model.” I would even cry in my bedroom pretending that I had just won the reality competition show.
I had always been a shy girl who hid herself in book and TV shows. I dreamed up fantasy worlds were I was a famous model that people knew and loved. I had never thought that one day modeling would actually be a thing I did. Once I discovered the secret world of Instagram modeling, my dream was becoming a reality. Okay, a very humble reality, but a reality nonetheless.
I didn’t want to give Lena the answer I gave everyone else, so I told her my America’s Next Top Model dream. We didn’t just talk about modeling, we talked about her job as a flight attendant and my life at school.
Moments later David arrived back downstairs. “There’s a cool staircase upstairs that I think would be neat to shoot at.”
Once again the three of up made our way to the new location. David seemed to know his way around Arts Quest which worked in our favor. There was a time during my third photoshoot with a photographer named, Gary, that I lied and said I knew where I was going. We agreed meet at the Allentown Rose Gardens, a place I had heard about, but never actually went to.
My shoot with Gary was my first photoshoot without Justin by my side and as much had I wanted to prove to myself that I had what it took to do this alone, I was petrified. Again I thought of stranger danger and wish I owned pepper spray, but I knew that Gary was harmless. The reason I agreed to work with him was because we had a mutual acquaintance.
I don’t know why I suggested the Rose Gardens. In my mind I thought it was going to be a beautiful meadow that looked like it came straight out of The Secret Garden but instead there were barely any flowers in bloom and screaming children ran all around us.
Gary was nice though. He tried his hardest to make me feel comfortable as I tried my hardest to make up for the bad location choice. Once again, this is Instagram modeling, unfortunately there is no location stout to help find that picture perfect spot.
Upstairs there were pictures of musicians all around the staircase. The smiling face of Tom Petty stared at me while I tried to find the perfect pose. David looked frustrated, I could sense that his vision as not coming into fruition.
“I think your shirt is blending into much with the background.” David said.
“I do have another outfit.” I said.
Lena and David’s eyes lit up. “Do you mind changing?” David asked.
“Nope. I come prepared.”
I found the nearest bathroom and changed into a new outfit. Over time I learned it's a good thing to come prepared. During one shoot I had with a photographer, Allen, everything that could go wrong went wrong. First thing to go array was the location. Much like the shoot with Gary, Allen had no idea where he was going. We agreed to meet a park that neither of us had ever gone to before. The park looked like a place to meet for drug deal, not a photoshoot.
“I’m not really liking this spot.” Allen said.
We shoot in front of an abandoned house that both of us were too scared to enter. However, in front of the house was a dead tree that would have fit well in a Tim Burton movie. The tree became my modeling partner. I posed next to the tree, leaning against it, touching it gingerly with my hands. The maroon scarf I wore danced around my face as it blew carelessly in the wind. Even though we didn’t enter the house, the haunting mood of the location was working well. Or so I thought.
“Actually, do you mind changing your outfit?” Allen asked.
“Um, no. But um, where do I change?” I looked around we were miles away from our cars and there were no other buildings around other than the abandoned house.
“I’ll just turn around.” Allen turned around.
But where do I change?! I guess Mother Nature was going to be my changing room. I kneeled down next to my small silver backpack I brought with me to every shoot. As I pulled out a black dress I began to take off my jeans. I felt around the backpack for my black stockings. I felt nothing. I threw out everything from my bag. Nothing. The bag was empty.
If the shoot took place during a beautiful spring day, the lack of stockings would be no problem. However, there I sat with my bear butt on the cold ground in the dead of winter with heavy winds that felt like death screaming my name.
Whatever, I’ll make this work. Reluctantly I pulled my dress down and run back over to the Tim Burton tree.
“Aren’t your legs going to be cold?” Allen asked.
“It’s fine. Um, we can just shoot?” I lied. My teeth began shattering and I was freezing.
Suddenly I began to hear screams. There, there were the wind’s deathly screams, but to my surprise Allen was screaming. I felt terrified, why was this guy screaming?
“It’s so cold.” Allen said as he let out another scream. “My hands are too cold to even work the camera.”
And that was that, the shoot was over.
In the bathroom at Arts Quest I took out a pair of jeans. I come prepared now. I might not always wear the correct outfit when I leave the house, but my backpack, much like Mary Poppins holds everything I need from makeup to clothing, to everything in between
The shoot with David and Lena continued. Lena fixed my bangs whenever I would move in a way that would mess up my hair, and David masterfully captured the moments.
In the short time I had begun my Instagram modeling career, I wanted only to obtain photos to post on my profile. I longed to create content that would help me stand out in the sea of other social media users. In working with David and Lena, and the slew of other photographers, I learned something else. As much as I wanted to be a model, I wanted to be part of a community as well. I might not live in New York or California, but the small photography community that I found myself in makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself. Sure, the photos taken of me might not land on the cover of Vogue but it’s one more step in reaching my goal. A goal one simply can’t reach without the help of some strangers on the internet.