Toronto

New & Terrifying: From Selfies to Runways & Magazines

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In 2013 a new series idea was pitched for FGFS, called New and Terrifying. For the year 2014 I — and anyone willing to join me — wanted to go out and do things we’d never done before simply because the thought of it terrified us.

Something I’d always wanted to do was model. For the last 20 years, except for a disillusioned period right after dropping out of Photography School, I’ve been taking photos. There’s been a number of think pieces recently about the history and importance of what was once a self portrait and is now called a selfie. My opinion on whether it’s art or vanity is simple: most of the time, when you’re working out an idea, you are your only available model. Unless you have a muse in-house or on speed dial willing to come meet you at all hours of the night, you are your only chance to explore an idea or capture a mood.

At the encouragement of my grandmother at age 14 I filled out an Addition Elle model contest form that came in the mail. I sent it in, neglecting to submit any photographs. I was tormented by the consolation coupons that came saying sorry I wasn’t chosen, but I was beautiful all the same.

Sometimes a photographer, especially one who has been their own model more than they care to say, wants to step out from behind the lens and have someone else explore. Sometimes a photographer only has photos of themselves that they themselves have taken and want something different.

At the beginning of 2014 I happened upon a hashtag on Instagram, #365FeministSelfie. Spearheaded by Veronica Arreola, a PhD student in Chicago who blogs at Viva la Feminista. The project endeavoured over the year to create spaces for persons who feel, for various reasons, they are underrepresented in visual communication. It was to aid people who rarely see themselves portrayed in media — and if they do, it tends to be a stereotyped or negative portrayal — represent themselves. Sections of the population who participated are fat, POC, queen, non cis-gendered, and/or disabled.

What I have always hoped to do through Fat Girl Food Squad was to create and host images of fat bodies; bodies that might not normally be seen. Fat bodies in motion, fat bodies commanding presence, fat bodies in positive roles. And yes, one of the bodies I wanted to represent was my own.

The first image I posted under #365FeministSelfie was a pretty tame one and not even a particularly good selfie. It got more attention than I expect but I won’t go into that here because it’s not the focus of this post (eventually I will write that one). It wasn’t the first time I’d been made to feel minimized when attempting to create a space for myself — I was raised by the internet after all. But something put a fire in me, and the next day I stripped down to my underwear in front of my camera for once.

 

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The resulting images had an amazing affect on me. They appeared online, which is sort a safe-zone, litmus test, before they appeared on a gallery wall a month later at FGFS’s show Fat in Public at the Black Cat Gallery here in Toronto. After this monumental step for me personally and directly or indirectly because of the huge attention that show received, I was contacted by people who wanted to use me in their projects.

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First was WORN Fashion Journal, a gorgeous compendium of alternative fashion, which after 20 perfect-perfect issue has cease publication. Before I’d even finished reading the subject line of the email from then Associate Art Editor, Brianne Burnell, I knew I was going to do whatever they asked me. As it turns out I was asked to pose in my underthings for an issue on, well, underthings. The shoot was short and sweet, done in the WORN office with Wynne Neilly behind the lens and Brianne doing her best to direct ridged me into poses. After a half month of emailing back and forth and the nervous build in the meantime, it happened and I awaited the issue 18 in the mail.

 

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Then came Michael Zoffranieri, a fashion student, who ask me to walk for his line, ZOFF,  at Fashion Arts Toronto. From what I am told the multi-day event (which I gleefully referred to as FAT) is a big deal in Toronto’s fashion community. I didn’t do a particularly good job of the walk (I thought I’d nailed the soft, stoic, regal face that the designer wanted, but photos show the tight lipped reality). I’m still exceedingly happy I did it. Everything was so otherworldly, the other world I’d watched on Fashion TV and daydreamed about but never set foot near (which explains my extreme naïveté).

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So what did all of this lead up to? I still want to do more modelling, and I’ll still be up at 5am taking moody self portraits. But ultimately, it meant that when a Toronto publication approached Ama and I to do a nude shoot (more on this to come), not only did I say yes instantly, there were markedly less nerves than the WORN shoot and the runway show. It meant sitting for hair and makeup like a pro and dropping the robe in the studio without a thought to it. I had one of the most rewarding and illuminating afternoons of my life.

I’m not sure what I’ll do in 2015, but I grateful for 2014.

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