He said he’d look for a hotel room for us.
Wait. Let me back up. This statement came near the end of a discussion about meeting to do a photo shoot in which I’d model for him, nude. The London pub he’d chosen for our first face-to-face meeting wasn’t one he knew but was convenient to where Gawan and I were staying for the few days around Eroticon.
He didn’t spring the idea of the shoot on me at that pub. On the contrary, we’d been discussing it at some length from our respective time zones via DM. The pub was where we’d get the measure of each other and compare that to the impressions we’d conjured up from words on screens. That and, if all went well, discuss logistics.
He had suggested (over a year ago already!) that he would like to photograph me. Not long before, I’d had the idea of working with a photographer but hadn’t imagined that he would reach out. I was intrigued. And flattered. I liked what I had seen of his work and set out to find out more about him and his style.
I knew myself well enough to know I wasn’t able to guarantee that I could do the shoot. Or rather, I knew wanted to do it but I didn’t know myself well enough to predict with certainty that my emotional baggage wouldn’t interfere with my plans.
I’ve mentioned my first ever photo shoot before. I had thought I would be OK, but I wasn’t: I found the whole thing awkward and difficult. Nothing bad happened, it just felt vaguely (or not so vaguely) wrong. Shameful. I was given a print: my face in profile. I put it in a frame for a while but I never liked it. I think I still have that print in a folder somewhere. I couldn’t quite bring myself to toss it. Maybe I could now. The frame is long gone.
What could I do to be sure I was willing and, critically, able to a nude shoot now? Looking back, I can see that in recent years I’d already done some of the necessary work. A lot, actually. The biggest problem plaguing that first attempt was likely my sexual shame, from which my epiphany has largely freed me. Beyond that, doing self-portraits has gotten me more comfortable with being naked in front of a camera, and contributing to Sinful Sunday was (it turned out) working to improve my body-image.
But planning to work with a near stranger in a different country still seemed daunting. I’m cautious and slow to make decisions, and I wasn’t going to have the time to get to know him as well as I would like. The most time I’d get was a couple of days between meeting for drinks and then doing the shoot. I was concerned that my awareness of the hassle that would result from cancelling last-minute would override my awareness of whether I felt comfortable with the situation in the moment. I didn’t want to put myself in that position, and I didn’t want to cause him avoidable inconvenience.
So how about a test run with a near stranger who lived within daytrip distance? Without the element of overseas travel, the idea seemed substantially less daunting. As it happened, a photographer had struck up a conversation with me on FetLife months earlier and I kind of shut him down. Politely. But then I had this idea of a trial run, and I approached him again with the idea of working together. FP was game. The day arrived and I was ready to do the shoot but it fell apart because I had problems with the model release form he gave me. I was disappointed.
The disappointment was key: I discovered that I was actually fairly comfortable with the premise — otherwise I would have felt relieved that it had fallen through. There’s something else I absorbed well after this all went down: he seemed angry, and someone expressing anger at me is a red flag, especially when it’s a response to a relatively minor inconvenience. I suspect he thought a little too highly of himself, and too little of others. (When we met up, he spent time complaining about other models — another red flag.) But modelling isn’t my job and I have no obligation to tolerate difficult people.
Then the opportunity with Lucas arose. It was similar to the plan with FP except that Lucas is a close friend. It was a flight away rather than just a drive, but friends sometimes take flights to visit each other, I hear. The shoot turned out to be an OK experience — nothing terrible and nothing fantastic. I didn’t feel any shame — that was good. I had learned a lot about Lucas in those few days and got some insight into what happened during the shoot (and outside of it) that didn’t work for me. I learned that (unsurprisingly) I feel vulnerable when posing. I need to feel safe and appreciated and respected, and I need to feel emotional warmth. (It’s probably no coincidence that I need all of these in a physical relationship too.) I also need to get positive feedback — he didn’t give me any indication that I was doing things well, and feeling like I’m doing a shitty job makes me close down. And I need not to be cold!
I was becoming more confident in my ability to do a nude shoot, and I was working out the circumstances required for me to feel comfortable and maybe even enjoy it. I told the photographer that I wanted to do it and suggested we start planning when we’d meet, but I also expressed some hesitation because I couldn’t in good conscience say “Yes! I’m 100% on board!!!” and I didn’t want him to be too put out if I had to cancel. For what it was worth, during the intervening months I’d cobbled together an impression of him that, while sparse, was consistently positive, so I thought it was unlikely that there would be a personality clash.
So the last major variable that remained was whether the impression he gave in person would be consistent with what I thought he was like. And I couldn’t reach any firm conclusions about that until we met.
Part 2: putting faces to names — and bodies