4 Alternative Models Tell Us About The Life Behind The Camera
Alternative Modeling, has always been something that lives as it’s own photo collection of subculture.
Balancing in the lines between the taboo and the ever-teetering boundaries of what is considered an accepted “normal”, alternative modeling is a unique platform all to itself. Not only does it cater a lot to expression, but also the notion of how anyone is capable of bearing their vulnerability in photos- especially within capturing the BDSM subculture.
I have had the chance to connect and speak to four different alternative models that work within the frames of BDSM as part of their alternative styles, all who carry their own views and motivations towards this lifestyle of theirs. These 4 lovely women I found through their popularity on Instagram- we have Talia (@wicked_tal), Ellie (@ellie.neptune), Shakti (@shaktiblissbunny), and Sophia (@sophia.shibari)!
Hearing their words on what it is like to be seen caught in rope, under the spell of a power dynamic, or the art of their body was fascinating. The stigmas surrounding these models, portraying these pieces of themselves that a major part of society thinks should be “private”, can be a major barrier to helping break open this world of alternative modeling. These discussions we shared were personal and genuine, showing the authenticity that each of them carried as people in this movement towards self-empowerment and celebration of the body.
Question #1: What is your definition of an Alternative Model?
Alternative modeling is more out of the box. I like to think of it as we are our own mixture of personalities and characteristics- we are all our own anomaly. Showing your anomaly is what it is about.
It is more about showcasing a lifestyle than showing off fashion… It likes to break against societal molds.
For me, it is someone who doesn’t fit into societal ideals and norms. They are ones of all different genders, looks, and backgrounds. Though, I don’t really know what “counts” as alternative- I like to think that we are normal, since we are all our own kind of normal.
I think each "alternative model" creates her own definition. For me, alternative by definition means another possibility or option from the mainstream. The concept of mainstream is changing daily with more runway models having tattoos and even the incorporation of BDSM and kink concepts in traditional modeling.
Create your own definition! Create your own art. Worry less about categorizing.
Anybody is a model, really. If you can be in front of a camera, you can be a model. An alternative model though, I guess, is whatever you don’t see in mainstream. I think it is also less about selling something and more about celebrating your beauty and body.
Question #2: What inspired you to get into it?
My current partner was one of the first ones who was intrigued to take photos. We started off first with photos of play, then it turned into just photos of me. I started reaching out to photographers on Instagram and it went from there. I would say that I have different interests that I like to play into with all my shoots; I want to show people that you don’t have to fit inside one box. I like being my own anomaly- my own unique mixture of what I identify with, both myself and my interests.
One thing I really love about it is how it shows a different side of me and it gave me the opportunity to find a different definition of what “sexy” is for me. Modeling has helped me become okay with who I was and what I love.
I started when I saw a friend post a photo shoot of herself suspended in rope. I thought it was really beautiful, and she looked so peaceful. I wanted to be a part of that world. So, I first came into the rope scene being inspired by the artistic beauty of it. Over time I've also learnt about the emotional and physical release that comes with it. It gives me an opportunity to discover that I'm more powerful than I thought I was. Holding all those different positions for an extended time, and even adding the experience of pain - it surprises me how strong I can be!
Its odd because I never really considered myself a model. I am art school graduate who started her art career in photography and eventually landed in design however I consider myself an artist who likes to collaborate with photographers when I’m on the lens side of the camera. As I dove deeper in to the art and tradition of Shibari and Kinbaku, I felt called to capture some intense and trans formative moments and that often leads many to photography.
I never really meant to get into alternative modeling. I was part of the BDSM scene for a while to start- exploring a part of myself which made me feel different. I was bullied quite a lot in high school, so it was great coming into an open-minded subculture that was so accepting. Turned out, people liked to take photos me in these moments.
I didn’t think of myself as conventionally attractive, or even someone who was “worthy” of having their photo taken. So at first I was a little surprised people were intrigued to capture me, but then I noticed how it was different from what we see in mainstream modeling.
Question #3: What do you think is different between alternative modeling and mainstream modeling?
It isn’t published as much, seeing as a lot of it can go against the societal standards of “normal”. It generally includes a lot of different people, such as transgender, different hairstyles, tattoos, etc.
I suppose society's general idea of the word "model" is like someone out of Vogue magazine. But I think in alternative modelling we see people of all different shapes, sizes, and colours.
Alternative modelling feels more about being yourself, which often isn't the feeling I get from mainstream modelling, where there can be a sense of conforming to a certain "look".
[In regard to how alternative modeling and the mainstream modeling a subculture can be different]: Rope and kink are going more mainstream I think, but people don’t really seem to realize how intense it can be, both physically and emotionally. The side that we don’t see when mainstream depicts a subculture, such as BDSM, is that it isn’t all glamorous. It is not all this CRAZY sex and play. You can be erotic, but you can also be comforting or playful without any sex involved.
Question #4: What are your relationships with the photographer like, in regard to both physical and emotional safety, seeing as you can be shooting in a much more vulnerable way?
First thing I do, before shoots, is that I talk to them lots beforehand about safety, consent, boundaries, as well as creative goals. As well, I reach out to other models that I have seen on their page, to ask them about the photographers character and what is it like to work with them. I always suggest asking other models who have worked with them what their experience was like.
It is kind of hard in this day of Instagram [to tell which photographers are safe, since people can assume that since a photographer has worked with a well-known model, they they are safe, which isn’t always the case.
Red flag: If I ask them to give me contacts to some of their previous models and they immediately have an issue with you asking.
Red flag: If they are wanting and/or pressuring to shoot nude/kink without any previous discussion.
I've mostly shot with people who are both the rigger and the photographer, simply because I first started tying with friends and they started taking photos of me. So, in those circumstances I'm already comfortable with them. I have also been in shoots where we introduced a third-party photographer, but I still had my friend tying me and felt safe through their presence.
I’m lucky to live in a city with a bustling kink scene, a growing and connected rope scene specifically and artists galore who are ready and willing to collaborate. In that way, I am spoiled. I work with many photographers who are already friends or at least acquaintances. Therefore collaborating with rope deepens our already existing relationship as they witness the energy exchange from behind the lens. I like to negotiate, discuss all aspects of what we are creating, make sure we are cultivating a space space for all involved and also share concepts and ideas!
Mostly, I enjoy shooting with friends, since I feel more comfortable and they already know what angles you like best. It definitely was a learning curve for me, since not all photographers are nice- some are pretty creepy. Because we live in a patriarchal world, I think it is about finding balance between what empowers yourself and this “alternative” photographic industry that is mainly controlled by [male-identified].
Red flag: Any photographer that isn’t okay with you bringing someone to a shoot
Question # 5: How do you feel being captured in in these moments?
It could be considered as a type of subspace, but it really more is how I feel at peace. I think of it as a form of meditation. I have openly talked about my struggles with mental health on my Instagram, as I struggle with anxiety and depression- in those moments I am concentrating on nothing else except the feeling of rope on my skin, plus the pain and pleasure it brings.
It can depend on the position/pose I'm in (e.g. feeling vulnerable/exposed), and also the goal of the shoot & what we want to convey. Sometimes I've felt nervous, especially when first getting used to wearing less clothing. My first fully nude shoot was quite nerve-wracking, but my friends were very supportive which helped a lot!
Being captured in a vulnerable space can be jarring, self realizing and cathartic. Personally, it helped me realize the beauty in my vulnerability and it helped me open up and continue the journey of expansion in my community. It also gives me a moment to recognize my journey and effort in being open and in turn helping others.
[In reference to entering subspace…] I enter sub space very quickly and easily in most scenes and that usually does not get interrupted by the presence of a camera and/or photographer. Changing my involvement or reaction to a scene, a top or rope for the sake of a camera would directly contradict why I want to capture these moments.
Depends on the context of the photo shoot. With being hired, I don’t enter much of a subspace as I would with friends let’s say, seeing as professional shoots are more about the look than the feeling of being tied. I do get this feeling that I am “performing”- I am seen by others in this vulnerable moment and it is empowering. I think that whatever you can do with hands, you can do with rope.
Before going into it, I think it is more about asking each other “How do you want to feel?” rather than trying to get the aesthetic “right” for the photo itself, since all photos are subjective to each individual.
Question #6: Do you ever feel like you have to hide this part of yourself?
Yes, my lifestyle has been an issue with my family, still kind of is. I hid this part of myself for a while, but eventually I just came out and said, “You know, this is who I am.”. I also have had to keep my job separate. I don’t think my company would like to see me in my job uniform on IG, when there’s a photo of me being tied up right next to it, right?
It is hard to feel it out sometimes who you can share your full story with, especially with all the stigmas around nude modelling and BDSM, so I make sure to know that I can really trust them not to judge before I say anything.
I didn’t tell my parents for a while, though my mother’s main worry when she heard was that I make sure that I am safe. I don’t know how they truly feel, but I definitely feel like I can’t talk about it. It sucks, because I want to be able to show them how I see it, as an art form and practice that bring me enjoyment. Rather, they carry these cemented ideas of what alternative modeling is, so I feel a little misunderstood.
I knew jumping in to this interest that it would not be everyone’s cup of tea or even comfort zone, and I think that’s okay and healthy. However I am an openly polyamorous woman with interest in kink, BDSM and overall sex positivity and education. Although I don’t always advertise it in every aspect of my 'vanilla life' it is also not hidden from the world.
I made a promise to myself long ago to attempt to live a life where I wouldn’t feel it necessary to hide any valid parts of myself.
I am quite lucky, as my parents are supportive of me with this- they even follow my Instagram account! I would say that, with more explicit photos, that I have had to prepare myself when people in my life ask “Is that you?” and I have to explain how “Yeah, that is me.”. I think if you can take away the shame, it is more about them and less about me.
It does take some emotional energy, when I am needing to explain myself more for people, because I am not just explaining photos- I am explaining a lifestyle. I appreciate it lots when people do their research on the lifestyle before coming to me about it.
As you see, alternative modeling is less about the idea of modeling yourself for someone else’s perception, but more for being captured in who YOU are as a person. Though these models have a focus on BDSM, kink, or the empowerment of showing their skin, talking to them individually they all came together with the same message- AUTHENTICITY.
What makes you unique is completely different than what these models could be, perhaps you find your tattoos to be the main focus, or your pride in your gender is what you want to highlight. Through these journeys of modeling, these alternative models have portrayed a genuine expression of gratitude for their journeys with the camera, with their self growth happening through the lens. The key to finding self-love through photos? Feeling best in your own skin and having the camera do the work of showing the world what YOU see about yourself!
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