Ambition: Believing in yourself in the face of adversity can overcome great odds.

September 6th, 2011

January 2009. I had just finished having lunch at the Olive Garden when one of the employees caught my attention. Blonde super curly hair, high cheekbones, graceful face and neckline. I always hate walking up to women and asking if they would be interested in trying modeling because it seems like such a schmuck thing to do, but when you are trying to build a fashion and beauty portfolio in Albuquerque, NM you have to seize any opportunity to find subjects that have "the look".  Amy was very nice, with the standard amount of apprehensiveness that any smart young woman should have when a guy walks up and asks if she would be interested doing a photo shoot. I gave her my contact info and she called me a few days later with interest in shooting. She was still cautious, waiting for the part where I either bushwhack a way to charge her money or some other "catch". But there was no catch. I just had this idea for a shot where a model is holding the moon and Amy really had a great, very unique face that I thought would capture well. From there she didn't need experience, just the ability to follow direction.

We scheduled the shoot and she came down along with her Dad for support to the studio I was renting. I remember how nervous but willing to try she was. The shoot went great and she seemed to really enjoy the creative process. She was very easy to work with, had enough confidence and a great look on camera. I was quickly interested in working with her more in kind of a developmental way. The only problem was, she wasn't interested in modeling. Amy was a decorated high school varsity athlete who's scholastic sports career was abruptly ended due to a broken back injury. She's a person who is focused and driven toward goal achievement, with her strongest competitor being herself. You tell Amy she can't do something, you better prepare to be proven wrong. I think she was mostly interested in doing this shoot to test herself to see if she could do it. Even her Dad didn't watch one minute of it and couldn't care less about this silly thing his daughter was dragging him away from Sports Center for. Her sights were set on a useful career in nursing, with no interest in prancing around in front of a camera or on a runway. But that all would change.

A year and a half later I called Amy to see if she would help me update my swimwear portfolio. I didn't think she would be interested in this one iota, but I had to try. To my surprise she was cool with it, as long as it was classy. There was no problem there- if it's not classy and sophisticated, I don't want anything to do with it either.  We set up a test shoot to try it out, and again she was able to get past the shyness and produce the expressions that I was directing- just like acting. We set up the real shoot in the Jemez mountains a week later and it went really well. We shot some beautiful island-style looks in the waterfalls, and even when I wanted to have her completely covered in mud, which grossed her out entirely, she allowed it and proceeded to hit some of the most beautiful and perfect looks in my work to date. I could sense that again, she was looking at this task from a challenge point of view, and that's how it was working for her. It may look easy at a temporary glance, but it's not, especially when you are inexperienced. When a photographer casts you to model in his project and needs you to think and feel a certain way so that your eyes and body language can tell a story, it becomes more far difficult than a portrait session. Many hours are spent on getting the right shot, so for Amy, this was a new level to achieve. I discussed with her that I really thought that she had the ability to do this, and that a modeling career is not only a great job but also a great way to pay for the expensive education that the medical field requires. Even if not in fashion, then definitely in swimwear. But again the answer was the same- no interest in modeling.

In December of that year, the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show made it's annual appearance on TV and one can't help but be entranced by it's production value, beauty and positive energy. The very next day, I got a call from you know who. Amy was a re-invented girl on the phone. She was obsessed with becoming a model. She wanted to know where to get started and what to do. I could hear the drive in her voice and it was even inspiring me. "You saw the Victoria's Secret fashion show didn't you- and now you're hooked!"  I said, laughing.  But you know what?  Amy is someone I could see doing it.  My standards are high, and if I think she can do it, maybe someone else out there will too.  So we took some simple no-makeup test shots for agencies and I helped her with a few online resources of what agencies to contact and how to go about it- and better yet, how not to go about it. Now there was a new problem. At 5'7" and 3/4", Amy is 1/4-inch below most of the the pro/legit agencies' height requirements. That's like trying to get into medical school with a 4.0 average but without a degree- close but not enough. It was going to be hard for her to beat that. During the same time I had a client that I was shooting a jewelry ad campaign for. They didn't have a big budget for pro models and asked if I could recommend two girls from my experience who might be interested in shooting it. I immediately recommended Amy and told them that I believed in her ability to pull off a great shot, plus she could use some good ad tear sheets for her portfolio and as well as experience shooting for a client- something that is more critical than a portfolio shoot.

Again, Amy did quite well and I could see a maturity in her movement, her understanding and her ability in front of the camera- she had been studying modeling. The client was pleased and the ads ran. However, the 1/4 inch was keeping Amy out of agency interest, and therefore her own interest was starting to fade. Growing taller is a goal no one can achieve through any amount of hard work or study, and when girls that are competing for the same job are 5' 11", it's even more bleak. But Amy's key aspect is not her height, it's everything else. Features, fitness, personality and intellect are the first things that come to my mind- and that goes a LONG way with an agent who needs to send over a girl to a big client who's looking for someone new- someone unique. So we talked a few times, and I just encouraged her not to give up. If you want something, you have to pursue it, not wait for it.

This summer I moved to New York City and kept in touch with Amy with small nudges of encouragement so that she would still at least continue to submit to agencies. One night I had a dream that she came to NYC and went running around to all the agencies here. That was a weird dream because when I told her about it, she replied with a plan to actually do it. A couple of weeks later I met her and her Dad again, fresh off the plane in the heart of NYC in the pouring rain- a long way from the Jemez mountains. Over a slice of pizza, her Dad asked me, "Do you really think she has a shot at this?". "Absolutely", I replied. "I wouldn't advise you to have spent a lot of money to come to New York of all places and run around here for a week if I thought it was just a lucky shot.  You're going to get turned down by a lot of agents here, but you don't need a lot, you only need one." She did see a lot of agencies, and as it turns out, one of them called her back. They obviously saw more potential than a quarter-inch deficit could affect. After months of trying with no results and only a fading glimmer of hope of ever becoming a working professional model, Amy was signed with Major Model Management in New York City.

That's what believing in yourself applied with an intelligent approach can do. I wished I could have just picked up the phone and told my agent colleagues to make it happen, but I can't.  She did it on her own with no help. I think that's really cool, and a testimonial for anyone who doesn't believe in themselves enough to try- you should. Even when you don't necessarily fit the rules, then break the rules.

Now the journey begins. Getting signed is just the first real step, developing a career is the next maze to navigate. But as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quoted, "You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the next step." I have all the confidence in Amy now as I have before to find her way to success.  It takes the kind of person that doesn't believe in the odds, only in themselves. Welcome to the next chapter Amy, now show us what new goals you're capable of reaching.

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