‘If you are unsatisfied with the imagery you are seeing, create your own. We have more control than ever to express our own point of view, and people are listening’
American artist and photographer Myla Dalbesio is mainly known as a model, or, more precisely, the girl from the 2014 Calvin Klein campaign who sparked the debate on whether a woman of a UK size 12 should be considered a plus sized model. Her courage to start a conversation and to take pride in who she is brought her well-deserved recognition from all over the world. But, more importantly, there is more to Dalbesio’s input in the contemporary visual manifestation of feminism than just her looks. She’s been exploring femininity, sexuality, American mysticism and high school aesthetics through performance art, collage, writing and photography for over four years. Her recent photographic project “Some Girls” is an answer to the two dimensional standards of the fashion and beauty industry, an enchanting example of female gaze and a love note to all the real girls out there.
“What I am aiming to show is something very real,” explains Dalbesio. “It’s a snapshot of current femininity, of beauty that other women can connect with, that has no artifice or pretension. It’s a portrait of a new generation of feminists!” We asked Dalbesio to take us on a tour of her creative universe and share the secrets of how to shoot real girls.
GRAB YOUR FRIENDS AND CREATE SOMETHING TOGETHER
“I had a couple girlfriends (also models) who had been asking me for a long time to shoot together. Once we finally made it happen, I realised how much I loved the experience. Going to a friend's apartment, having a cup of coffee and catching up, creating something together. I wanted to do it again, so I started shooting more friends, and the project began to evolve and take shape.”
“I try to be very vocal about what I like about them, what I think looks beautiful. I have an advantage with that though, because I am a woman. Sometimes those kinds of compliments can come off in a different way when they are coming from a man” – Myla Dalbesio
CREATIVE PROJECTS ARE A GREAT WAY TO MEET NEW AND INSPIRING PEOPLE, AND VICE-VERSA
“Most of the girls are friends, someone I know and love, who inspire and understand me, although some of the girls are (or were, I should say) strangers, girl crushes I found on Instagram or knew of from the downtown NY scene. I like that I can use this project as a path to meet and interact with more interesting women. It's really important to me that the girls I work with are multi-dimensional. I need to be able to talk to them while we shoot, I want to be able to connect with them on a personal level. That kind of connection plays a big role in how the photos turn out. If we aren't vibing it will show in the photos. When I'm casting I look for confident girls that have something going on, something to say.”
RESPECT OTHER MODELS AND THEIR BOUNDARIES
“I try to never pressure anyone into doing something they are not comfortable with, I always ask permission, and if anyone shows slight hesitation I let it go and move onto a different shot. Because I shoot on film and the girls can't see what it looks like until later, sometimes I'll take a quick picture on my iPhone to show them what it looks like. If they don't like it, I don't shoot it. I also try to be very vocal about what I like about them, what I think looks beautiful. I have an advantage with that though, because I am a woman. Sometimes those kinds of compliments can come off in a different way when they are coming from a man.”
SEARCH FOR PERSONALITY, NOT JUST LOOKS
“I try to present each girl as a whole person. I shoot all different aspects of them, so the sexy stuff is just a part of the overall picture of who they are as individuals. I barely retouch, if ever, so I ask the girls to get ready in whatever way makes them feel the best and most comfortable. Objectification can begin when you start to take liberties in crafting your subject to be what you want her to be, instead of letting her tell you who she is. I think having things like hair, makeup, and clothing be done on the terms of the model helps to keep her complete self really present in the photos. It means she has a voice, she plays a role in deciding how she is portrayed and presented.”
DON’T BE AFRAID TO GET PERSONAL
“For this project, I always shoot the girls in their own apartments or houses. They are portraits, so I want them to feel very real and personal. I want the girls I shoot to look at the photos and think ‘Yeah, that's me.’ The trust and intimacy shown comes back to the issue of respect. I always tell my girls, ‘I wouldn't use a bad picture of you, because that makes me look bad.’ Talking to the girls, asking about their lives, their opinions, their interests, it makes a big difference. People will be more trusting of you if they believe you care about them, which I do, and I do my best to show it.”
USE YOUR VISION TO CHANGE THINGS
“So much time spent in the industry has really made me bored with seeing only the traditionally cast skinny white models. This is not to say that I don't want to shoot those girls, because I want to and I do. But uniformity is monotonous and isn't interesting. I also think that sometimes, when casting, photographers or clients simply forget about curvy girls, or underestimate their talent or abilities. They're not just catalog models, and they deserve more opportunities to shine in different ways. It's never been a conscious decision to shoot all types of girls, it's just what I do because that's what I am attracted to. I'm attracted to a person as a whole, not to a specific size or shape. You know that saying, ‘If you don't like what's being said, change the conversation.’ It's the same with imagery. If you are unsatisfied with the imagery you are seeing, create your own. We have more control than ever to express our own point of view, and people are listening.”