Model Projection

by Penny Martin .

When you're sweet sixteen and fair of face, you don't give much thought to whether you're acting out other people's fantasies.

27 November 2003 22:30hrs

When you're sweet sixteen and fair of face, you don't give much thought to whether you're acting out other people's fantasies. After all, dressing up in vertiginous heels, slinky evening dresses (minus a coat) and even donning erotic kitten masks are mandatory elements of nights spent trailing around after boys or waiting in rain-drenched nightclub queues. 

But what about when you're cornered - literally - in the nook of a false wall with four men crowded round you, encouraging you to arch your back, tilt your head, part your lips or face the wall? This, of course, is the everyday experience of model Gemma Ward, subject of shots three and four of today's shoot. Though a newcomer to the industry - Ward left school to start modelling this August - the young girl doesn't flinch as the photographic assistants circle and the stylists primp and fuss.

It's a story tabloids across the land thrive upon: fresh-faced schoolgirl from the styx is preyed upon by iniquitous fashion types and transforms into a gaunt, jaded projection-object within months. Only, that couldn't be further from the truth. Daily Mail readers will be surprised to learn that sixteen year old Gemma is acutely aware of the reality of her profession. She may be barely a child, but this beautiful young woman sees modelling as similar to the acting she has been doing for years and uses this training as a coping strategy for the demands of the job. 'When you're standing in front of the camera, you don't think about yourself' she says, 'it's not you, it's the character they're asking for, it's the clothes'. 

In photography, intention is never the same as meaning.

Particularly with fashion photography (aspirational images of our future selves, if only we could afford the gear and lose the weight), the images mean what we as viewers project onto them. It is crucial, however, that the politics of representation and anxieties regarding the social effect of imagery are not confused with the culture of image production. Models, like any other workers, are vulnerable to exploitation but this is not intrinsic to the profession. Some employers are honorable; others not. Next time you find yourself expressing concern for the 'poor' high-earning, assured and driven women in the pictures you are so readily consuming, ask yourself precisely whose fantasies it is they are acting out.