The Models Were Here

It was shiny. Freshly printed. Laminated. Brand new. And, above all, legible! It was my new photo ID card for the Fashion Institute of Technology, better known as ‘FIT’, New York’s City’s popular design, fashion, and art school on Seventh Avenue, and the institution where I have been modeling longer – continuously – than any other school after the National Academy, who were the first to hire me 🙂

When the security guard handed me my new photo ID I compared it to my old one; a faded, beat-up relic carrying ten years of wear and tear. My face in the photo was nearly obliterated, as was the lettering. The old card also holds a stack of stickers, as we are given a new one for each semester. I never scrape off the old ones but just stick the new one on top of the last one, resulting in a stump of stacked stickers that protrude a quarter inch off the surface of the card, like a mini mountain. So when I ran my thumb over the sticker stump of my old card, I got a little sentimental thinking of all the times I flashed that ID to enter the FIT campus, all the times I rode up and down the elevator, all the times I tossed off my gown and stepped onto the various modeling platforms on the 6th floor of the D Building, all the booking sheets I handed in and teachers I worked with and and countless undergraduate students I modeled for in my many years at this excellent school.

My new FIT ID card. Will this one carry me for another decade? We’ll see!

I have something of a fascination with ephemera. Over the years I’ve held onto a good amount of ticket stubs, postcards, letters, handwritten notes, business cards, etc. I’m not a thrower-outer. I still have the little pocket notebook that I used to record my early modeling contacts when I was first starting out. Almost every page is filled with the name of an art school, a model coordinator, and phone number; “Art Students League … talk to Sylvia”. Some cross-outs, some arrows and stars and underlines. It’s especially interesting to see the name “Minerva Durham” scrawled in my loose handwriting with the additional notes, “Spring Studio, life drawing 7 days per week, tryouts on Sunday. See email. Don’t be late!”. Little did I know back then, when I jotted down her name before ever having met her in person, how important a figure Minerva would become in my career, or that her studio would become my favorite and most gratifying modeling venue.

When you work as a freelancer – a professional with no true ’employer’, no pension, no benefits – the feeling of not existing ‘on paper’ or in official business records – can be a little odd. Apart from a biweekly check sent out from a payroll department, where are we? Who are we? Did we just drift down out of the ether, some nameless warm body who just poses and leaves? Eighty years from now, would there be any incontrovertible proof that an artist’s model named Claudia Hajian ever worked in New York City? It’s a strange thought I know, and I apologize for being dramatic, but I wonder about these crazy things sometimes. I imagine that we all care, to some extent, about our legacy, don’t we? Especially when we devoted our lives to something passionately.

I took this photo at the “Artists and their Models” exhibit at the Smithsonian in 2014. It’s a booklet documenting Florence Allen’s membership in the San Francisco Models Guild. She was, in fact, one of the founders of the Guild which still exists today as the Bay Area Models’ Guild. The pink stamps indicate her paid monthly dues. Flo Allen is something of an art modeling legend in San Francisco history. Her obituary in the SF Gate  is quite a good read. You can click and enlarge all these  photos for better viewing:

A model contract for Cleo Dorman at the Carnegie Institute, October 1937, with her hourly pay (75 cents) and class schedule. She was booked for Anatomy and “Dwg III” (Drawing III):

Various business cards of professional working models; in the center, Marguerite BouvĂ© of Boston, circa 1910, Richard M. Samuels’ card with a modeling photo of himself, and pouty lip print by Anna-Lisa van der Valk;

Most professional models I know have business cards, as they should. And a journal of all contacts is also recommended. Chronicle your careers, models. You’ve been working the circuit, putting in your time and sweat and dedication. It matters. For posterity? Maybe, maybe not. But you never know who might gaze upon your image someday in the future and find themselves curious about your existence, perhaps even your biography. You never know if your handwritten work notes will be displayed in a glass case at the Smithsonian 😉

After my father died, when my mother, my brother and I were going through his personal things, I jumped at the chance to keep his journal of work contacts. My father was a professional musician for over forty years and, at the time of his death, had not yet owned nor used a personal computer. His black, hardcover journal contains the name and phone number of literally every single musician/bandleader/booker contact he acquired over decades of work as a NYC musician, each written in small, clear penmanship. That was my father. And the journal is something I cherish to this day. My Dad, a fellow freelancer – keeping notes and recording his livelihood.

I suppose one could argue that today, in the Internet age, with everything digitized and easily transmitted and ‘saved’ as files, people’s lives are recorded and documented better than ever. And that’s a solid argument. Because the printed cards and handwritten journals – anything on paper – can fray, get lost, get burned in a fire, thrown in the garbage, and so on. So what in God’s name am I fretting about? My blog is firmly online for, well, as long as I keep it here. And artists post their works of models on their Facebook pages and Instagram accounts with our names, like “Rachel reclining” or “Standing Luke”. Which brings me to this – artists? Keep records of your models. It’s a nice thing to do. We are, and always have been, indispensable, bona fide members of the art world. –> No art student anywhere, at any time, learned life drawing without us. That’s simply a fact. We were here. We are here. We are an essential component of your education and your inspiration. Remember us. Let’s all remember everything … if we can.