What is it like to be A Freelance “Model” in Paris?

I have been one of those people who look at the photographs taken by someone else and recoil in horror, and I still am, sometimes. I can point out a million things I hate: my hair is sometimes flat, my forehead is greasy, and I have nowhere to hide my chubby Asian cheeks.

By no stretch of the imagination could I become a model. A model is someone you gaze admiringly at in fashion magazines, on billboards, and in boutique windows. They always have beautiful  bouncy hair, a flawless complexion, and perfectly airbrushed bums. However, not long after I moved to Paris, a city that places beauty and art above anything else, I started taking photographs for a number of talented photographers and have found the experience surprisingly pleasant and rewarding.

I was lucky. My photoshoot was smooth-sailing and easy. It was a kind and skilled French photographer Yann who reached out to me on Instagram. I arrived at his apartment/photo studio near Republique in my winter clothes and minimal makeup. We had a brief exchange on Whatsapp and found out that he has been working in the music industry and now as a professional photographer who looks for “models” to enrich his diverse portfolio.

I am not going to lie. I was beyond nervous but Yann made the entire process seem so simple. We took some portraits and had one change of outfits that I brought. During the session, his girlfriend Mathilde arrived home who turned out to be a Chinese graphic designer, which made it even easier for us to communicate and carry out a more pleasant shoot. The next week, we did another photoshoot at my studio in Le Marais which was slightly more “risque”. Yann and Mathilde never failed to provide great creative ideas and the shoot lasted nearly four hours. Here is Yann’s website. http://rithbanney.com. Feel free to check it out!


After the first shoot with a great photographer, it only gets easier and easier. I am fortunate because so far the photographers I have worked with are very kind and professional. Despite my broken French, I never encountered any communication problem or have managed to remain friends with the photographers.


I am a “modele debutante” but I do have some valuable tips for those who are interested in starting modeling on a freelance basis.

Be professional. Have clear communication before each shoot and show up prepared when you say you will. Stand your ground and do it with grace and professionalism. Always arrive on time, reply all email in a timely manner, and answer every phone call.

Set your limits but do not limit yourself. What are you willing to do or not do? Are you okay with nudes? Lingerie? Video? Fetish? Stick to what you have agreed to for the shoot and say no if you feel uncomfortable as most would understand. However, be open to new ideas. When you submit your portfolio to freelance gigs, do not limit yourself to one category; rather, expand your horizon and actively converse with photographers about new interesting ideas.

Build a portfolio. This one is not necessarily mandatory but if you’re more serious, a portfolio will help you reach out to more photographers and potentially build your own network. Having a website of your own would give you the best platform to list details of your experience & background and promote yourself to potential clients. Having your profile in social networks will boost your online credentials Also think about what genres and styles you prefer and perhaps state your preferences in your portfolio.

Stay optimistic. Your positive and fun attitude would be welcome by clients and photographers that choose to work with you. At the same time, be prepared for the worst. Stay cool even in a negative environment, never badmouth anyone, or do not exchange heated words with a client when things are getting out of control.



What Does It Mean to be An Artist?

Lately I have been pondering the question “what does it mean to be an artist?” I started taking art classes since I could remember. When adults asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would always answer with pride “I want to become a painter”. My favorite art teacher considered me one of those very “gifted” children who were supposed to pursue the artists’ path and go to art school. However, reality hit hard; assignments and exams took over my life. I couldn’t go to art classes anymore and stopped drawing altogether. It almost felt like that part of me never even existed.

It was not until the second year in college when I started drawing again. I remember vividly that it was after watching La Belle Noiseuse, a movie about a painter who is fascinated by the female form. All of the sudden I was feeling inspired and started drawing with a black ink pen and it was a such a beautiful experience. Then I drew a portrait of my roommate according to one of her Facebook profile pictures. Without any charcoal drawing training, I surprised even myself by how good it turned out and the amount of compliments it received. From then on, I would draw and paint in my spare time; for me it was mostly just an artistic outlet and meditative process.

After graduating and traveling around the world, I returned home for a while and began oil painting at an art atelier with my mom who always believed in my artistic talents. I enjoyed it very much but at certain point it got frustrating because I could be a painful perfectionist and expect everything to be exact and take long periods of time to finish one painting. For my mother, it would only take maybe a few days because she was so much more care-free and less self-critical. She would often tell me that the reason for the schism was that I was not yet confident enough to completely express myself creatively despite my superior artistic skills. I did not agree with her then, thinking that I simply set higher standards for myself. However, now when I look back, I agree with her, being an artist is all about self-expression.

To be more free in self-expression, first of all, we have to be more in touch with our inner life and be genuine with our true emotions. It is about reinterpreting our experiences and transform our perceptions, thoughts, and emotions into something more tangible that can communicate with others or just yourself. In present society, we are so used to putting on masks and usually end up creating things that cater more to the taste of others or for commercial reasons. A music blogger Bob Lefsetz, once wrote about what it means to be an artist.

“It means to lay your soul down. Your truth. The fame is ancillary. If the success comes first, then you’re an empty vessel. It’s kind of like love. Would you like to get all your sex at a brothel? Sex without love isn’t as good as masturbation. Because what makes sex so good is the connection between the two people who are doing it. What made the records of yore so good was the connection between the creator and the listener.

Oh, don’t tell me you’re into this artist or that. It’s kind of like the movie business. We’ve seen it all. It’s just endless remakes. Endless riffs on what’s come before. But what if an artist went off on his own path, only following his own muse, desirous of connecting but unwilling to compromise. Then you’d have Stevie Wonder.”

Art is love, passion, life. Art is paradoxical, irrational and full of contradictions. Being an artist is allowing yourself to be vulnerable and completely open before engaging in the practice of contemplation and creation. It can be a daunting experience but only in this way can you create something you are passionate about and call yourself “an artist”.

A “Pastel-Hued Nightmare” – Black Mirror “Nosedive”

Black mirror

I still remember watching the ‘Christmas special’ episode of Black Mirror and how it sent chills straight down my spine. And once again last night, I was blown away by the brilliance of the compelling episode of season 3 after almost two years.


“A Pastel-Hued Nightmare”

A short synopsis of the episode: “Nosedive” is a social media nightmare trapped in a pastel dream. In the status-obsessed world where everyone’s given a rating based on others’ immediate feedback about them, Lacie (Bryce Dallas Howard) — who is inhibited and “eager to please” — finds a way to move up to a higher “social class” when her childhood friend Naomi (Alice Eve), a beautiful but mean society elite with a 4.8/5 rating, asks her to be the maid of honor. After a series of unfortunate events on her way to Naomi’s wedding, her rating dropped from 4.2 to 2.8, and she finally has a nervous breakdown and gets extracted from society.

In this one-hour social satire, the inviting pastel palette and baby blue and pink outfits have a certain soothing quality which subtly clashes with the inner frustration of Lacie and the growing anxious tone of the episode. Joe Wright wanted to create “a dystopia that is pristine, picture perfect” that reflects the characters’ aspirations to appear perpetually cheerful. They always wear a smile on their faces, compliment others in an effort to “out-nice” one another just to get a higher rating. It sounds frighteningly familiar, doesn’t it?

Social Media

Yes, I wouldn’t even call the episode science fiction because it depicts a dystopian “reality” that is not that far from where we are now. The ubiquity and immediacy of social media enable us to share (voluntarily or unknowingly) any aspect of our lives with those we choose and beyond. Initially, social media was originated for us to be better linked with one another. However, nowadays we overly reply upon them to the point that sometimes our virtual identities have taken on more importance than our real-life identities. We try to recreate a “perfect” persona of our “second selves” with shiny profiles and flamboyant images. We feel the constant pressure to compete with those who show off their amazing new outfits and ostentatious lifestyle. This abuse of social media changes the perception of our sense of reality, ourselves, and the world surrounding us.

I am sure that there are people who eschew social media. A student at my school doesn’t have Instagram or ever update his Facebook profile. My landlord’s son doesn’t even own a phone which makes it a lot more difficult when I try to contact his non-English speaking mother. Nonetheless, it can be so liberating when staying away from social media.

While traveling on the east coast of Australia for seven weeks, I didn’t have a sim card or post anything on social media. It was like I vanished off the face of the earth. I was having such a tremendously immersive experience just being fully present with the people around me. I never had to check my phone for updates or panic about what others felt about the new picture I posted. Later on, I shared a lot of images and engaged in conversations about my travels, not to get attention on social media but simply for the sake of “sharing”. I shared with people not only photos of the most beautiful sunrises or gorgeous surfer boys, but also the potential dangers of traveling alone as a girl, the awkward situations when encountering cultural barriers, and the struggles when trying to maximize every moment of a backpacking experience on a limited budget.

Unfortunately, social media, most of the time, is not really about sharing something that is deep, emotional, or meaningful. It has become increasingly superficial since it takes us only a few seconds to scroll down someone’s Instagram page and like a bunch of pictures without reading the captions while thinking, “I am only liking their photos so they will like mine back”. I understand that wanting to be socially accepted is part of our nature since the dawn of time, however this obsession with social media may eventually stop giving us pleasure, stray us away from our priorities, and ultimately backfire on our social lives.