How did you get started? At 18 I starred in my first international TV commercial for KFC. It was a big moment for me after facing constant rejection from every fashion modeling agency. I couldn’t understand why. I spent time and money working with various photographers to diversify my portfolio, but it wasn’t enough. I was at my wit’s end. It wasn’t until I met a commercial agent in South Florida who finally gave me a shot after reviewing my photo submissions. Although the opportunity to be signed was cut short, I booked 3 international KFC commercials that changed my life. Those commercials gave me a better outlook on the modeling industry. As time went on, I began to struggle financially. My mom worked one job where she was only getting paid minimum wage and my dad worked two jobs to help pay the mortgage. After hearing about several OPEN CALLS FOR MODELS, I gave it one more shot and attended just about every agency open call in the South Florida area. I was turned down by all talent agencies. I remember crying in the lobby area of one talent agency after witnessing a white model that showed up to the open call with no professional images, but was signed on the spot! I was devastated and at a loss for words. The majority of the guys being turned down were Black. It was one of the darkest moments of my life. Months later, after all of the heartache, I came up with an idea to start my own agency, called ‘Bienaime Agency’, that would give Black models global notoriety and garner major modeling opportunities. I am proud to say, 8 years later, I have changed so many lives with my work and I couldn’t be more grateful.
What are 6 important areas of advice you would give to an aspiring model seeking a photographer?
1. Never burn bridges with photographers. As an aspiring model, photographers are the main resources you need to get seen in this industry. Photographers are usually very well connected and can help land you a major modeling contract.
2. Never add filters to a photographer’s final work. This can be a photographer’s pet peeve and abruptly cause a professional relationship to end. On average, most professional photographers spend roughly about 4-8 hours editing just one image.
3.Show gratitude, especially if the photo shoot session is free. On average, a photo shoot session can cost anywhere between $500-$1000; Some photographers even charge models by the hour. The words “PLEASE” and “THANK YOU” really do go a long way.
4. It’s important to research the photographer before you hire them. Make sure you really understand their work. Some photographers are not willing to compromise their photography style not because they don’t want to, but because their style is globally recognized and plays a major part in their continuing success..
5. Always give image credit to the photographer on all social media platforms. This can bring in more business for the photographer which can result in them giving you another photo shoot session at no cost, or at a discounted rate.
6. Always provide updates and communicate if you cannot avoid arriving late to a photo shoot session. Remember, photographers may be on a time schedule and can only photograph you at the exact time that was agreed upon.
Do you ever find it difficult shooting nude models? Difficult, NO; but challenging, at times. I usually work with aspiring male models who are not accustomed to being naked in front of a complete stranger. It’s totally new for them. Therefore, when posing instructions are given, you find some models that can deliver each pose smoothly while others face challenges presenting variety in their facial expressions. Some struggle with getting comfortable enough to allow their personalities to shine through. In order to limit any type of distractions in my studio, I try to make sure the air condition is set at room temperature and loud music is being played to get models in the groove. However, what I do find difficult is comprehending the double standard between when a White photographer shoots nude versus a Black photographer shooting nude. From my experience as a Black photographer, it is really difficult to find acceptance from the masses when showcasing my nude artwork on social media. Often, I would receive so many nasty and disrespectful comments from people who simply cannot grasp the ‘art form’ in nudity shots. However, nudity shots taken by White photographers, in my experience, seem to receive less backlash and are praised by the masses.
Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years? I see myself owning several businesses. I see myself having my own global radio podcast or even hosting a national television show. I also see my artistic nude work featured in several art museums around the world.
5. Any Tips for Beginner photographers? Start with a cheap camera and work your way up. Don’t go insane buying the most expensive camera right away. I understand you want to own the best camera in the game, but it’s important to learn the camera first and understand its functionality. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Step out of the box and be different. Create a vision board filled with creative concepts that you’d like to execute.
6. Any embarrassing moments on set? OMG, yes! Can you believe I did a whole photo shoot with no images to show for it? Ok, let me explain. So, every camera has different setting functionality. You can set your camera to actually trigger without having an SD card inside. To make a long story short, I forgot to press the playback button to view any of the images being captured which indicates shots are being written to the SD card. We are talking 2 hours of shooting with NOTHING to show for it. It was so embarrassing lol! I ended up apologizing to the model and reimbursed his plane ticket, hotel ticket, and monies paid for the photo shoot session. I couldn’t eat for the next 2 days!!!
7. Are you in a relationship? I swear I would be rich by now if I told you the amount of people asking me this question daily, lol. Yes, I’m married. I’ve been married to my camera for close to 8 years now. We have 5 beautiful child-LENS. I’m with them everyday. I love them so much.
Why was Naked 9 project a success? It’s simple. After my 2019 artistic nude digital calendar launched and became successful, people were itching for more. So after brainstorming for weeks, I came up with the name ‘NAKED NINE’ for the project and the rest was history. From using color gels to sport props, people enjoyed viewing images of black men creatively shot in their complete natural state.
50 million teaser video views Combined? Crazy right? LOL People laugh at me when I say this, but believe or not, you really do have people who are infatuated with watching good looking men eat in slow motion. They can’t stand it but they love it. It’s like a drug; very addictive and you just can’t stop. Some of my teaser videos featured men chewing gum in slow motion, washing cars in slow motion, tossing salad in slow motion, adding syrup to pancakes in slow motion, cutting grass in slow motion, directing traffic dressed up as a crossing guard in slow motion, I mean I could go on and on and on. It gets hilarious. I love reading all the reactions—good or bad!!