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Editorial modeling (part 2)

Several models recently asked me about editorial modeling: They wanted to know what it was, if it was worth their time, and what “editorial agencies” had to do with any of that. In the past, I’ve addressed the simple definitions of editorial and commercial modeling (editorial is story illustration and commercial involves selling a product). Editorial agencies I’ve defined as: Agencies whose goal is to promote a select group of models through editorial assignments, as opposed to commercial agencies whose goal it is to provide a specific type of model to a client to meet the client’s particular needs at the time. Now, in the end, the goal of any agency is to provide models to advertisers (because these are the people who pay models). Thus, generally speaking, most agencies can be considered commercial agencies. It is the value added by specific models to advertisers, and how the models are promoted, which separates the two types of agencies.


Photographer: John Fisher; Model: Jessica Bleier, Front Model Management, South Beach (Miami Beach, Florida)

I have discussed the value of editorial modeling in terms of self-promotion and name identification, which would raise the commercial value of the model to advertising clients. In short, a model might be a little big in the hip, have an odd growth on her face, and not be blonde, but if she has been on countless Vogue covers, she is worth a fortune to Revlon and thus paid accordingly (for the Revlon ads, not the Vogue covers).

Of course, I am not referring to anyone specifically, this is just a general example, and not to be confused with real life.

However, in reviewing my comments on this area, I realized I had left out one very important (and bizarre) value attached to editorial modeling (and photography). This business, particularly at the upper levels, is one of processionary caterpillars. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, processionary caterpillars are caterpillars who travel through the jungle with the head of one pressed firmly against the butt of the caterpillar in front of it. They travel along like this until a food source is found—it’s said that if you gather a string of these caterpillars and arrange them so they form a circle, they will march around happily until they starve to death. The comparison to advertising is that if someone else is doing it, or using someone, then by God, we should be doing it too! The old saw in business is that no middle manager ever lost his job recommending AT&T or IBM.

How does this apply to modeling or photography? Well, this is why editorial assignments are held in such high esteem. Theoretically, a major magazine (and for fun, let’s just say Sports Illustrated) can chose any model they want to appear in a special issue (and again, since I am just goofing around, let’s say the swimsuit issue). And that magazine can pick any model they want to appear on the cover. Virtually any model in the business likes to travel, go to exotic locations, be fawned over, pampered and have all of her expenses paid, so who wouldn’t take the assignment? In addition, the magazine could probably pick any photographer for the assignment, pay only expenses, let them shoot some of the most delightful feminine creatures on Earth, and I doubt they would have any problem finding takers from the most talented and successful photographers in the world.

Now, here’s the rub: Since most models want the assignment, and since most photographers would kill to shoot it, they get to pick the people they think are the best. And guess what? It doesn’t matter who they pick, a ton of other people will now think these chosen ones walk on water. And these other people will stand in line to hire and pay these silly rascals a lot of money. Why? Because they’re the most beautiful and the most talented? No. Who can possibly say that any working model is not beautiful? Or, that one is more beautiful than the rest? You see, it does not matter. Sports Illustrated said they are, so they must be, and they get to pick. A major advertiser wants to refresh their ad campaign, and introduce a new product. So, who do they want… at any price? Why, the most beautiful woman in the world, the SI cover girl! She must be the most beautiful; SI picked her! (Okay, last year they picked someone else, quick, name her, can’t? Right… get me the new one.)

Now, you know why any model should want to be on the Vogue cover, the spring fashion editorial spread in Elle, the… well, you get the picture.

Pay? Fuggedaboutit! Who cares? They know that if the caterpillar in the front picks them, the others will follow on blindly and happily—and they will pay for the privilege.

In truth, not all editorial assignment have equal value, and the best ones go to models and photographers who have worked their way up the editorial chain. Models don’t get a Vogue cover as their first cover, and a model rarely gets any cover without first working her way through the back editorial pages of the magazines. This applies to photographers as well. Editorial is about becoming known and getting exposure. But, it is first about getting picked. The more options the one doing the picking has, the greater the value the commercial market places on the ones who are chosen. That is why the business seems to be using the same people over and over again. These silly caterpillars just have their heads up against someone else’s butt, and until someone breaks away, they go around and around.

In the next part, I will go into the differences in the way editorial and commercial agencies work, and how a prospective model can get started in this business.

John Fisher

John Fisher

John Fisher is a fashion photographer who does magazine editorial, advertising, catalog and swimsuit photography. He's a member of Canon Professional Services and was recently named as a sponsored photographer for Paul C. Buff Companies. His website is www.johnfisher.com.

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