Carmilla Jo has only been modelling for a few years but if you looked at her portfolio or heard the feedback given by photographers and event planners, you’d think she was doing this her whole life. We haven’t featured too many models in the Creative Spotlight so you know that when we do, we mean business. I am pretty niave about the world of alternative modelling so I sat down with Carmilla who schooled me, gave some advice, and dished about Ghibli films. Read below for the full interview…
I’m quite fascinated by you. Is it OK to say that? You are a non-erotic model but are into Japanese bondage. How, as a model, are you able to bridge that gap?
Carmilla: Thank you! It’s very flattering to be told that I’m considered fascinating, so it is definitely OK to say that. Due to Japanese bondage’s strong associations with erotic photography, I used to shy away from it until I saw photos that proved that models don’t have to be nude or sexually provocative to dabble with bondage. I think I’m able to bridge that gap by striving to evoke a sense that the photographs I’m in show that there is more to the image than just some girl being tied up. I’m always clothed, and I try not to look too “sexy.”
Levitation and suspension is also something you are exploring. How did that interest come about and how can it lend itself to more interesting shoots?
Carmilla: As a kid, I’ve always been jealous of characters who could defy gravity, whether it be via flying or simply levitating. As a 5th grader, I was obsessed with Cartoon Network’s series adaption of Teen Titans, and my favorite character was Raven! As a 10 and 11-year-old, I identified a lot with her, since she was a moody goth girl who avidly reads and struggles to control her temper. And she was able to levitate! I wanted to be her because I thought she was so cool. If I had to pinpoint a moment in my life when I became fascinated with levitation, I think it was through watching Teen Titans and identifying with Raven.
Levitation and suspension can certainly help create compelling images, since it challenges the model’s posing abilities, since she can’t have full use of her body, and the rope interacts with her, as if it’s a part of her flesh. It’s a foreign sensation, caught between the tensions of the support of rope and the downward pull of gravity, but that’s part of the magic. Suspension is really the closest thing to levitation, and one of my friends even remarked that she even had the sensation of flying when she was being suspended for the first time.
You have been involved in shoots that lasted over 10 hours. How are you able to shoot effectively that long? Is there a process for increasing your stamina?
Carmilla: I have a lot of fun when I’m shooting. Keeping a “I’m having fun!” mindset instead of a “Oh, this is work” attitude helps me get through those many hours. However, keeping a positive attitude certainly needs to be supplemented by physical necessities. Eating nutritiously and drinking lots of water helps me stay energetic. A good night’s sleep before the shoot certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
You were featured in an underwater shoot. I can imagine how challenging that can be due to unpredictable factors. How did you approach that?
Carmilla: Shall I give away my secret? I’m actually half-mermaid. My mother was a mermaid born in the East China Sea, and when she married my father, a human, she traded her fins for legs and subsequently had me. Thus, I inherited her aquatic genes for being able to stay underwater for long periods of time.
I’m only kidding! All jests aside, I went swimming at my school’s pool and practiced submerging myself and posing underwater. It was difficult at first, but I was able to gradually increase the amount of time I could stay underwater. Once, I stayed underwater for up to 30 seconds, and when I came up for air, the lifeguard chided me, lecturing that I was putting myself in danger. Of course, I didn’t listen to her, and came back to the pool for more practice sessions.
What are some of your favorite Asian films?
Carmilla: I enjoy Studio Ghibli films in general, but if I had to choose one of their movies, it would be Spirited Away. There was such a strong theme of losing childhood innocence, set against a backdrop of the corruption of modernization and the sense of losing a nation’s cultural traditions and identity. I also saw Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust when I was 13, and instantly loved the animation and story. Last year, I saw The Flowers of War. Kudos to Zhang Yimou for directing an ambitious film that covered only a fraction of the brutalities of the Rape of Nanjing and bringing it to global cinematic attention. Although many parts of the movie were upsetting, and even anger-inducing, the cinematography was beautiful, and the acting by the entire cast, especially by the children actors, was incredible.
For those unfamiliar with the process, what are moodboards and how do you go about compiling them in preparation for a shoot?
Carmilla: Moodboards are a collection of inspirational images that help people create an idea of the certain aesthetics and mood of a shoot. For instance, Gothesque Magazine created a moodboard for submission calls for their 3rd issue, and this is the link to the moodboard they created on their Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/gothesquemag/issue-3-mood-board/
I know you don’t shoot nudes, but what is the psychology behind this? Do you feel a woman can be equally as sexy without doing it or are there religious reasons, etc.?
Carmilla: First of all, I’m not religious, so my reasons for not doing nudity are purely secular. I could ramble on and on, listing my reasons for not doing nudes, but I’ll try to make this brief. First of all, even though I probably don’t look like it from my photos, when it comes to family matters, I’m pretty much a goody-two-shoes Asian gal (insert some “You must bring to honor to your family!” joke in a heavy Asian accent). I know there are many models who feel fulfilled shooting nudity for their careers, but I don’t like the idea of nude photos of me floating around online. Once it’s there, it’s there forever. After graduating college, I’m hoping to work in a lab, and my future employers are going to google me. I don’t want to run the risk of them seeing me nude. If you ever meet me in person, I typically dress in heavy layers of clothing. I don’t like showing a lot of skin in public. One of my friends joked to me that if some stalker saw my modelling photos online, he’d think, “Mwahhahaaa, I’m gonna try to score some!” and then see me in real life in all my clothes and decide, “Nah, never mind. She’s too much trouble.” I like to think my clothes can act as a filter against guys who are only after sex. I’d much rather have someone look at me and think, “Oh hey, she seems really interesting. I wonder what it’s like to have a conversation with her” instead of “Oh hey, she’s damn hot! I wonder what it’s like to have sex with her!”
Could you describe the subculture of alternative modeling in your own words and how the scene has progressed today versus five years ago?
Carmilla: Five years ago, I was 15, so I didn’t know much about alternative modeling, other than the fact that it was a genre of modelling that accepted goth aesthetics and non-agency-standard body types and heights. I think I would say alternative modeling has become more accepted into the mainstream, and has become a large aesthetic influence. I’m seeing many mainstream editorials that utilize darker sensibilities, and even adding in some fetish and bondage influences.
Lastly, any advice for any budding models out there?
Carmilla: Firmly set your boundaries and know what you are comfortable and not comfortable with. Guys with cameras (abbreviated as GWC’s, a derogatory term for creepy men who just want to take nude photos of girls) always like to target new models, since these models are inexperienced and terrified and more likely to make compromises with their limits. If you turn down their offers to do whatever stupid sexual idea they have in mind, ignore their insults and their claims of how oh-so-professional they are. A legitimate photographer will NEVER talk about how professional he/she is (after all, he/she should have a portfolio that speaks for itself!), nor will he/she push you to do something you don’t want to do.
Also, know that modelling is more than just getting pretty photos of yourself. You’re working with real people who are building their portfolios, or doing this for a living, or working on personal projects. It’s a complete myth that all models do is just stand there and look pretty, or that it’s all fun and glamour. You have to know how your body feels in certain positions, and maintain a positive, professional demeanor, even when you’re not in the best mood. You will also often face rejection. There may be really awesome photographers that you’re just dying to work with, but they’ll turn you down because you have no experience, or you don’t have a look that attracts them, or they’re too busy because their paid shoots or a priority, or whatever other reason they may have. In addition, don’t model for the money. In reality, models almost always never get paid, and our work is done out of a labor of love.
There’s so much more I could say, but I think setting your boundaries and understanding what goes on the behind-the-scenes are two of the most important things any aspiring models should know. I’m always honored when a fellow model comes to me for advice, so if you want to talk to me, you’re always welcome to drop me a line via Facebook or email.
Want to stay up to date on all of Carmilla’s photos and events? Follow her cookie crumb trail below:
1st and 3rd photo:
Photographer: Terrence Taylor
MUHA: Tamara Locke – Makeup Artist and Hairstylist
Photographer: Emily Nguyen Photography
2nd and 5th photo:
Photographer: Ota Kinbaku